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Servile Insurrections - A List

It is estimated that some two-dozen insurrections of slaves took place in the United States prior to the American Revolution. This does not take account of the insurrections in Louisiana and in the Spanish, French and English colonies in the West Indies. The most important insurrection in the West Indies was the uprising in 1791 of the slaves on the Island of Haiti. They were successful in securing their independence. In 1804 they were established as the Republic of Haiti.

  1. 1526 — First insurrection of slaves within the present limits of United States occurred. Some of the slaves in Ayllon's colony, on the coast of what is now South Carolina, after his death attempted an insurrection.
  2. 1664 — An insurrection was planned in Virginia by white bondmen, and slaves. At that time hardly 1,000 slaves in the colony.
  3. 1687 — An intended insurrection of slaves discovered in the Northern Neck of Virginia. The slave population was about equal to that of whites; white convicts and bond servants as dangerous as the slaves.
  4. 1710 — A slave insurrection was planned in Virginia. One of the conspirators, Robert Ruffen, revealed the plot and as reward he was emancipated.
  5. 1712 — What is said to have been the first serious insurrection of slaves in the Thirteen Colonies occurred in New York. Timely aid from the garrison saved the city from being reduced to ashes.
  6. 1720 — In Charleston, South Carolina an insurrection of slaves took place. The white people were attacked in their houses and on the streets. Twenty-three of the insurrectionists were captured. Six of these were convicted, of whom three were executed.
  7. 1722 — About 200 slaves got together in an armed body near the mouth of the Rappahannock River in Virginia, for the purpose of killing the people while they were in church. The plot was discovered, and the plotters fled.
  8. 1723 — April 13, Governor Dummer, of the Massachusetts Colony, issued a proclamation concerning the "fires which have been designedly and industriously kindled by some villianous and desperate slaves or other dissolute people as appears by the confession of some of them." April 18, the Rev. Joseph Sewell preached a sermon on "The late fires that have broken out in Boston, supposed to be purposely set by ye Negroes." April 19, the selectmen of Boston made a report consisting of nineteen articles, Number 9, of which said, "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 master or employer, every one so found shall be punished at the House of Correction."
  9. 1728 — An insurrection of slaves occurred in Savannah, Georgia. A plot had been formed to destroy all the whites. It is, said that only disagreement about the method of procedure, caused the plot to fail. The population of the city consisted at this time of 3,000 whites and 2,700 blacks.
  10. 1730 — In August of this year an insurrection of blacks occurred in Williamsburg, Virginia.
  11. 1730 — There was a rebellion of slaves in South Carolina. This insurrection took place on the Sabbath. The slaves had by some means secured arms.
  12. 1730 - Some of the most artful of the runaway slaves among the Chickasaws went secretly among the slaves in the settlements along the Mississippi and incited them to mutiny. A night was set, on which it was determined to make the attempt to capture the city of New-Orleans, kill the male population, possess themselves of the arms and ammunition stored there, and then conquer the entire colony. The plot was revealed by a slave woman, and the leaders were promptly arrested. Four men were broken on the wheel, their heads fastened on poles at the gates of the city, and one woman was hanged. This example, publicly executed, was sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of the survivors, and to prevent a repetition of their attempt to vanquish their masters. 1740 — An insurrection on the Stone River in South Carolina was planned and led by a slave named Cato. Houses were burned and men, women and children murdered.
  13. 1741 — There was a considerable insurrection among the slaves in New York City. The population of the town consisted of 12,000 whites and 2,000 blacks. Thirteen of the conspirators were burned alive; eighteen were hung and eighty transported.
  14. 1795 - Under the influence of the revolution in France, in 1791 the slaves on the island of St. Domingo broke into open rebellion against their French masters and a reign of terror resulted. Many of the white inhabitants of the island came as refugees to Louisiana, bringing news of the revolt, which in time reached the ears of the slaves on the plantations of the colony. They felt called upon to undertake a similar venture for themselves, and as the rumor passed from lip to lip they grew bolder, until finally, in the early spring of 1795, they were ready for action. The conspiracy was formed on the plantation of Julien Poydras, who was then absent in the United States. His plantation was in the isolated parish of Pointe Coupée, about 150 miles from New Orleans, in a locality where the slaves were rather numerous. The movement soon extended to the entire parish and the 15th of April was fixed upon as the date for the massacre of the whites, all of whom were to be-slaughtered except the women. The leaders got into a quarrel and one of them sent his wife to divulge the plot to the parish commandant. Again the ringleaders were promptly arrested, but this time the enraged slaves hurried to the rescue. In the conflict 25 slaves were killed, when the rest gave up the fight. The leaders were tried almost immediately and 23 were hanged along the banks of the Mississippi from Pointe Coupée to New Orleans, their bodies remaining suspended from their gibbets for several days as an object lesson to others. Thirty-one were severely whipped, and 3 white men, probably the most culpable of the lot, were banished from the colony.
  15. 1800 — In August of 1800, Gabriel Prosser and Jack Boiler were the leaders in an attempted revolt in Henrico County, Virginia. Gabriel, a freeman, his brother Solomon, and numerous free African Americans planned to take over the city of Richmond, Virginia. Their goal was to gain strength to negotiate over deplorable conditions endured by the enslaved. They got together and organized about a thousand slaves and with this force marched on the city of Richmond. A swollen stream forced them to halt. They disbanded with the understanding that they would renew the attempt the following night. Two enslaved Africans, however, divulged Prosser's plot to whites at the last moment. he plot was discovered and the citizens of Richmond were aroused before the attack could be made. Gabriel and Boiler were caught and hanged, with many co-conspirators shipped to the West Indies. The fear of insurrection now hovered ominously over the South, even as northern states ended their ties to slavery.
  16. 1802 — A conspiracy of slaves was discovered in Hartford and Washington Counties, North Carolina. It was suppressed by the militia.
  17. 1811 — In the parish of St. John the Baptist, thirty-six miles above New Orleans, about 500 slaves organized and marched toward the city. They destroyed plantations on the way and forced other slaves to join them. Insurrection was suppressed by the garrison from Fort St. Charles.
  18. 1816 — In Camden, SC, on July 4, 1816, some other slaves risked all for independence. On various pretexts men from the country districts were invited to the town on the appointed night, and different commands were assigned, all except that of commander-in-chief, which position was to be given to him who first forced the gates of the arsenal. Again the plot was divulged by "a favorite and confidential slave," of whom it is said that the state legislature purchased the freedom, settling upon him a pension for life. About six of the leaders were executed.
  19. 1816 — An insurrection was planned by slaves at Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was betrayed. The leaders were hanged. In this same year there was a slave uprising at Camden, South Carolina.
  20. 1818 — There was a rebellion of slaves at Charleston, South Carolina.
  21. 1819 — Some slaves at Augusta, Georgia attempted an insurrection. On or about May 1, 1819, there was a plot to destroy the city of Augusta, Ga. The insurrectionists were to assemble at Beach Island, proceed to Augusta, set fire to the place, and then destroy the inhabitants. Guards were posted, and a white man who did not answer when hailed was shot and fatally wounded. A slave named Coot was tried as being at the head of the conspiracy and sentenced to be executed a few days later. Other trials followed his. Not a muscle moved when the verdict was pronounced upon him.
  22. 1822 — There occurred this year at Charleston, South Carolina an extensive conspiracy which was organized by a freed slave, Denmark Vesey. He was a deep student of the Bible and exerted a profound influence over his people. Slaves for forty or fifty miles around Charleston were to be concerned in the uprising. The purpose was to slaughter the whites in and about Charleston, and thus secure the liberty of the blacks. A recruiting committee was formed and every slave enlisted was sworn to secrecy. Peter Poyas, one of the conspirators, is said to have personally enlisted six hundred persons. The plot was revealed by a household servant. So carefully, however, was the plot guarded that after a month's investigation, only fifteen of the thousands concerned were apprehended. Vesey, with thirty-four others, was put to death. They died without revealing any of their secrets to the court.
  23. 1831 — Nat Turner, a slave in Southampton County, Virginia, was the leader of an insurrection. His mother, it is said, taught him that, like Moses, he was to be the deliverer of his race. Turner's plan was to collect a large number of slaves in the Dismal swamp which is in the extreme southeastern section of Virginia. August 21, he set out with six companions, who were soon joined by many others until they numbered sixty or more. In a short time sixty white persons on different plantations had been killed. The local militia and United States troops were called out. After more than a hundred of the insurrectionists had been killed the uprising was crushed. Forty-three slaves were tried, twenty-one were acquitted, twelve were convicted and sold out of the State, and twenty others, including Turner and one woman, were hanged.
  24. In 1839, 49 enslaved Africans aboard the ship Amistad freed themselves from their chains and revolted, taking over the ship. Eventually, their case was argued in the US Supreme Court. President Van Buren was not in Washington when the Amistad affair broke; he was campaigning in upstate New York. His cabinet therefore formulated the administration's initial response: meeting in mid-September, they took Forsyth's lead and arranged for federal authorities to support Spanish demands that the "slaves" be returned to Cuba to face trial as murderers and pirates. Van Buren soon returned to the capital, but he seems to have paid little attention to the matter, letting Forsyth continue to handle the situation. The president did not replace any judges in the case. But he did put federal attorneys on the case and he did sign off on an effort to have the Africans shipped immediately to Cuba if the court found for the administration, before any appeals could be filed. In sum, Van Buren wanted this problem to go away, cleanly and quietly. From his point of view, this was not only a potential diplomatic crisis with Spain, but more fundamentally a slave revolt—a dangerous provocation to southerners already unsettled by the rise of northern abolitionism.
  25. 1856 - Certain it is that one of the inspirations moving slaves in Tennessee to plot insurrection in 1856 was their belief that Colonel Fremont, the Republican presidential candidate would aid them. A Memphis newspaper, in alluding to widespread evidence of unrest in the city, reported "that a lady a few days ago went into her kitchen, and gave some directions to the negro cook, who impudently replied with a sneer, 'When Fremont's elected, you'll have to sling them pots yourself.'" This hope gave encouragement to slaves convicted of conspiracy in Clarkville, Tennessee, even while they were receiving their punishment. Thus, a contemporary witness remarked, "Certain slaves are so greatly imbued with this fable that I nave seen them smile when they were being whipped, and have heard them say that 'Fremont and his men can hear the blows they receive.'" A vigilante committee in Harrison County, Texas, at the same period reported that there "had been a good deal of loose talk [among the Negroes] about the late election—the prospects of Fremont's election, and the belief of some, that they would be free if Fremont was elected."

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Page last modified: 21-10-2017 19:08:32 ZULU