Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt
Tonight on behalf of Harvard bookstore I'm excited to introduce Daniel Rasmussen to discuss his first book American uprising in the early 19th century. The expanded United States acquired a Louisiana territory controlled by French planners French planters filled with sugar plantations works by African slaves in the startingly original account. Rasmussen uncovers the story behind a rebellion of 500 slaves and with vivid details reveals how this revolt developed over time and space. The Washington Post calls American uprising carefully researched civet and convincing Rasmussen clearly is a gifted prose stylist tenue Rasmussen graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University in 2000 and 9 his senior thesis and violent visions slave's sugar and the 1811 German coast uprising. While the hoops Prize and was expanded to American uprising without further ado ladies and gentlemen please join me in welcoming Daniel Rasmussen.
Thank you so much for that. It's really wonderful to be back here speaking at Harvard which is of course where I did my undergraduate and I have many friends from Harvard here tonight including teachers and people who wrote their theses with me and all other friends. And so it's so wonderful of you all to come and be here this very special moment for me. This month is as you all know Black History Month. This year is the centennial of the start of the Civil War. It's also the 200 anniversary of America's largest slave revolt which happened in Louisiana in January of 1811. It's been nearly forgotten and I think that it's probably the largest moment of political amnesia international memory. You don't find it taught in schools. A man like Nat Turner and John Brown are household names the names Charles De Leon can call mana. Have vanished into the footnotes of history. And so I'm trying to do with this book and I'll share the story of the book with you tonight is hopefully to bring them
back to to put that story back at the center of our national attention to think again about slavers distance in the central moment. Central central role of play in our nation's past. First question I often get is why January of 1811. Why did the slaves choose to revolt all of a sudden just a few years after the Louisiana Purchase. There are three reasons why the slaves shows January of 1811 to launch their revolt. The first was that it was Mardi Gras carnival the festive build up to perhaps New Orleans while the celebrations and for all of you have been down to New Orleans in January or February are familiar with what goes on down there the scene was very similar back in 1810 in 1811. I want to read you a description of what was consumed at one of these lavish parties in January. One hundred ninety six gallons of Madeira. One hundred forty four bottles of champagne 100 bottles of Hermitage wine sixty seven bottles of brandy
81 bottles of porter. Two hundred and fifty eight bottles of ale. And if that wasn't enough. Eleven thousand three hundred sixty Spanish cigars the night after that party would have been a pretty good time to launch a slave revolt. The second reason the slaves chose January of 1811 was that William Claiborne the governor of the Orleans territory it sent the drug goons the finest fighting force that America had in the center in this region to Baton Rouge to fight the Spanish. I think we often think about America sort of peacefully spreading out through the continent but in reality in 1810 1811 everywhere from Florida all the way around to Cuba was controlled by the Spanish. And as America expanded we had to fight for that land. And at the time Claiborne was waging a proxy war with the Spanish. There were rumors in the air that Spain would send a fighting force from Cuba one of the commonalities you see in many American slave revolts is that a threat of outside intervention from a foreign power often gives the slave's greater confidence that
the revolt would have a chance of success. A final reason that the slaves choose January 18 11 to launch their revolt is that on January 4th a tremendous rainstorm blew in by January 6. Scouts reported that the legs of the roads were a half a leg deep in mud. Why was this significant first of all meant the slaves couldn't work. But more importantly it meant that heavy artillery could not be transported out into the cities so a group of slaves armed with cane axes muskets would have a much better chance of success than they would have against an American military force armed with heavy artillery. The planters were celebrating and they did not realize what was going on in the slave quarters. It's very characteristic of the planters to ignore slave resistance because the total idiology of the slave holders was that slaves could not be political creatures of political ideas but rather they were that they were animals with with NO NO sense of political aspirations who deserved to be enslaved and so they missed the
signals leading up to January 18 11. They missed certain secret Congresses and the edges of the fields. Certain meetings in the slave quarters. They missed the increasing political intensity in a set of dances that would be held every Sunday in New Orleans and they missed that a man named Charles Taylor along with two two other con slaves recently brought over from Africa. We're about to launch a revolt that would turn their world upside down. I want to tell you a little bit about the leaders of this revolt Charles De Leon was was was a slave driver. For those unfamiliar with the labor regimes on the plantations slave drivers there was Master there was the overseer and then there was the driver. The slave driver was complicit with the system of slavery they would punish the recalcitrance for the slaves chase fugitives. They ran the plantation they met with other planters to plant out the daily work schedule. They were in exchange for their work on the plantation given certain privileges they were allowed to travel more freely. They were given
nicer clothes a better cabin better food better treatment. They were the trusted advisors the right hand man of the planter. But Charles was not using his privileged position to put to advocate for the system of slavery but rather to undermine it. He was in our modern terminology the ultimate sleeper cell using his privileged status to subvert the system of slavery which everybody including the other slaves thought he was a he was a part of a kook and mana or Kwaku and Queen and their native Ashanti tongues. Were born children of an African warrior empire the economy Shante Kingdom brought over an 18 0 6 purchased by a man named John Brown James Brown and brought out into the sugar plantations right outside of New Orleans. Cooper Kwaku as he was known I was over six feet tall which in an age when the average height was about five foot four inches was absolutely towering. These men would meet. Charles would travel up and down the coast to meet with other slave drivers to plan the plantation cycle
or so his master thought and as he traveled he would meet with Coop and with cool mana to plot this revolt. On January 6th on Jetstar in January 8th the rain continued to come down Charles de Londres gathered 25 men on the plantation of Manuel Andry forty miles from New Orleans. 25 faces looked down as he laid out the final plan and some final words of encouragement. Every man there knew that his presence meant a death sentence and even the hint of revolt would be punished punished with death. They had tire system of plantation slavery you see was predicated upon complete and total violence the threat of death being the final card that the slave holders played but other ones more common I think give you a sense of why these slaves would have chosen to revolt in the most common punishment to drive three stakes in the ground. Tie your hand one's hands to one stick another hand to another stick your feet to a
third stick to beat you to an inch of death. Other forms of punishment include iron collars the spikes facing inward so you can sleep or masks so the slaves could and could not eat. It's an incredibly brutal system and I want you know to leave no illusions that what the slaves intended to do in return was equally as violent. No records survive to tell us what Charles said to his slaves in the final minutes before they attacked the slaves were planning for a battle not taking notes. But I want to read to you a quote from it. Another slave leader a year later plots another of all in his final moments of plotting revolt he stands before his fellow rebels and says takes a plan tain stabs it through with a machete and said This is how I will run it through the stomachs of the whites as the slaves made their final preparations. Man Well Andrea and Gilbert Andrey lay asleep in their respective chambers surrounded by family portraits and fine furniture imported from Europe. Even in the darkness the plantar man on his plantation cast a formidable shadow. These men were the wealthiest people in the United States at the time. Their houses monuments to the
wealth that the slaves had made for them and earned for them through their back breaking labor in the hot Louisiana sun. As the slaves stormed onto the second floor landing men were ANDREY. It woke to the sight of dark forms penetrating his bedroom and the clatter of bare feet on hardwood floors as his eyes snapped open and his brain awake with a fright. Andrey caught a glimpse of Charles Taylor and a new look on his face ordering his fellow slaves to his Andrina son with an axe. One can only imagine Andrea's reaction in the fog and panic of those first moments encountering Charles his most loyal driver his his reliable assistant for over a decade. The man he trusted to manage his plantation now turned betrayer and potential murder his mind clouded by fear and anger Andrea's eyes fixed on Charles axe a plantation tool now transmute it into an icon of insurrection as a slave swords towards him and he leaped from his bed. The slave stood between him in the staircase and the staircase was his only escape. He made the decision to act and he fled. He turned around catching a
glimpse of the slaves driving their axes into the body of his son. I don't know how many will and or escaped whether the slaves let him because they thought that it wounded plantar could do little harm. Or whether he was simply too fast and moved too quickly. But somehow Andrea scaped it was his first mistake. The slaves having killed Gilbert Andre and chase men while away broke into the storehouse on the Andrew plantation they put on military uniform. They got out flags drums and they assembled to begin their march towards New Orleans marching in military formation flags flying drums beating shouting to chants on to New Orleans and freedom or death. And they began their march. Now the fastest way to freedom in a slave society was not to participate in a revolt but to betray one. And almost as soon as the revolt began the betrayals also began. The planter Francoise trip on the end awoke to find his slaves Dominic
rushing into his bedroom that morning not to kill him but to save his life. Dominic told friends there and I quote There's a large number of rebel slaves moving down the river pillaging the farms and killing the whites. Francoise Trapani I got up he ordered his wife and his children to flee and he sends Dominic and he tells Dominic to go to every single plantation between their New Orleans to warn the planters to flee to head for the hills to head for the city to escape as quickly as possible in the face of the incoming rebels. Dominic Woodward six separate planters. But despite Dominic's warning Francoise trip Anya made the decision to stand his ground in the face of men he considered little better than canines. His contempt for his slaves was well known in local folk legend has it that he kept a slave boy named GU stuff to whom he would toss scraps like a dog at the dinner table. Trip on a did not think the slave rebels would pose much of a threat. Well as wife and children begged him to accompany them he decided to take his stand thinking that he a white planter
used to being in control would have little difficulty facing an army of black slaves who he thought as I said were little more than dogs. He did not have to wait long in the morning light he could see the smoke from four or five plantations burning into curling into the sky he could hear the ominous beat of the African drums pounding and pounding. But he was not afraid. He did not expect what he saw next. Around the bend of the levee along the Mississippi river divided into companies each under an officer emerged an army of between two hundred five hundred black slaves. Now free marching in military uniform towards this plantation in the next few moments the slaves broke into a trap on his plantation and they killed him. Local Legend has it that Gustave swung the final axe his final act of vengeance. What were the slaves thinking as they march with their military uniforms their flags their
drums and was their inspiration. And what does this tell us about slave politics. Well first thing it tells us is that the slaves were consciously evoking the imagery of the Haitian revolution I think many of us today are familiar with Haiti from the images we see on television of the you know of disaster and poverty at the time. Haiti was a symbol of liberty to all of the American slaves. And one of the greatest fears of the planter class between 1791 and 89 for the victorious Haitian army had defeated 70 percent killed 70 percent of the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte one of the greatest military empire emperors that Europe had ever seen defeated by an army of slaves and 18 a force on Jacques de Saline wrote in the Haitian Declaration of Independence let us imitate those people who extending their concern into the future and dreading to leave an example of cowardice for posterity preferred to be exterminated rather than lose their place as one of the world's free peoples. May the French tremble when they approach our coasts. If not by the memory of the
cruelty they have inflicted at least by the terrible resolution that we are about to devote to death anyone born French who would dirty with his sacrilegious foot the territory of liberty. With Haiti a recent memory the slaves believed they might have a chance to succeed. But what were they going up against in New Orleans. Did they really have a chance to succeed or was the slave army of 200 to 500 black slaves doomed from the outset. I think we have to go to the primary sources to ask those in New Orleans on that day in 1811 what they thought the Louisiana Gazette said the account we were received were various fear and panic had sees those making their escape and it was not possible to estimate the force of the brigand's fresh memories of Haiti fueled terror among the city's white elite. I found almost a dozen references to Haiti in newspapers in New Orleans leading up to this revolt. These these
accounts would describe how white planters had been put on rocks and cut into pieces. Now men women and children be dipped into to capitated. This was the greatest nightmare of the planter class the idea that Haiti would emerge in the sugar plantations here in New Orleans. Another resident called said this is turning into a miniature representation of the horrors of San Domingo. But from a military perspective what were the slaves up against they were up against sixty eight American regular troops. I want to read to you a passage that Commodore John Shaw as the American admiral at the time said the American Commodore in New Orleans the time wrote about these 68 regular troops. He wrote that they were in a weak detachment and they feared that the whole coast would exhibit a general sense of devastation. Every description of property would be consumed and the country laid waste by rioters. He went on all were on alert general confusion and dismay prevailed throughout the city. Scarcely a single person
possessed in a musket for the protection of himself and his property. So just to reiterate 68 American military troops called by their commander a weak detachment protecting a city completely unarmed and defenseless vs. an army of between two hundred five hundred black slaves armed with muskets cane knives and axes who knew that if they did not exceed there it is if they did not succeed they would be tortured decapitated and killed. If I had to bet at this moment who would succeed I would have put my money on the slaves and what happened next just confirms that hypothesis. The American military marches out they encounter the slaves at 2 a.m. in a plantation about fifteen miles from New Orleans. Wade Hampton the general gathers his men and they plan this attack they're going to lay siege to this plantation and defeat the slaves and destroy the rebellion right there. They planned their attack it's 2:00 a.m. 2:30 3:00 a.m. and they launch it only to find that the plantation is empty. Slaves had left lights burning and they had left food and they themselves had disappeared they tricked Wade Hampton into attacking an empty plantation
wasting precious hours wasting the strength of his men and Wade Hampton decides that he will stop with his men to rest the slaves were demonstrating a classic West African military tactic familiar to those who know about guerrilla warfare you lure the enemy from the center of power. You hire them down you destroy them as they come into your territory the land that you know better than they do. But there is another dynamic at work. Man wandering had crossed the river. Forty miles north of New Orleans he crossed the river. And there he'd gone to the planters on the other side of the river and he told them what was going on. And those planters like the slaves knew that if the slave army was successful their entire livelihoods their wealth their lives their families would be destroyed. And so they rallied together armed to the teeth and crossed the river above the plant above the slave farming slaves unwittingly had been flanked. Charles Pereira one of the planters wrote that he saw the enemy moving it forced
march at a very short distance as many mounted as on foot. What did the slaves do next. They not cower. They did not retreat. They stood up. Spanish spy wrote the blacks were not intimidated by this army and they formed themselves in a line a military firing line exactly the right thing to do from a military perspective. I want to read to you a passage to I think of what the slaves must have been feeling like at that moment as they face their former masters in the field of battle. Standing as men dressed in military uniform armed and prepared to fight and die for their liberty and for equality. Finally this passage is from a Louisiana slave who freed himself and fought in the civil war for the Union Army. He wrote We are now fighting and ask no more glorious death than to die for freedom or for our race to go back into bondage again to be hunted by dogs to the swamps and cane breaks to be set upon the
block and sold for gold and silver. No never we would gladly die first. I can't tell you exactly what happened next in the billowing smoke that engulfed the battlefield as guns fired Strom's beat chants and shouts went up. Something happened. Perhaps the slaves ran out of ammunition. Perhaps the white military just broke their lines too quickly but whatever happened to the slave army was routed. What happened next was a massacre. The plantar militia backed at this point the American military that arrived on the scene found Charles De Leon in the swamps. They chopped off his limbs shot him in both eyes and then burned him alive. They then proceeded to engage in a strange and terrifying ritual whether they killed the insurgents lives immediately upon encountering them or after slow torture or following a court trial.
The planters performed the same spectacular violent ritual obsessive Lee collectively they chopped off the heads of the slave corpses and they put them on display. The planter Samuel Hamilton wrote the slaves were brung here for the sake of their heads which decorate our levee all the way up the coast. They look like crows sitting on long poles for 40 miles from the center of New Orleans out and let the plantation Amandla Andry the planters decorated the land of sugar. With slaves heads on pikes a hundred heads on pikes dangle dismembered corpses hanging gruesomely from the levee turning the land of sugar to a land of death. In the trials that followed slaves began to tell their story a story that emerged from the slaves perspective was of a complex plot. Eleven separate leaders men from Kentucky Virginia Haiti the Congo the econ Kingdom sons of white fathers sons
of slaves sons of freemen sons of African warriors the German coast uprising had raised serious questions in the Orleans territory about the strength of American power the extent of the Spanish threat and the possibility above all the Haitian style revolution on American soil and about the character of America's newly acquired French planter citizens. The planters realized the urgency of this question and they answered them with 100 dismembered bodies. And then having killed the slaves having dismembered their corpses they attempted to write the slaves out of history in newspapers and letters. The planters and the American military officials would describe it again and again but these were mere criminals mere mere mere mere break ins and they were in their words. Who it was revolution had been insignificant who had no political ideas who were mere looters launching a raid ill fated doomed that was quickly and easily suppressed by
the American government. Of course those of us who have read the sources know the American military attacked a plantation and was resting at the time of the battle. It was really planters who defeated the rebels but they did not let truth hinder their decisions about the way that they would present the story. For nearly 200 years the story of these slave rebels and their heroic accomplishments and of the story of the largest active slave resistance in American history has largely gone untold. But despite its absence from the textbooks the story of the 1811 uprising is central to the history of this country. It's not just central to black history or to slave history but rather to American history. This is a story of a revolution organized by enslaved men who saw violence as a means to an ends they never achieved. But their failure to achieve those goals does not mean that they did not have goals or that the sum total of this real revolt was of a quick and violent suppression of a horde of brigands
rather 200 years later. We must reckon with the politics of the enslaved with the world that the slaves men made. And with the humanity and indeed heroism of those who fought against slave power. Only through understanding their story can we begin to comprehend the true story of Louisiana or the South in the nation. Thank you. So that when I first started the first accounts I looked to where the letters and newspaper accounts have described to you. And when I first started actually remember I turned in my junior paper and and the junior paper said well did this revolt even happen. You know what was it was it even a revolt or was it a strike or was it a parade or. Or maybe it was just a conspiracy that the that the whites had made up to justify their own violence. But as I dug deeper into the source material I had to go to the next lair. The court transcripts of the planter's financial ledgers and what
emerged from that the from those accounts that which were closer to the slave experience was a story not of some insignificant event as the planter's million Claiborne had written. But of the largest act of slave resistance in American history and sort of piece it together I first built two data bases and Diana who was in my senior thesis seminar remembers this as being a little bit of a strange approach to history. But I took these ledger books the financial records of planters and courts transcripts I put them all into Excel data bases. Because when you're dealing with financial information it's probably best to deal with that using the best tools available to analyze financial information because that's at this way at this point how the planter's regarded their slaves. And then I got old land maps. When I was the only person sitting in a wiener library with crayons cramming in you know five slaves came from this plantation of color orange and that of ten slaves a color red if not a color green. Until I had you know a visual perspective on where and how the slave army had fought and so I used the data bases and the maps and then you know
with all that information I started to piece together when things that happened so there are sparse accounts write letters to recount say oh 2pm the sap and then I would say well if this happened at 2:00 PM Let's use Google maps to figure out how long it would have taken to get from a plantation and a plantation big and thus you know event C must have happened three hours and 15 minutes before 2pm plantation B and sort of built out you know step by step turning this fragmentary evidence these lists of information this financial data into a real story. And that was that was the bulk of the research. The ups the questions about where this book is going where the story will go. And my hope is that this that this story will be unavoidable a year from now that I went down to an elementary school to talk to a bunch of eighth graders outside of New Orleans and Louisiana history teachers brought me over their textbook and showed me that there was there was no mention of this revolt. And so my first goal is that Nat Turner that Charles Dillon who can come on will
find their place in the textbooks. You can't graduate from United States history class from high school without learning about the largest act of armed resistance against slavery. And second of all I want to change the way hopefully that I think much of the you know the country thinks about slavery I think that we look back upon slavery with guilt with shame. We see it. We feel guilty it and all those things are true and we think about the slaves as victims. But I was trying to write a book that showed the slaves as heroes. And that said you know we can be proud of their accomplishments and not only did these men build new ones I want to read a quote from John Newell Desta Han who is one of the most prominent French planners of the time. This is what he wrote about slavery. He wrote that without slavery cultivation must cease the improvements of a century be destroyed and the great river resume its empire over ruin fields and demolished habitations. Without slavery America was nothing right America's largest export from eighteen hundred to one thousand thirty five the majority of US exports was cotton. Right. Cotton was the foundation of American economic growth especially in New Orleans.
You know the building of the levees who built the levees who grew the Sugar who made these beautiful plantation homes which still stand today where you can go and get married or have banquets if you so desire. It was all built by slaves and so you know I hope that what this book will have an impact on is first of all saying we have to recognize the contributions the enslaved building in this country. That's fundamental. But second we should look back with pride upon these men who are willing to fight and die for their freedom who did not go gently into that good night. So the question was about the plantations that are in existence today and how that memory is exists today. So I think I told you a little bit John all desks are hand John Aunt Esther and I think that 14 children who survived infancy he was a gentleman planter a United States senator John all of us friends house survives this day. And I'll read to you briefly what the tour what the brochure from the restaurant plantation says. Everyone worked from family members to slaves because life on a plantation was not easy. It has been documented that slaves at
death strand plantation were treated with fairness and their health needs provided for. What that does not mention was that John Doe a desk that sat eating three course meals looking out of the beheaded bodies of slaves that he personally had to capitated. But other than that you know I guess plantation life wasn't easy. But but Esther hand I mean it's just remarkable you know the striking contrast between you know what were essentially death camps and now are remembered for their fine furniture and for the grace and wealth of the men that built them and so it you know what it was I've spoken you know in the plantation region I spoke at a library right next that Esther and plantation and I think there is a willingness to confront these issues to deal with them. I think that there's maybe an awkwardness about how to deal with it you know how to remember it and what the real history is so I feel like you know many people just have no idea especially those from older generation and so you know I think that a probably a gradual process from doing everything I can. Yes the question was about the military presence in New Orleans and leading up into the War of
1812 and some incredibly astute question of what happens really is that this revolt cements the alliance between the American government the French planters in New Orleans so French planters despised William Claiborne the governor they called him an ignorant yahoo. It's written in his diary books that he did not speak French and his older brother wrote that he quote unquote preferred the company of older women. And so Claiborne was not tremendously popular with the French aristocrats nor was the American government. But after this revolt a head of the speaker of Representatives of the Louisiana of the of the Orleans territory House of Representatives gets up and says we should cling to the United States as an ark of safety. That they had to rely on the federal military to protect them. And so in 1811 you see this consolidation of power of planters who are saying slavery cannot survive without the support of the American government that the support of American military without the spread of American power here in the south. And so I think that's part of the larger story of American expansion that
slave agriculture is dependent on military power because the slaves are a powder keg waiting to go off. And so you see I think ultimately paranoia about slaver faults as being one of the defining features of the consciousness of the South. You see it in the Declaration of Independence the penultimate grievance against the British crown is that King George has incited domestic insurrections against us. Interesting language domestic insurrections we fast forward 1861 South Carolina ordinance of secession. What's their final grievance against the North. Their final reason for session Well it happens to be that northern abolitionists have fomented domestic insurrections against us right. This fear of slave revolt constantly shaping the politics of this country. So the revolt is mentioned in many history books and you can see it as far back as 1866. Historians have dealt with this the longest published account prior to this book was 24 pages on a Canadian historical journal but largely you know I think there were a couple of issues the first is that you know history is written by the winners
and that's true. But you know from. From from 1811 from William Claiborne his first letters to eight to relate to 1945 history of the South Mr. Louisiana was written almost entirely by people who saw the retelling of these stories as a way to solidify white supremacy. There is one a story and Charles Guy R. who writes who writes in in 1930 that this story he tells the story and learns from it not the moral that the slaves were heroes but rather the moral He writes quote unquote that the lease should be kept tight around the blacks. And so one of the reasons why this event has been lost from history is simply the perspective of historians since Herbert apt to correct you guys this is the largest level in American history in 1905. There have been sporadic accounts most of which acknowledge that there's a little known it's not well documented and all these things are true. And so it really required you know just a tremendous amount of legwork to get into the actual sources to build these databases do these maps in order to piece together the story as to whether
equips me to write further histories I certainly hope so. So took me about three years. Harvard has incredible libraries and among other things they'll do is ship you pretty much anything you want from anywhere. And so I was able to get almost everything I wanted shipped to me. I also did a lot of work to American an Aquarian society which is a wonderful collection of microfilm. I went down to D.C. to look at Naval records so I figured let's go through every ship that was in New Orleans between 1910 and 1812 and see if by any chance they kept in their log books. And I think that this revolt which led to the discovery of that wonderful letter from Commodore John Shaw and then I went down to New Orleans to look at diplomatic correspondence so you know in New Orleans 90 percent French and Spanish there were ambassadors spies in New Orleans reporting back to people in Spain and in France about what was going on. And so I was largely why I went to New Orleans and I spent about two weeks down there. So the question is about my background. I grew up in Washington D.C. sort of grew up with politics in the blood and I spent a lot of time as a youngster working for local
newspapers in my school paper and I sort of got got into the whole investigative journalist thing. Can journalism also teach you how to write which I'm forever grateful for. I sort of fell in love with the idea of sort of telling truth to power finding these stories other people don't want you to find them and sort of sticking it sticking it to people with your with with stories you're able to find. So I came upon this story and I read about it you know the chance to unearth this story and you know maybe maybe you know sticking it to slave planters is not the most courageous thing to do but you know it's certainly it was it was a lot of fun. And so so sort of my love of investigative journalism of turning up the story that really got me excited about it. Yeah absolutely so there are questions about what's the slave population wants. Check my number check my numbers in the book but I think it's around 20000 at this point. It might be higher. And as you said 500 slaves revolt is the question is why didn't more slaves just get involved and the answer is those heads on pikes right. I mean I think that you know you make a calculus right are you going to risk your life. Are you going to fight against these men who
control everything in the entire world that you know or are you going to stand on the sidelines or are you going to betray the revolt right. People make different decisions. It's about 25 percent of the slaves on this particular band of plantations choose to join the revolt. But I see that as pretty incredible right. I mean you gotta think about these numbers two hundred five between 200 and 500 men. You know that's that's that's two to five times the size of any slave role that happened in North America anywhere else. And really the the ability for these men these 11 leaders to motivate that many men to risk their lives and really you know what must have seen you know I was they did have hope. But you know nearly hopeless you know was was was a sting credibly you know amazing that they were able to achieve that. You know so the question is about structural reasons which I am I'll have to admit pretty terrible with sort of comparative history and structural questions. I just like to write about the people and so I you know I'm sure there are people that would be better qualified to answer that question than me.
Yep yep so the first question was. Well the second question sir was about you know what where I first found the story in the first question was about other contributing reasons to how this revolt has been forgotten. The first question to respond to that yes New Orleans time 90 percent French and Spanish. Many of the documents that I use were originally in French or Spanish and so this was on the fringes certainly this was either New Orleans America's first imperial colony purchased from France largely unwilling populace or does not want to be American and William Clayborne is really the only channel back to Washington. Second reason is that unlike Nat Turner and Stoner rebellion this doesn't prompt any soul searching among the slave owners of New Orleans as to whether slavery is a good idea or whether it's morally right or how they're treating the slaves nothing. The only conclusion they draw from it is let's bring in more American military troops as fast as possible and that's it. And so you don't see sort of the extended debates in Parliament or you know that you know in Congress that happened
after Nat Turner for example. The same question my first found out about this and the class of an absolutely amazing heart Fessor Walter Johnson that you mention in one of his lectures. Yeah so they marched 40 miles out of the city into about 15 miles in so 25 miles 15 miles from the gates of New Orleans. I mean I think their intention was made clear by where they were marching there was no other place they were going in New Orleans. And I think their goal you know judged on the ideologies of other revolts like the Haitian revolution was quite clearly to establish a black Republican shores in the 70s. So this is actually top of learned about on the book tour. But there was a group of free blacks and New Orleans they actually had a mixed race militia in the city that root that militia was commended in the months after the revolt for not participating not for not helping the Americans but just for it like thanks for not doing anything. You know the question is you know would they have participated with you not to participate in you know my first instinct was sort of like solidarity of course they would've participated. When I talk to people in New Orleans they said you don't
understand the complexities of racial relations here and they would have been on the side of the whites and you know I don't know that I've really looked enough into that specific issue but but there are certainly two sides to that so question what was first about the phrase from an incredible guy named Leon Waters who described this revolt as the intellectual and scene of the civil rights movement. And so as much that is spoken about there being a vast collective amnesia about this revolt this revolt is very well known in one specific place just the German coast and I've met descendants of the revolutionaries who said you know what we've been hearing about this for years at our family reunion. And so this story has lived on passed on from father son mother to daughter after 200 years in the German coast which is incredible. And there's a group down there the Afro-American a storied history Alliance which has collected a bunch of documents about the revolt which leads tours of the area has really been fighting an uphill battle for years. The question more directly about was it was this the intellectual and CNN of the civil rights
movement. You know and I probably you know and I'm not sure again that I'm qualified to answer that question and you certainly don't see anybody really other than maybe Herbert applecart talking about this revolve in the context of the civil rights movement. So I think it's a hard hard to probably say that had much of a connection other than than philosophical. And then the second question was resonances here in New England and a specific reference to the Harvard president that enslaves you know I haven't seen a specific resonances of this revolt in particular. But I would point out that Harvard has a long history of abolitionists from Wendell Phillips Robert Gould Shaw and many many others who fought long and hard for the for the sake of abolition. So. Absolutely. You know the War of 1812 questions about the War of 1812. So I think I've talked a little bit about the securing the military power of the Americans and the French and certainly putting them in a much better footing there was more troops in the world because of this revolt there to fight the British. I what other side point I make about the War of 1812 is the thing about the Battle of New Orleans happens just you
know three or four years later where the British were sure the Americans mowed down the British right. Basically you know no American casualties. And so for anyone who says the slaves were a weak force or you know they never would have succeeded or you know whatever. Well you know the Americans defeated the British. You know just as easily a few years later. So don't discount the slaves you know think of it in context. So yeah I mean it is amazing also think about you know slaves were an organizational capacity right. And people wonder you know where did you know how did a bunch of slaves you know know military tactics or you know how did they come to you know know how to march in formation and form a firing line. And so the first thing I'd say was that these slaves are incredibly sophisticated. All right they were leading their plantations already you know man like Charles de la de was used to a lot of us used to the position of power and authority and command and second of all they were informed by philosophies and intellectual traditions. You know as diverse as Haiti Haiti Congo the Sante kingdom and so you know these men were not unprepared for
battle. And so one important thing to think about when you think about slaves is that you know I think we think about slavery as existing on sort of rural plantations with no connection to the outside world in this sort of you know Gone With The Wind style plantations and the slaves were so incredibly linked and connected with that with with each other with larger political currents. And so it's hard to understate just the level political sophistication on the enslaved. So his last question are we anyway. Great. Thank you.
- Harvard Book Store
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- Historian Daniel Rasmussen discusses his first book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt.In January 1811, five hundred slaves, dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes, rose up from the plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. Ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized, this self-made army challenged not only the economic system of plantation agriculture but also American expansion. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States.American Uprising tells the long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. With the Haitian revolution a recent memory and the War of 1812 looming on the horizon, the revolt had epic consequences for America.
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- Moving Image
Speaker2: Rasmussen, Daniel
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Identifier: a90e752b010f02a8c5ea1ae0793293fbd7c37e82 (ArtesiaDAM UOI_ID)
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- Chicago: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt,” 2011-02-10, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1n7xk84m65.
- MLA: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt.” 2011-02-10. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1n7xk84m65>.
- APA: Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1n7xk84m65