Tuesday, January 11, 2011

News---200th Anniversary: Before the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, 1811 Slave Revolt

The Largest Slave Revolt in U.S. History Is Commemorated, Littice Bacon-Blood, The Times-Picayune, January 04, 2011,

More than a century before the first modern-day civil rights march, there was Charles Deslondes and his make-do army of more than 200 enslaved men battling with hoes, axes and cane knives for that most basic human right: freedom. The 200 year anniversary of the 1811 Slave Revolt in St. John and St. Charles Parishes that reverberated around the country because of the large number of enslaved people involved, the organized nature of it, and oddly enough -some say it finally demonstrated that all was not well among those held in bondage. Destrehan Plantation, along with Tulane University and African American Museum in Treme are hosting a yearlong look at the uprising that stared Jan. 8, 1811 through a series of events and exhibits. The commemoration starts with the exhibit opening at Destrehan on Jan. 8, 2011.

They spoke different languages, came from various parts of the United States, Africa and Haiti, and lived miles apart on plantations along the German Coast of Louisiana. Yet after years of planning at clandestine meetings under the constant threat of immediate death, they staged a revolt on Jan. 8, 1811, that historians say is the largest uprising of enslaved people in this country.

"Slavery was very harsh and cruel, but the slaves themselves were not mindless chattel with no aspirations and no basis for humanity,'' said John Hankins, executive director of the New Orleans African American Museum. "This revolt demonstrates that there were people willing to make the ultimate sacrifices to better not just themselves but other people."

To mark the 200 year anniversary of that revolt, Destrehan Plantation, in conjunction with Tulane University and the African American Museum, located in Treme, is organizing a yearlong look at the uprising that reverberated around the fledgling nation because of the large number of enslaved people involved, its military strategy and oddly enough, because it demonstrated that all was not well among those held in bondage.

"I don't think the United States as a whole understood that the enslaved black population were as unhappy as they were,'' said Hazel Taylor, the special project coordinator at Destrehan Plantation. "Slave owners had a tendency to say that (slaves) were happy. What this did was put awareness on the people who were being oppressed."

It occurred just a year before Louisiana gained statehood and 50 years before Louisiana and 10 other southern states voted to secede from the union in favor of forming the Confederacy. One of the central issues driving the secession, historians say, was an attempt to keep slavery legal because of its huge economic benefits for farmers. Still the battle remains largely unheard of outside historical circles, according to Taylor and others who hope the year's events will change that.

"These were real people and we have many of their names and we hope to encourage people to continue to study these brave individuals," Hankins said. "We want to provide the platform for a discourse about these moments in history and in this case a very important movement. What we want to do is put the Slave Revolt of 1811 into the national discourse to give it just due."

"It's an introduction to the subject, a museum exhibit that you can walk through and get a whole picture of what happened,'' Taylor said. While historians may differ on whether there was one specific catalyst for the uprising, the historical accounts of the events that unfolded on Jan. 8 are generally uniform. It started in LaPlace on the Woodland Plantation, led by Charles Deslondes, the son of an enslaved black woman and her white owner.

Deslondes, along with more than 200 others known mainly by first names, were headed to New Orleans in the hopes of joining with other revolution-minded free and enslaved black people. Historian Daniel Rasmussen spent two years researching the revolt as part of his senior thesis at Harvard University and has expanded his initial work into a recently published book, called "American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt." According to Rasmussen, the revolt had been planned for years and was "highly organized."

"There were 11 separate leaders of the revolt, representing various different ethnic groups. In my book, I profile a few of these leaders, mainly Charles Deslondes, Kook, and Quamana. Kook and Quamana were Asante warriors brought over from Africa a mere five years before," Rasmussen said. "Charles Deslondes was the half-white son of a planter who had risen to the rank of driver, but was, actually, the ultimate sleeper cell, plotting revolt. These leaders took advantage of clandestine meetings in the cane fields and taverns of the German Coast, the slave dances in New Orleans, and the vast network of slave communications that extended throughout the Caribbean."

Full Text is continued at Times-Picayune

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