Slave Revolts



In an interview with Amy Goodman, from Democracy Now, historian Gerald Horne argues that more attention should be given to slave resistance, for instance:

It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.



Horne is right in suggesting that the historiography of North American slavery has downplayed slave revolts. Up until the 1970s, some scholars still portrayed American (U.S.) slavery as a benevolent, albeit strange, institution.[1] According to historian Marcus Rediker, this also applies to slave ship revolts.[2]   The Slave Trade Database and David Richardson’s four-part series on Bristol, Africa, and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade to America offer many accounts of slave revolts aboard ships.[3] Slave Revolts in the West Indies, such as Tacky’s Rebellion (1760) were prevalent. In fact, slaves, in the West Indies, Louisiana, and elsewhere, successfully broke away from their European captures and formed maroon communities. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), initiated by slaves, eventually lead to the emancipation of Haiti from the French. And in 1811, slaves in Louisiana led the largest slave rebellion in North American.[4]

American and British feared slave revolts and this fear influenced political views and legislations. Trevor Burnard, for instance, in Master, Tyranny, and Desire, writes about how Britons fear of their large slave population created a sense of egalitarianism between Britons of high and low class.[5] In the Caribbean and North America, settlers were often afraid of the growing African populations and sought better means to protect themselves against possible rebellion. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, believed that reliance on slave labor lead to the “darkening” of America.[6]

Slave resistance, however, occurred in many different forms, not just large-scale rebellions:

The term “maroons” refers to people who escaped slavery to create independent groups and communities on the outskirts of slave societies. Scholars generally distinguish two kinds of marronage, though there is overlap between them. “Petit marronage,” or running away, refers to a strategy of resistance in which individuals or small groups, for a variety of reasons, escaped their plantations for a short period of days or weeks and then returned. “Grand marronage,” much less prevalent, and the topic here, refers to people who removed themselves from their plantations permanently. Grand marronage could be carried out by individuals or small groups, or it could be the result of plantation-wide breakouts, or even colony-wide rebellions.[7]

Whether as “Petit Marronage” or “Grand Marronage,” slaves were not simply complacent. Horne’s works seek to disprove the idea that Africans willingly accepted their lot. His work is important because he seeks to revise the history of slavery by focusing on the agency of slaves—agency, which Eurocentric white histories have obscured and erased.

The question this blog addresses is, will Horne’s writing help change popular American history? If so, how? Moreover, what can we do to make sure that works like Horne reach broader audiences?


[1] THIS CITATION NEEDS TO BE CONFIRMED, PLEASE DON NOT CITE UNTIL CHECKING THORNTON’S WORK: THORNTON, J. K. (1992). Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1680. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Introduction.

[2] REDIKER, M. (2007). The slave ship: a human history. New York, Viking.

[3]; Richardson, David. 1986. Bristol, Africa and the eighteenth-century slave trade to America: Vol. 1 the years of expansion 1698-1729. Gloucester [England]: Printed for the Bristol Record Society by Alan Sutton Pub.

[4] By Littice Bacon-Blood, | The Times-Picayune  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 03, 2011 at 9:45 PM, updated January 04, 2011 at 5:10 PM; RASMUSSEN, D. (2011). American uprising: the untold story of America’s largest slave revolt. New York, NY, Harper: ‪On to New Orleans!: Louisiana’s heroic 1811 slave revolt

[5] BURNARD, T. G. (2004). Mastery, tyranny, and desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican world. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press; HALL, D. (1989). In miserable slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750-86. London, Macmillan.

[6] Observations concerning the increase of mankind, peopling of countries, &c

by Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790

[7] ARTICLE, Maroons and Marronage, Marjoleine Kars in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414, Published online July 2013 | | DOI:





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