The Creole Mutiny: A Tale of Revolt Aboard a Slave Ship

Overview

"On the night of November 7, 1841, the Creole, a brig transporting at least 135 slaves from Richmond, Virginia, to the auction block at New Orleans, was about 130 miles northeast of the Bahamas. The male slaves were being held in the forward hold; the aft hold housed the 40 or so female slaves. In the early darkness, an apparent disturbance among the males sent the ship's first mate and a guard forward to investigate. A shot was fired by one of the slaves, grazing the first mate's head. Soon a band of 19 slaves, led by one of them known as ...
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Overview

"On the night of November 7, 1841, the Creole, a brig transporting at least 135 slaves from Richmond, Virginia, to the auction block at New Orleans, was about 130 miles northeast of the Bahamas. The male slaves were being held in the forward hold; the aft hold housed the 40 or so female slaves. In the early darkness, an apparent disturbance among the males sent the ship's first mate and a guard forward to investigate. A shot was fired by one of the slaves, grazing the first mate's head. Soon a band of 19 slaves, led by one of them known as Madison Washington, had rushed on deck and seized the crew and its captain. Over the next several days they forced the Creole to sail into Nassau harbor. There, over strenuous American protests, the British authorities offered freedom to the slaves on board, touching off a diplomatic squabble and legal ramifications that continued for years afterward." "In The Creole Mutiny, George and Willene Hendrick treat the reader to an historical detective story, piecing together from disparate sources the tale of this successful slave revolt and of the mysterious figure of Madison Washington. A fugitive slave who had fled to Canada, Washington had been recaptured when he returned to Virginia in an attempt to free his wife. Now he was headed for New Orleans." With careful attention to the historical landscape, the authors describe what is known of Washington's life; the efforts of fugitive slaves to free other family members; the methods of slave traders and the operators of slave pens; the conditions of slave ships; and the sexual exploitation of female slaves, some mere children. And in an Appendix they show how Madison Washington has taken on mythic qualities in the works of major African-American writers, from Frederick Douglass to Theodore Ward.
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Editorial Reviews

Indianapolis Recorder
The most accurate story to date...meticulous research and attention to the historical landscape.
— Andrea Lynn
Booklist
Fascinating...compelling history.
— Vernon Ford
The Journal Of Southern History
...This handsome and well-written volume…spin[s] a tale of unrequited love and a quest for freedom...
New York Resident
...The book is an amazing feat of research.
Sirreadalot.Org
...A compelling, fascinating retelling...
Louisiana History
...A lively read that will hopefully encourage futher consideration of the late antebellum slave trade among serious students of history.
Booklist
This compelling history is particularly fascinating as a look at international law and the differing social policies of the U.S. and Britain regarding slavery at the time.
Louisiana History
...A lively read that will hopefully encourage futher consideration of the late antebellum slave trade among serious students of history.
Indianapolis Recorder
Because of its meticulous research and attention to the historical landscape, Creole Mutiny becomes the first complete book on this successful slave mutiny...
SirReadALot.org
The Creole Mutiny is a compelling, fascinating retelling of a lesser-known story of slave revolt...
The Journal of Southern History
...This handsome and well-written volume...spin[s] a tale of unrequited love and a quest for freedom...
Louisiana History
...A lively read that will hopefully encourage futher consideration of the late antebellum slave trade among serious students of history.
Publishers Weekly
On the evening of November 7, 1841, 39 slaves on the brig Creole, en route from Richmond, Va., to New Orleans, revolted and seized the ship from its white crew. The 39, "property" of a single owner, killed a guard and wounded the captain and two others. They forced the brig to be sailed into Nassau harbor in the Bahamas, where the British government, which had outlawed slavery in 1834, offered freedom to the slaves, perhaps 139 in all (most from other "owners"), on board. The British action touched off a wave of protest in America, but the British refused to back down. Eventually, the slave owners were reimbursed more than $110,000 by the Anglo-American Claims Commission. While the case is well-known to scholars, the Hendricks (On the Illinois Frontier) return to primary source material, including the insurance claims made by the slaveholders, to reconstruct the mutiny. Of the 39 participants, the names of leader Madison Washington and 18 others are known, but their testimony either was not recorded or does not survive. In addition to detailing conditions on typical slave ships, the Hendricks include accounts of Madison Washington's earlier escape and recapture when he tried to rescue his wife, and ways in which Washington inspired Frederick Douglass and Lydia Maria Child, among others (shown among the 24 b&w illus.). The result is a concise account of a lesser-known but crucial moment in the history of slavery. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
On October 25, 1841 the Creole, a 157-ton brig loaded with tobacco and slaves, sailed from Richmond, Virginia for New Orleans. It arrived in December with no slaves aboard. The owners eventually recovered over $110,000 for their loss. Unfortunately, the accounts of Madison Washington's leadership in the mutiny are all contained in the pro-slavery testimonial depositions taken of the crew and passengers on board and recorded in archived Senate documents. To relate the facts would have made a very small book. Fictionalized versions had been written by Frederick Douglass, drawing on newspaper and hearsay accounts, and by three of his contemporaries, William Wells Brown, Lydia Maria Child, and Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, using his work and each others' with their own embellishments, intending to further the abolitionist cause. The ship made its way to Nassau in the Bahamas where British officials freed the slaves and jailed the mutineers for approximately five months before freeing them. This book, setting out to tell the facts, is confusing in its opening chapters as it flip-flops back and forth between what we don't know about Madison Washington and what might have been based on anecdotal happenings to other persons in similar situations. The writings mentioned above, summarized in the appendix, perhaps would have made more interesting reading if used more fully in the text and contrasted with known facts. The book does relate much of the suffering of slaves in their attempts at freedom and the abuses they endured at the hands of their owners. It delves into the sexual abuse encountered by slaves, especially women. Sadly, the content is far more speculation than fact and what we come awaywith is the knowledge that this incident happened, was an important event in the evolution of the politics of slavery and had, in all likelihood, a bittersweet ending for its hero. His quest after escaping to freedom was to free his beloved wife; his capture during this endeavor placed him on the Creole. Though frustrating to read, this book may serve as a valuable tool for some original research in pointing the reader to the excellent sources in its bibliography and notes. Illustrations are included. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Ivan R. Dee, 177p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Ann Hart
Kirkus Reviews
Two independent scholars attempt with only moderate success to flesh out the skeletal story of an 1841 mutiny by slaves aboard a ship headed from Richmond to New Orleans. The authors set themselves a daunting task: to reconstruct from minimal documentary evidence both the life of Madison Washington, leader of the revolt, and the mutiny itself. But at nearly every crucial moment they are forced to acknowledge that little or nothing is known, or to ask questions that simply make the same point. "Did Madison Washington arrive in Richmond in a coffle?" they ask. "How did the slaves happen to have a gun?" they wonder. With so little supporting material, they decided to tell similar stories about which more is known and imply that the cases of Madison Washington and the Creole must have been similar. The result is a collection of excerpts from slave narratives, histories of the period, and accounts of other slave revolts. (Melville’s "Benito Cereno" earns some space here.) Even the illustrations are sometimes a stretch: one shows another slave ship, while the caption indicates that the Creole resembled it neither in size nor rigging. Washington’s story is an engaging one nonetheless. He initially escaped into Canada, then took the Underground Railroad in reverse in a failed attempt to rescue his wife. He was recaptured and put aboard the Creole; he and 18 others took over the vessel, killed one officer, and sailed to Nassau in the Bahamas. British authorities there eventually freed them all, and Washington vanished from history. So the volume must suffice as a set of suppositions accompanied by a primer about the slave trade and the unspeakable conditions endured by its victims. The facts mightfill a scholarly article, the story could form a film or novel, the scholarship would make a compelling memoir. But there isn’t enough detail for the conventional history essayed here. (24 b&w illustrations)
The Journal Of Southern History
...This handsome and well-written volume…spin[s] a tale of unrequited love and a quest for freedom...
Indianapolis Recorder - Andrea Lynn
The most accurate story to date...meticulous research and attention to the historical landscape.
Booklist - Vernon Ford
Fascinating...compelling history.
John David Smith
In their concise narrative and analysis...George and Willene Hendrick disentangle myth from meaning and contextualize the revolt.
The Journal of Southern History
...This handsome and well-written volume…spin[s] a tale of unrequited love and a quest for freedom...
New York Resident
...The book is an amazing feat of research.
Sirreadalot.Org
...A compelling, fascinating retelling...
Louisiana History
...A lively read that will hopefully encourage futher consideration of the late antebellum slave trade among serious students of history.
Sir Read Alot Book Review
...A compelling, fascinating retelling...
Journal Of Southern History
...This handsome and well-written volume…spin[s] a tale of unrequited love and a quest for freedom...
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566634939
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 2/3/2003
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

George and Willene Hendrick are independent scholars and researchers who together have edited Fleeing for Freedom and Two Slave Rebellions at Sea, as well as several collections of Carl Sandburg's poems, including Poems for the People. George Hendrick, formerly professor of English at the University of Illinois, also edited To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones. The Hendricks live in Urbana, Illinois.
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