American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt

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Overview

A gripping and deeply revealing history of the infamous slave rebellion that nearly toppled New Orleans and changed the course of American history

In January 1811, five hundred slaves, dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes, rose up from the slave plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States.

American Uprising is the riveting and long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. Daniel Rasmussen illuminates the early history of New Orleans and provides new insight into the path to the Civil War and the slave revolutionaries who fought and died for justice and the hope of freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This study of a January 1811 slave uprising and march on New Orleans exhumes the deliberately obscured and "largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States." Historian Rasmussen expands on scarce source material to provide a complex context for a revolt that dwarfed such better-known rebellions as Nat Turner's and Denmark Vesey's, a stealthily organized uprising of 500 armed slaves dressed in military uniforms marching on and trying to conquer New Orleans. The author ties together diverse political, economic, and cultural threads in describing the rise (and brutal suppression) of the "ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized" army, and investigates why this "story more Braveheart than Beloved" was consigned to historical footnote. While the book's ambition occasionally exceeds its grasp, it vividly evokes the atmosphere of New Orleans of the early 19th century and how a recalcitrant, French-rooted Louisiana and some Spanish possessions in the Deep South were incorporated into the expanding American nation though brutal revenge justice and political pressures. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Rasmussen's auspicious debut (he graduated from Harvard in 2009) is the first book-length account of a large-scale, three-day slave revolt on the sugar plantations near New Orleans during the 1811 Carnival (Mardi Gras) season. The author argues that the slave-rebels, who had learned warfare tactics in their native Africa, were inspired by the successful Haitian revolution. These were not common criminals but political revolutionaries, contrary to the scant historical accounts of those eager to squash threats to the South's slave-reliant economy and deter its western expansion. Rasmussen, who boldly interjects opinions and conjecture into his narrative rather than allowing readers to come to their own conclusions, paints the slave-rebels, especially their leaders, as heroes and martyrs for the cause of liberty, and the slave owners and white politicians as ruthless, greedy, and inept. With few reliable primary sources at his disposal, he fills out his work with thorough historical context and vivid descriptions of the radically different daily lives of slaves and planters in antebellum Louisiana. VERDICT This is a welcome addition to popular history and an engaging read for anyone interested in this important chapter in the tragic story of American slavery. Scholars may have concerns about Rasmussen's rather heavy-handed characterizations.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews

Recent Harvard grad Rasmussen uncovers the buried history of "the largest slave revolt in American history."

In 1811 outside of New Orleans, 500 enslaved men, some armed with guns, battled plantation owners. "While Nat Turner and John Brown have become household names," the author writes, "Kook and Quamana, Harry Kenner, and Charles Deslondes [the leaders of the revolt] have barely earned a footnote in American history." Rasmussen not only provides the backdrop against which the battle occurred, but explores the cultural roots of the conflict. Only eight years before, a successful slave rebellion had driven out the plantation owners, transforming the French sugar-producing colony Saint Domingue (now Haiti) into a free republic. That same year the United States had acquired the Louisiana Purchase and was still struggling to assimilate the disgruntled French sugar planters. In the early years of the occupation of the new territory, federal troops had to "confront the dangers of a sugar colony that relied on the forced labor of a slave population," while driving the Spanish out of Florida. The leaders of the 1811 revolt seized the opportunity of kickoff celebrations to the Carnival season for "a fight to the death against the planters and their militia." The brutal battle initially ended in a temporary victory, but reprisals were severe and the heads of executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. Rasmussen believes that this was a first step on the road to freedom. During the War of 1812, British forces garrisoned a fort with former slaves whom they had freed, and by the end of the Civil War "black soldiers constituted nearly 10 percent of the fighting force of the North."

Impressive work by an up-and-coming historian.

Adam Goodheart
…chilling and suspenseful…
—The New York Times
Adam Goodheart
“A chilling and suspenseful account [of] the culmination of a signal episode in the history of American race relations.”
John Stauffer
“A crisp, confident writer, Rasmussen tells this story with verve.”
Evan Thomas
“New Orleans has been the scene of many dark adventures, but none so shocking as the slave rebellion of 1811. Daniel Rasmussen has unearthed a stunning tale of freedom and repression and told it in gripping fashion.”
Eric Foner
“A deeply researched, vividly written, and highly original account of the largest slave revolt in the nineteenth-century United States. . . . Thanks to Rasmussen, we now have the full story of this dramatic moment in the struggle for freedom in this country.”
From the Publisher
"Impressive work by an up-and-coming historian." —-Kirkus
The Charleston Post and Courier
“Rasmussen has illuminated a remarkable event long obscured by the years.”
The Portland Book Review
“Rasmussen adds fresh research to the story of the 1811 revolt, ushering it into the context of slavery, the history of the South, and the ugly brutality our nation built itself on. . . . Great reading for anyone interested in history.”
The St. Louis American
“Daniel Rasmussen has performed an important service for American history. . .American Uprising challenges much of what we think we know about American slavery.”
The Monroe News Star
“Rasmussen provides a provocative, reader-friendly, though well-researched, account of the largest slave revolt in American history.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
American Uprising offers a detailed, fascinating glimpse into a previously ignored part of history.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An important book. . .This tale deserves to be much better known, as does the larger story of slave resistance. American Uprising represents a signal achievement.”
New York Post
“An incredible true story.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061995217
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/4/2011
  • Pages: 276
  • Sales rank: 501,702
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Rasmussen graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University in 2009, winning the Kathryn Ann Huggins Prize, the Perry Miller Prize, and the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

One Carnival in New Orleans 9

Two Paths to Slavery 19

Three A Revolutionary Forge 39

Four Empire's Emissary 51

Five Conquering the Frontier 61

Six Masks and Motives 71

Seven The Rebels' Pact 83

Eight Revolt 97

Nine A City in Chaos 115

Ten A Second Wind 123

Eleven The Battle 135

Twelve Heads on Poles 147

Thirteen Friends of Necessity 167

Fourteen Statehood and the Young American Nation 177

Fifteen The Slaves Win Their Freedom 187

Sixteen The Cover-Up 199

Epilogue 211

Acknowledgments 219

Notes 223

Bibliography 251

Index 265

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