Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I've gotten a little behind on my posting of books recently read. I suppose that I should either slow down my reading of pick up my posting. I had ordered this book used on Amazon.com where the seller listed it as "like new." However, when it arrived with a torn dust jacket and cracked binding I sent it right back and demanded a refund. Then, last week while browsing at my local library I spotted it in the stacks and checked it out.

American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen, a recent graduate from Harvard University, tell the story of a slave insurrection that happened in Louisiana in January 1811. The slaves involved, many of which had been originally imported directly from Africa or the Caribbean islands, worked mainly in the sugar cane industry that was just emerging in Louisiana. And, although sugar planting was somewhat an infant industry, it had already gained a bad reputation for using up slaves. The estimated figure of those involved in this rebellion were between 200 and 500. To me, that range is quite large, but as Rasmussen freely admits, primary sources on this incident are few and far between, as those that investigated the insurrection deliberately attempted to cover up the incident.

The slaves, certainly inspired by the recent Haitian Revolution, were organized by a mulatto driver on a sugar plantation named Charles Deslondes. Through "grapevine" networks and allowed travel to nearby plantations, Deslondes was able to muster a large number of other slaves and yet keep the plan secret. The slaves' strategy was to make the march to New Orleans, about 40 miles distant, in force and capture the Crescent City or die in the attempt.

Deslondes and his chief lieutenants were highly organized, surprisingly well armed, and understood their goals. However, they botched their first attack. Deslondes's master, Manuel Andrey was awakened on the morning of January 8 when the attack came to his room. Andrey was able to escape although he received a number of cuts from the slaves' knives as he sped through them and out of the house and into the swamps. His son Gilbert was not so fortunate. The younger Andrey was hacked to pieces. Manuel Andrey eventually made his way across the Mississippi River to a neighbor's plantation and reported the attack, sounding the alarm.

The white deaths from this insurrection appear to be much less than the 50-60 killed in Nat Turner's 1831 Virginia rebellion. The Louisiana slaves appeared to be more focused on getting to New Orleans than murdering whites; although a number of plantation houses and building were burned along the way. But, the slaves did not make it to the city. A combined force of banded planters that Andrey had brought from the other side of the river and U.S. military forces rallied rather quickly in spite of that era's limited communication ability. In the short battle that occurred the outnumbered but better armed planters and troops quickly defeated the slave rebels killing many of the bondmen in the process and capturing even more. Some slaves fled into the swamps and were later killed or captured. The leader, Delondes, briefly escaped, but dogs were set on him and he was quickly caught and dragged to the scene of the battle where he was tortured, shot, and then burned.

A number of the captured, especially leaders such as Kook and Quamana, (Deslondes lieutenants) were tried, convicted, executed, and had their severed heads places on poles for the slaves to see the power of their masters and for whites to recognize their mastery over their believed inferior slaves.

American Uprising brings to light a little known story and another example of American slaves' unwillingness to held from freedom. It shows the importance of the Haitian Revolution as source of inspiration to slaves on the mainland and was a precursor to those slaves from Louisiana that fought for their freedom in the Civil War 50 years later. The Pelican State would end up providing more black Union soldier to the army than other state. I also appreciated that Rasmussen at the end of the book showed recent relevance to the event by linking the militant North Carolinian Robert Williams, Civil Rights era promoter of armed self-defense, to the long tradition of African Americans and their quest for freedom and equality.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give American Uprising a 4.25.

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