- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
EARLY EFFORTS AT SELF-REDEMPTION 1526-1760
No doubt the gentleman of the College of William and Mary was trying to persuade himself to believe that there was no danger from Insurrections, even though the danger was actually staring him in the face when, in 1832, he said that a Negro would rob your hen roost or your stye, but it was rare indeed that he could be induced to murder you. The gentleman also showed his belief in the myths about Negro characteristics, which the history of Slave Insurrections explodes.
1. Beginnings of the Insurrectionary Movement
The first insurrection of Negro slaves within the present limits of the United States occurred in 1526, in the colony of the Spanish explorer, Ayllon, on what is now the coast of South Carolina. This insurrection was no doubt instigated by the Indians, in resentment against the whites for encroachment upon their lands. As early as 1521, the Spanish authorities of Hispaniola found it necessary to order that Negro slaves should not be employed on errands, as in general these tended to cultivate too close acquaintance with the Indians. A common fate, equal status, and daily contact of white indentured servants with Negro slaves furnished the background for the beginnings of miscegenation in the United States. In 1663 in Virginia when there were scarcely one thousand Negroes in the colony, an attempted insurrection was planned by white bondsmen and Negroes, in Gloucester County. The plot was disclosed by a Negro slave by name of John Berkenhead, belonging to one Mr. John Smith. The Negro was given his freedom and five thousand pounds of tobacco for his faithful service. It was also believed that such a reward would be an inducement to other slaves to be loyal to their masters and inspire them to be prompt in reporting any attempted conspiracy against the whites. So impressed was the colony with the magnitude of this plot, and so grateful were the people for deliverance from its direful consequence, that a resolution was passed to the effect that the 13th of September be kept holy, because on this date the colony was saved from such a fate. The very language of the resolution shows the seriousness of the plot:
Since the least mercy we receive from God's hands challenges our daily thanks, whether it be not fit for so transcendent a favor as the preserving of all we have from utter ruin, deserve not to have an annual solemnity celebrated to keep it in remembrance. Resolved, that the 13th of September be annually kept holy, being the day those villains intended to put the plot into execution.
In 1687, one year previous to the Glorious Revolution in the mother country, which was the signal for wide-spread revolt throughout the colonies, and at a time when the Negro population of the Old Dominion was about equal to that of the whites, there was an attempted Insurrection in Northern Neck. All the Negroes who were connected with this plot were arrested, tried, and duly executed. After this the Council placed a ban upon public funerals for dead slaves. At the same time the House of Burgesses thought it necessary to pass a stricter law for the prevention of Negro Insurrections. Again in 1710 there was a plan on foot for an Insurrection in Surry County, Virginia. A slave by the name of Will, who belonged to one Robert Ruffin, revealed the plot, and as a reward for his loyalty to his master and treason to his own race, was emancipated. In 1712 in the city of New York the most serious insurrection of slaves up to this time in any of the colonies occurred. In that colony anxiety and suspicion had been current among the whites since 1704 when an agent for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Elias Neau, had founded a school in that city for Negroes. This plot was brewed by some Coromantee and Paw Paw Negroes who, with the aid of a conjurer, believed that they had made themselves invulnerable. The Negroes were joined by some Spanish or Portuguese Indians or mestizoes, who had been captured at sea, and as they thought, unjustly reduced to slavery. Moved by love of liberty, desire for revenge, and heathen superstitions, about twenty-five such rebels, armed with guns, hatchets, knives, and swords on a dark April night set fire to a house and slaughtered the citizens as they resorted thither. It was reported by a contemporary witness that according to an African custom they sucked the blood of each others hands as a pledge of absolute secrecy. Their gunfire attracted the attention of Governor Hunter, who ordered a cannon to be fired from the ramparts and sent soldiers with such haste that only ten or twelve whites were killed; and several were wounded before the plotters were routed. The town was searched; the woods were combed; nevertheless, six of the conspirators saw that all odds were against them and committed suicide rather than be captured. An emergency court was formed for this special case, in which more persons were executed than comprised the whole conspiracy. One of the culprits was tried twice, and acquitted each time; nevertheless, he was tried a third time and convicted. One official declared that it was his opinion that this Negro was as innocent as a babe unborn. The slave's master was a lawyer, whom the prosecuting officer did not like; therefore, he allowed this dislike to vent itself upon the helpless Negro.
The barbarity of the executions far exceeded that of the conspirators in methods of heartless cruelty. A contemporary writer accounts in three ways for the rashness with which the city dealt with the conspirators. The complete failure of Walker's expedition against Canada, during the War of the Spanish Succession, produced gloom. Also the growing distrust of the Iroquois Indians produced uneasiness. Finally, the traffic in slaves had gone on since its introduction by the Dutch Indian Company. It had increased until the Negro population had begun to rival that of the whites and had manifested a new source of trouble. The education of the Negroes was neglected; hence they were not only ignorant and debased, but much addicted to every conceivable sort of vice. Unlike their fellow slaves of the South, the Negro slaves of New York did not have easy access to each other, but had to satisfy the gregarious instinct by associating with the depraved crews of vessels that came into port. Therefore, they were always restive, discontented under their bondage, and caused their masters much anxiety. The record shows that of those executed, one was broken on the wheel; another was hanged alive in chains. Nineteen more were sentenced to be executed on the gallows, one of these was sentenced to be burned with a slow fire, "in order that he might continue in torment for eight or ten hours and continue burning in said fire until he was dead and consumed to ashes." Many others were saved from a like fate by the reprieve of Governor Hunter and the final pardon of the Queen. On September 10, 1712, Governor Hunter wrote a letter to Secretary Popple, in which he made a pathetic plea that the Negroes be pardoned. He declared that already too much blood had been shed for the atonement of the crime of which the Negroes were accused. Among the conspirators was a woman who, being pregnant, was granted a reprieve by the governor. Speaking of this woman, the governor said:
There was a woman who was indeed privy to the conspiracy, but pleading her condition she was reprieved, and she is since delivered, but in a woeful condition ever since, and I think has suffered more than death by her long imprisonment, if their Lordships think fit to include her I should be pleased.
In 1718, the Negroes of New Orleans revolted against their French masters with the view of ridding themselves of all the French at once and making themselves masters of the city. The plot was revealed when a French soldier struck a Negro woman a violent blow with his fist, because she refused to obey him. In her wrath the woman told the soldier to his face that the time was at hand when the French must refrain from insulting and abusing Negroes. These bold remarks of the slave woman led to an investigation, and it was found that there was an insurrection already planned and a Negro named Samba was the ringleader. Samba, it was found, had attempted to murder the crew and make himself master of the ship while he was being brought over from Africa. He had been detected in the crime and placed in irons until he landed in Louisiana. It was Samba's intention to have his revenge upon the whites for taking him from his native land. For attempting this revolt, Samba and seven other slaves were broken on the wheel, and the woman who gave away the secret was hanged.
In 1720 the slaves of Charleston, South Carolina rose against their masters and attacked the white people in their homes and on the streets. The Negroes were fairly well organized and killed a man named Benjamin Cattle, one white woman, and a little Negro boy. They were pursued, and twenty-three taken, six of whom were convicted. Three of the latter were executed, but the other three somehow escaped. There may have been other slave revolts in South Carolina prior to this time of which we have no records.
A later report of one of the Charleston papers on "Slavery in Colonial Days" shows plainly that Negro Insurrections were a source of constant alarm. The report says: "At all times were grave fears entertained by the slave holders of uprisings of the Negroes." The same report shows that fugitive slaves caused much anxiety, because the planters feared that these runaway Negroes might return and lead a revolt. To prevent such an outbreak the most severe laws were passed against runaway slaves. Branding with the letter R, cutting off the ears, and cutting the leg above the heel were some of the penalties for running away.
In 1722 near the mouth of the Rappahannock River, in Virginia, about two hundred Negroes armed themselves with the intention of killing all the white people while the latter were in church. Sunday was a favorite day on which the slaves often planned outbreaks, because it was easy to get together on Sunday. The movements of the Negroes were not so carefully observed on Sundays as at other times. Also many of the masters were religiously inclined themselves, and although they held the Negro in physical bondage, they wanted his soul saved for the life to come. For this reason the slaves were given a deal of liberty in assembling for religious worship. Hence the religious services were the great incubators where Slave Insurrections were hatched. Fortunately for the ruling class this plot was discovered just in time to be nipped in the bud.
In 1723 another plot was discovered in Gloucester and Middlesex Counties, in Virginia, which prompted the General Assembly to provide for the transportation to the West Indies of seven slave participants. These frequent outbreaks caused much alarm, not only in the South but in the North as well. Simultaneous with the Insurrection in Gloucester and Middlesex Counties, there was so much fear and alarm in Boston that it is said, in addition to the common watch, a military force was not only kept up, but, at the outbreak of every fire, a part of the militia was ordered out under arms to keep the slaves in order. On April 18, of this same year, the Rev. Joseph Sewell, of Boston, preached a sermon on "The Fires that have broken out in Boston, supposed to be set purposely by ye Negroes." On the 19th the selectmen of Boston made a report of nineteen articles, number nine of which declared that if more than two Indians, Negro or mulatto servants, or slaves be found in the streets, or highways, in or about the town, idling or lurking together, unless in the service of their masters or employers, they should be punished at the House of Correction. The local press reported the following account of fires in Boston, in 1723:
On Saturday morning last between the hours of four and five o'clock, a fire broke out in King Street, which consumed four or five tenements.
On Thursday morning, a house in Leverett's Lane was set on fire by a Negro servant ... who upon examination confessed that he had twice attempted to burn the house in the night ... It was by the Providence of God that no other damage was done ... The Negro is in prison, and no one is allowed to. speak to him; it is hoped that others of his confederates will soon be discovered.
On Friday morning a fire broke out in a back building in King Street, but it was soon extinguished. About eleven o'clock on the following night there was a fire in a barn, at the South end, by which it was consumed.
Besides these, several attempts have been made to set diverse other places in this town on fire, but were soon discovered and prevented from doing any great damage.
There were several other fires in the town all of which were supposed to have been started by the Negroes. Alarmed by these reports, the governor of the province issued a proclamation offering a reward of fifty pounds for the apprehension and arrest of the guilty persons. Throughout the colony of Virgina at this time, the white indentured servants were constantly making trouble; and between 1680 and 1726, the fear of Negro Insurrections was so prevalent, that the assembly established an occasional patrol, by directing portions of the county militia under order of the county lieutenant, whenever need arose to disperse unusual concourse of Negroes, or slaves and to see that criminals were apprehended.
There was a well planned plot among the slaves of Savannah, Georgia, in 1728, for killing all the white people of the town. But they could not agree as to methods and the time of the attack, so confusion and indecision resulted. It was necessary to fire upon the Negroes several times before they were dispersed and sent back under the yoke of servitude. The colony of Georgia was not founded until 1732, but it is possible that there was a settlement of English, in Savannah as early as 1728. Such settlers no doubt migrated from South Carolina, carrying their slaves with them.
In 1730 there were attempted insurrections in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. In Williamsburg the uprising was due to the fact that there was circulated among the Negroes a report to the effect that Colonel Spotswood had orders from the King to free all baptised persons on his arrival. Men were called from all the adjacent counties to put down this disturbance. On September 14, 1730, Lieutenant Governor Gooch wrote to the Lords of Trade concerning the discovery of the meetings of the Negroes in several parts of the country in order to obtain their freedom. He informed them that parties of the militia had been appointed to secure all negroes found off their masters' plantations and that a great many had been taken and whipped for rambling abroad. He also informed the Lords that the cause of the uprising was that his Majesty had caused rumors to be circulated that they were all to be free as soon as they were Christians. In Charleston, says a contemporary, this was the first open rebellion in that colony in which the Negroes were actually armed and embodied. The plan was for each Negro to kill his master in the dead of night, and when the bloody work was completed, all would assemble for a celebration of victory at a dancing bout. Then they were to rush on the city and kill on the spot any white man they might meet. The plot was discovered and the leaders were executed.
Excerpted from Slave Insurrections in the United States, 1800-1865 by Joseph Cephas Carroll. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.