Early American Slave Revolts

Numerous black slave rebellions and insurrections took place in North America during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. There is documentary evidence of more than 250 uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves. Three of the best known in the United States during the 19th century are the revolts by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and Nat turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. Slave resistance in the antebellum South did not gain the attention of academic historians until the 1940s when historian Herbert Aptheker started publishing the first serious scholarly work on the subject. Aptheker stressed how rebellions were rooted in the exploitative conditions of the southern slave system. He traversed libraries and archives throughout the South, managing to uncover roughly 250 similar instances. The 1811 German Coast Uprising, which took place outside of New Orleans in 1811, involved up to 500 slaves. It was suppressed by volunteer militias and a detachment of the United States Army. They killed 66 black men in the battle, executed 16, and 17 escaped and/or were killed along the way to freedom. Although only involving about seventy slaves, the Turner's 1831 rebellion is considered to be a devastating event in American history. Over sixty people were killed, causing the slave-holding South to go into a panic. Fifty-five men, women and children were killed as Turner and his fellow rebel slaves rampaged from plantation to plantation throughout Virginia. Turner and the other slaves were eventually stopped as their ammunition ran out. The rebellion resulted in the hanging of about eighteen slaves, including Nat Turner himself. Fears afterwards led to new legislation passed by southern states prohibiting the movement, assembly, and education of slaves, and reducing the rights of free people of color. In addition, the Virginia legislature considered abolishing slavery to prevent further rebellions. In a close vote, however, the state decided to keep slaves.

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