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1811 German Coast Slave Revolt

In Louisiana with the beginning of 1811 came an insurrection of the slaves of the parish of St. John the Baptist, thirty-six miles above New Orleans. The largest armed resistance to slavery in U.S. history was commanded by Kook, Quamana, Harry Kenner, and Charles Deslondes. This stealthily organized uprising of 500 armed slaves dressed in military uniforms marched on and tried to conquer New Orleans. The January 1811 slave uprising and march on New Orleans was the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States. The revolt dwarfed such better-known rebellions as Nat Turner's and Denmark Vesey's.

During the early days of the French régime in Louisiana it was customary, in nearly all wars with the Indians, to employ slaves to swell the meager ranks of the French soldiery, a thing that would not have been done had not necessity required it as a measure of safety. In this way the slaves learned that, by turning against the French, they could secure their freedom among the Indians. Most of the hostile tribes had among them slaves who had gained their liberty in this manner.

Stories of St. Domingo's fate at the hands of insurrectionary slaves, or the promise of protection and encouragement at the hands of white men, had, in many instances, given the South not a theory, or conjecture, or hysterical fear, but evidence of what such things would lead her slaves to do. Daniel Rasmussen wrote "Inspired by the stories of the Haitian revolution and flush with the philosophies of the French Revolution, the diverse band of slaves that joined insurrectionary cells believed they could secure freedom, equality, and independence through violent rebellion. As the heads of the whites rolled through the streets, they could form a new republic - a black outpost on the Mississippi, guaranteed by force."

Rumor of the revel in St. Domingo had reached the ears of the slaves on the plantations of Louisiana; in the lonely parish of Pointe Coupee the slaves planned a massacre of their owners. The slaves outnumbered the whites in this parish, and its remote situation rendered the task an easy one, if but the secret could be kept until the blows were ready to fall. It is hard at this time to realize the awful nature of the peril hanging over the scattered and helpless families. The men and the children were to be killed outright; the women were to be subjected to a fate an hundred-fold more horrible.

The uprising began in one of the wealthiest and most fertile stretches of agricultural land in North America: Louisiana's famed German Coast. Originally settled by Germans but largely French by the early 19th century, the area was dominated by a small number of large plantations, all of them dependent on slave labor.

It was as barbaric as it was picturesque and horrible. Soon after the first outbreak, they formed into companies on the east bank of the Mississippi, and marched toward the city, with flags displayed, to the sound of martial music. About five hundred slaves formed themselves into a column, and, with flags flying, marched to the tune of wild music made by blowing into reed 'quills' and by beating upon iron kettles and other sonorous implements. “On to Orleans!” was their war cry. The slaves of such plantations as they passed were compelled to join their ranks. The whole number engaged in this outbreak was estimated at nearly five hundred, before they were arrested by the militia or the adjoining parishes.

Most of the planters were notified by their slaves in time to flee with their families to places of safety, but one planter, a man named Trépagnier, refused to leave his residence. Sending his family out of danger, he loaded several shotguns and took his stand upon the gallery of his house prepared to defend his property against the horde that threatened its destruction. When the rioters arrived in sight and saw the intrepid man, who was known to be an expert marksman, standing apparently unmoved before their hideous din, they contented themselves with shaking their fists at him and threatening to return and attend to his case later.

After much excitement and damage, they were finally suppressed by the garrisons of Baton Rouge and Fort St. Charles. General Hampton immediately ordered the regular troops from Baton Rouge and Fort St. Charles to advance toward the seat of revolt. The insurgents succeeded in destroying only a few plantations before they were subdued. They encountered the militia, but were soon surrounded and routed, with the loss of sixty-six killed, or hung immediately afterward. Many fled to the swamps to avoid pursuit, and a number of the wounded subsequently died. Sixteen others, who had taken a prominent part in the insurrection, were carried to New Orleans, where they were tried, convicted, and executed in an exemplary manner, after which their heads were exposed on poles at different points along the river. Their heads were placed upon high poles above and below the city, some of them as far up the river as the_plantation where the insurrection began, as a warning to the survivors. A detachment of the regular troops was stationed in the vicinity until tranquillity was fully restored.

It has not gotten the attention that the revolts by Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey have because the whites of New Orleans, Louisiana, where the revolt took place, made a conscious effort to squelch any memory of it. Many people (politicians, Confederate apologists, Southern Christians) wanted to forget.

"With little attention from scholars," Rasmussen writes, "North America's largest antebellum slave revolt has languished in the footnotes of history for two hundred years. While historians jostled to write about Nat Turner, who had mobilized fewer than 100 slaves, this diverse band of Louisiana slaves has been remembered by only a few."

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Page last modified: 22-07-2017 18:03:26 ZULU