Slave Rebellions Robin Madan Word count 3,337 By the 1800s slavery was a big part of the triangle

trade. The triangle trade was a system where ships from Europe would take slaves from the African coast and then sell them in the Caribbean. Then the ships would sail back to Europe with a cargo of agricultural products. This system of trade created a “triangle” between Europe, Africa, and North America. One of the ways slaves protested slavery was by causing rebellions. Rebellions, although rare because of the strictness of their masters and the fear of consequences, caused great problems for slave owners. Two of the more notable slave rebellions were The Southampton Insurrection, and the mutiny on the slave ship The Amistad. When they did happen, slave rebellions caused great problems for the white population, and induced fear among slave owners. The success rate of rebellions was very low, but a few did succeed to some extent. As stated by author William Loren Katz “The reason for slave resistance was slavery”. Whether or not the masters of slaves were mean or nice, it remained true that bondage in turn, bred defiance. Slave conditions varied from one farm to another, but they were generally harsh. The owners were so interested in maximizing profits that they were rarely concerned for the health or happiness of their slaves. For a race whose heritage was freedom, there was always a desire to be free (Katz 19,22,30). To quote author Bradford Chambers “I have never heard it said that the lives of Negroes in the servitude of our planters were less tolerable then those of colliers and miners in all Christian countries.” He goes on to say that this argument has no weight with people who have the interest of the country and human beings in mind (Chambers 34).

2 The Southampton Insurrection One of the most famous slave rebellions in history was the Southampton Insurrection led by Nat Turner. On October 2, 1800, Nathaniel (Nat) Turner was born on the small plantation of Benjamin Turner in Southampton County, Virginia. His mother, Nancy Turner had been brought as a slave from Africa only five years before Nat was born. The name of Nat’s father is unknown. Religion was a very big factor in Nat’s life. Nat’s grandmother, who was a very religious slave known as Old Bridget, told Nat stories from the Bible (Edwards 26). His master, Benjamin Turner, was a very religious man. As a devout Methodist he held prayer services for his slaves and allowed them to go to church on Sundays (Edwards 26). Although he never went to school, Nathaniel was an exceptionally smart child. One time when he was three of four years old he was overheard talking to some other children about an event that had happened before his birth. When asked how he knew this, Nat’s response was that he just knew (Edwards 27). At one point Nat was given a book to look at. He started reading the book even though no one had ever taught him to read. Not even Nat remembered how he had learned. After this, Nat would read the Bible every chance he got (Edwards 28). In 1809, Benjamin Turner’s son, Samuel, bought some land from his father. Samuel needed slaves to work on his land so Benjamin loaned him eight slaves, including Nat and Nancy Turner. A year later Benjamin died and his slaves were divided up among his children. Nat and his mother stayed at Samuel’s farm (Edwards 30). By the time Nat was twelve years old he was made to work in the fields all day. All the free time he had he spent either reading the Bible or in prayer (Edwards 32). Around 1822 Nat began to

3 claim that he was having visions. He had visions of black spirits fighting white spirits. He heard voices saying that God had spoken telling him that he was a prophet. Nat started preaching to slaves and soon became a very influential slave preacher. On Sundays he would go to different plantations in the area to preach about his visions, and in the slave community was considered a prophet. In 1822, Samuel Turner died. Nat was sold to Thomas Moore, who owned a farm in Southampton County (Edwards 34). On May 12, 1828 Nat had a vision. He heard a loud noise above him and then “a voice told him that he should take on the burden of Christ and fight against evil, which was loose in the land (Edwards 37)”. As said by Nat Turner “For the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first…. I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons”(Oates 48). Nat decided not to tell anybody until he was given a sign telling him to begin. While he was waiting, his master Thomas Moore died, and all his property was given to his nine-year-old son, named Putnam. Then the dead Thomas Moore’s widow, Sally, married Joseph Travis, who gained control of the slaves (Edwards 48). While he was waiting, Nat found four slaves he could trust. They were named Henry, Hark Travis, Nelson Williams, and Sam Francis. He told them to find other trustworthy slaves who would help them. The day of the planned insurrection was supposed to be July 4, 1831, but as the day came Nat got sick so the rebellion had to be put off. On August 13, 1831, a solar eclipse happened. This unusual occurrence caused fears about the end of the world. Nat Turner took this as a sign that God was leading him to the next stage of his

4 mission. In regard to this Nat Turner said “The black spot had passed over the sun, so would the blacks pass over the earth.” Nat decided on August 22 for the day of the revolt. This date was exactly forty years from the slave uprising that caused the Haitian Revolution, a large-scale revolution, which ended with the French being, forced to leave the island of Haiti (Mckissack 103,105). On the night of August 21 Nat, along with the four slaves, had a barbecue at a place where slaves sometimes gathered, called cabin pond. At midnight, they went to the farm belonging to Joseph Travis. The group killed the family, took all the weapons, ammunition, and horses they could find. They killed both Sally and Joseph Travis. They also killed Nat’s legal owner, Putnam Moore, and Joseph’s apprentice, Joel Westbrook (Edwards 54). In addition, they recruited several slaves to join them. They moved to the next house and did the same. The biggest advantage the group had was that it was dark and they had the element of surprise. Even so, as they had left the Travis’ farm one of the slaves living there had left and gone to the Francis farm to warn the owner (Mckissack 105). Nat Turner’s plan was to make his way to the town called Jerusalem, which was across the Nottoway River. Once there he planned to capture the arms supply depot. Once he had obtained the weapons, Nat planned to raid the larger plantations and recruit other rebels. Then he planned to escape into the dismal swamp where he could form a community and lead guerilla warfare on the plantations. Having such a rebel slave community would have caused a great problem for large plantation owners, as well as small farmers (Mckissack 105). This community of rebel slaves, who had been recruited from farms, had reached about fifty. At a farm less than three miles from Jerusalem, the slaves met with a group

5 of farmers, their first armed opposition; within half an hour of that the militia arrived. Some of the slaves scattered, some were wounded, and some were killed. Turner’s group of rebels retreated so they could regroup. By that time the roads to Jerusalem were blocked by armed farmers and militiamen, so Nat’s only option was to go to the larger plantations in order to recruit more men. They went to Major Thomas Ridley’s plantation, where they exchanged fire with the militia. At that time Turner had about three-dozen men with him. Nat needed to rest, so he and his group stopped to sleep. Many of the rebels took the opportunity and ran away because they were scared. When Turner woke up he had less than twenty men with him. In desperate need of more men, Nat attacked a plantation belonging to a man named Dr. Simon Blunt, but he ran into a strong resistance there and three of his men were killed. At about ten o’clock that morning, he sent his last four men to four different farms to look for slaves willing to join them. They were to meet Nat at Cabin Pond with whomever they recruited. When Nat Turner went back to Cabin Pond there was no one there except for a militia patrol. He said, “On this I gave up hope for the present.” (He then went to a nearby cave where he stayed for about six weeks.) As said by author Frederic Mckissack “Nat Turner’s insurrection had caused the South to fall into a fit of fear and outrage.”(Mckissack 106). Because of the extreme unrest that the rebellion had caused, Nat Turner’s rebellion was, in many cases, greatly exaggerated. Whites in Petersburg, Virginia, said that 500 slaves were marching in their direction. Many white people were sure that Nat had an army hidden in the swamps that was waiting to “sweep down on the people and murder them in their sleep” (Mckissack 106,107). People thought that slaves could have never planned something like that themselves and so there had to be white conspirators.

6 As a result, everybody was eager to find conspirators anywhere they could, which led to some accusations of innocent people. An Englishmen who was heard saying that the blacks deserved freedom, was beaten by a mob (Mckissack 106,107). . Nat Turner’s revolt had caused such extreme fear and unrest in the South that the

governor of Virginia, John Floyd, offered $500 for the capture of Nat Turner. Nat remained hidden despite an extensive manhunt until mid October when two slaves were out hunting, and their dog found Nat’s hiding place. The slaves recognized Nat immediately and ran away. He knew he couldn’t stay there, so Nat found another hiding place. Several weeks passed until a man by the name of Benjamin Phipps somehow managed to capture him on October 30, and took him to jail (Mckissack 108,109). At the trial Nat Turner pleaded not guilty because he did not “feel guilty”. The judge, Jeremiah Cobb sentenced Turner to death. He was hanged on November 11, 1831 (Mckissack 110). The hanging of Nat Turner was not enough for the whites. Groups of militia as well as vigilantes took revenge against innocent and free blacks. The state of Virginia introduced tougher slave codes in order to prevent future slave uprisings by taking away even more of the freedom of slaves (Edwards 82). Such things showed that the whites were very concerned for their safety and were taking every step possible to ensure that an insurrection would never happen again.

The Mutiny on the Amistad Another unforgettably famous slave rebellion was the mutiny on the slave ship Amistad. In early April 1839 slaves from the west coast of Africa were loaded onto the ship Tecora in preparation for the middle passage to Cuba. The cargo was a group of

7 over 500 Africans, none over the age of twenty. They were all chained two by two and packed into layered decks less than four feet high. Among the Africans was a man named Joseph Cinqué. He had been working on a road between two villages when four black men captured him. He was marched for three days from his home in Sierra Leon to the west coast of Africa. Towns and villages often warred against each other so they could sell captives to slave dealers (Jones 15). The conditions on the Tecora were horrible. The ship had plenty of rice, but not enough water. If the Africans did not eat all their rice they got whipped and vinegar was poured on their wounds. According to one of the captives, it was common for slaves to eat so much that they vomited. More than one third of the Africans died from sickness and disease, which was caused by over eating and unsanitary conditions. As they got closer to Cuba, the captain ordered that the captives should be unchained and brought on deck. They were bathed, given clean clothing, and given larger amounts of food in order to raise their spirits (Jones 15). Outside of Cuba the ship stopped for a while so they could go into port in the dark. They did this because British cruisers who were enforcing the Angle-Spanish act of 1817 were on anti slave patrol in the waters around Cuba. The Portuguese slaver was in violation of the Anglo-Spanish act of 1817. Under the AngloSpanish act of 1817, the importation of slaves was illegal. However, slavery itself was legal. If a trader could get the Africans ashore in North America they assumed the status of slaves. The reason for this was that the British-Spanish laws lost power once the cargo reached land because it did not belong to them. At dark the ship went into an inlet and the slaves were marched into the jungle. After three miles of marching, they were

8 jammed into warehouses where they were kept for two weeks. Then they were forced on another long trek through the jungle. They camped outside the walls of Havana, and in the morning they were put into a barracoon, which is an oblong building without a roof, which was used for a slave market (Jones 16). In June 1839 a man called José, who was twenty-four years old and was known as Pepé, and Pedro Montes, fifty-eight years old, paid $450 apiece for forty-nine adult males including Cinqué; they also bought four young children. Pepé and Pedro were wealthy Spaniards who knew their trade very well (Jones 22,23). After being bought, the slaves were loaded onto a sleek black schooner called the Amistad. The Amistad was a small schooner with two masts. The ship had been built specifically for the slave trade. Pepé and Pedro wanted to take the slaves to plantations in Puerto Principe, Cuba. The ship was loaded at night to avoid British searches. The Amistad had been operating legally in the coastal slave trade for three years, but the ship was subject to British searches anywhere in the Caribbean (Jones 23). The ship left port at midnight. Other than the slaves, there were some sailors, a cabin boy named Antonio, and a cook named Celestino (Jones 23). While chained down below, Cinqué found a nail and picked the lock on the iron collar on his neck. On the third night at sea, which was July first, Cinqué made plans for an insurrection with a fellow captive named Grabeau. After they freed themselves and others from the chains, they found boxes in the hold, containing sugar cane knives. At about four AM. Pepé and Pedro were woken up by loud noises. They saw that the slaves were going to attack the captain. The captain told the sailors to throw some bread to the Africans, but Cinqué

9 ignored the bread and killed the captain anyway. Then they killed the cook Celestino. There was a big fight, and when it ended, Cinqué along with Grabeau and a friend named Burnah had taken command of the ship. The captain and the cook had been killed; Pepé had surrendered, Antonio begged to be spared and stayed alive, the two sailors had probably jumped overboard, and Pedro was unaccounted for. What had happened was Pedro had been badly wounded and hid below decks. For the time the mutiny had succeeded. In the morning Pedro was found. Cinqué was going to kill him, but Burnah convinced him not to (Jones 24,25,26). Cinqué made it clear that he wanted Pepé and Pedro to sail the ship back to Africa. They did this, but speaking in Spanish they came up with what I consider a dirty plan to sail the ship towards Africa during the day, but at night sail the ship north. They thought that by doing this a British cruiser would rescue them. At one point Cinqué got suspicious that the ship was being sailed back towards Havana. He decided to kill the Spaniards. When he was going to kill Pedro, Pedro got down on his knees and begged for mercy. Cinqué spared his life, but kept one of the Africans with him at the mast for the rest of the voyage (Jones 26,27). By late August the ship had come into the waters around Long Island, New York. The Africans were in need of food and water so they decided to go ashore. As they were getting ready to leave the American ship USS Washington noticed the unusual activity on shore and seized the ship, the cargo, and the Africans under the orders of a Lieutenant Thomas Gedney. Since slavery was illegal in New York, but not in Connecticut, Gedney took the ship to Connecticut to get money for the ship, including the Africans as property.

10 (Jones 28,29). The Africans were put into the New Haven jail, and Gedney was awarded compensation for saving the Spaniards’ ship and property from certain loss. Next the Africans were put on trial in Hartford, Connecticut for charges of mutiny and murder before the U.S. Circuit Court. It was quickly ruled that the U.S. Circuit Court had no jurisdiction over the matter, as the Amistad was a Spanish ship. So the case was put before the U.S. District Court. The Spanish government demanded that the ship and the Africans, be returned to Cuba where the case could be settled under Spanish law. Abolitionists blocked this by arguing that that the Africans had been illegally taken out of Africa. On January 8 the Africans’ trial opened in New Haven, Connecticut with Judge Andrew Judson presiding. Judson ruled in favor of the Africans, giving Gedney salvage rights to the ship and the cargo, but not the Africans, who he said, “were born free and ever since have been…and still are free and not slaves.” Unfortunately Spain would not drop the case. So in February 1841 the case was taken to the Supreme Court. Five of the justices were southern slave owners. This meant that the abolitionists needed a person of national stature to help on their side. Former president John Quincy Adams was convinced to argue the case on the side of the abolitionists. Adams did a great job and on March 9, 1841 the Supreme Court ruled that by Spanish law itself the Africans were entitled to their freedom, because they had been kidnapped and illegally shipped to Cuba. Their immediate release was ordered. Cinqué raised money for the Africans to return to Africa by telling the story of the capture of the Amistad at abolitionist meetings, for which crowds would pay a good price to hear. In November of 1841 the Africans set sail from New York for Africa. Cinqué was reported to have found his way home and was

11 living with his wife and family (McKissack 121-129). This whole ordeal was a great blow to slavery; angering its supporters and striking fear into the hearts of slave traders. The Southampton Insurrection and the Mutiny on the Amistad were two famous examples of slave rebellions that were caused by an extreme hatred for the oppressors and a wish to be free. Although rebellions were not always successful, as the whites were generally more numerous and had much more power, the rebellions that had any level of success kept the slave owning communities “on their toes”. The Southampton Insurrection and the mutiny on the Amistad, although very different, were both highprofile events that caused unrest in slave communities and stirred up abolitionists to take further action. Within thirty years of both rebellions, the United States was embroiled in a bloody conflict that would put an end to slavery in North America.

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