African Resistance To Slavery In The West
Gaspar Yanga’s Rebellion
Known as the “first liberator of the Americas,” Gaspar Yanga was an African slave who spent four decades establishing a free settlement in Mexico. Yanga’s odyssey began in 1570 when he staged a revolt at a sugarcane plantation near Veracruz. After fleeing into the forest, Yanga and a small group of former slaves established their own colony, or palanque, which they called San Lorenzo de los Negros. They would spend the next 40 years hiding in this outlaw community, surviving mostly through farming and occasional raids on Spanish supply convoys.
Colonial authorities succeeded in destroying San Lorenzo de los Negros in 1609, Led by the soldier Pedro González de Herrera, the Spanish troops which set out from Puebla in January 1609 numbered around 550, of which perhaps 100 were Spanish regulars and the rest conscripts and adventurers. The maroons facing them were an irregular force of 100 fighters with some type of firearm, and four hundred more with primitive weapons such as stones, machetes, bows and arrows, and the like. These maroon troops were led by Francisco de la Matosa, an Angolan Yanga, who was quite old by this time. He decided to employ his troops’ superior knowledge of the terrain, to resist the Spaniards; with the goal of causing them enough pain, to draw them to the negotiating table.
Upon the approach of the Spanish troops, Yanga sent terms of peace via a captured Spaniard. Essentially, Yanga asked for a treaty akin to those that had settled hostilities between Indians and Spaniards: an area of self-rule, in return for tribute and promises to support the Spanish if they were attacked. In addition, he suggested that this proposed district would return any slaves which might flee to it. This last concession was necessary, to soothe the worries of the many slave owners in the region.
The Spaniards refused the terms, and a battle was fought, yielding heavy losses for both sides. The Spaniards advanced into the settlement and burned it. However, the people fled into the surrounding terrain, and the Spaniards could not achieve a conclusive victory. The resulting stalemate lasted years; finally, unable to win definitively, the Spanish agreed to parley. Yanga’s terms were agreed to, with the additional provisos that only Franciscan priests would tend to the people, and that Yanga’s family would be granted the right of rule. In 1618 the treaty was signed and Yanga negotiated the right to build his own free colony, as long as it paid taxes to the Spanish crown. This municipality—the first official settlement of freed Africans in the Americas, was finally established in 1630 and still exists today under the name “Yanga.”.
The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon
Napoleon was one of the greatest generals who ever lived. But at the end of the 18th century a self-educated slave with no military training drove Napoleon out of Haiti and led his country to independence.
The remarkable leader of this slave revolt was Toussaint Breda (later called Toussaint L’Ouverture, and sometimes the “black Napoleon”).
Slave revolts from this period of time, normally ended in executions and failure; However this story is the exception. It began in 1791 in the French colony of Saint Dominique (later Haiti). Though born a slave in Saint Dominique, Toussaint learned of Africa from his father, who had been born a free man there. He learned that he was more than a slave, that he was a man with brains and dignity. He was fortunate in having a liberal master, who had him trained as a house servant and allowed him to learn to read and write. Toussaint took full advantage of this, reading every book he could get his hands on.
In 1789 the French Revolution rocked France. The moderate revolutionaries were not willing to end slavery, but they did apply the “Rights of Man” to all Frenchmen, including free blacks and mulattoes (those of mixed race). Plantation owners in the colonies were furious and fought the measure. Finally the revolutionaries gave in and retracted the measure in 1791. The news of this betrayal triggered mass slave revolts in Saint Dominique, and Toussaint became the leader of the slave rebellion.
Toussaint Breda’ became known as Toussaint L’Ouverture (the one who finds an opening) and brilliantly led his rag-tag slave army. He successfully fought the French and by 1793, the revolution in France was in the hands of the Jacobins. The Jacobins were idealists who wanted to take the revolution as far as it could go. So they again considered the issue of “equality” and voted to end slavery in the French colonies, including what we now known as Haiti.
There was jubilation among the blacks in Haiti, and Toussaint agreed to help the French army, eject the British and Spanish. Toussaint proved to be a brilliant general, winning 7 battles in 7 days. He became the “defacto” governor of the colony.
In France the Jacobins ultimatly lost power. By 1803 Napoleon was ready to get Haiti off his back: he and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace. Napoleon agreed to recognize Haitian independence and Toussaint agreed to retire from public life. A few months later, the French invited Toussaint, to come to a negotiating meeting will full safe conduct. When he arrived, the French (at Napoleon’s orders) betrayed the safe conduct and arrested him, putting him on a ship headed for France. Napoleon ordered, that Toussaint be placed in a prison dungeon in the mountains, and murdered by means of cold, starvation, and neglect. Toussaint died in prison, but others carried on the fight for freedom.
“In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk, of the tree of the black liberty in St-Domingue. It will spring back form the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”(Toussaint L’Ouverture,)
Jean-Jacques Dessalines (Haitian Creole): Janjak Desalin) (20 September 1758 – 17 October 1806) was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the 1801 constitution. Initially regarded as governor-general, Dessalines later named himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti (1804–1806). He is regarded as a founding father of Haiti.
Dessalines had served as an officer in the French army, when the colony was trying to withstand Spanish and British incursions. However, later he would rise to become a commander in the revolt against France. As Toussaint Louverture’s principal lieutenant, he led many successful engagements, including the “Battle of Crete-a-Pierrot”.
After the betrayal and capture of Toussaint Louverture in 1802, Dessalines became the leader of the revolution. He defeated Napoleon’s forces at the “Battle of Vertieres”in 1803. Declaring Haiti an independent nation in 1804. Dessalines was chosen by a council of generals, to assume the office of Governor General. He was responsible for ordering the 1804, “Hati massacre”, of the white Haitian minority, which resulted in the deaths of between 3,000 and 5,000 people, between February and April of 1804. In September 1804, he proclaimed himself Emperor and ruled in that capacity until being assassinated in 1806.
“Recall everything I have sacrificed to fly to your defense – relatives, children, wealth, so that now the only riches I possess is your freedom. Recall that my name horrifies all those who are enslavers, and that tyrants and despots everywhere only bring themselves to utter it when they curse the day I was born. Remember, if you should ever discard or forget the law that the God who watches over your well being has dictated to me for your happiness, you will deserve the fate that inures to ungrateful peoples. ” — Janjak Desalin (Jean Jacques Dessalines), Haiti’s Founding father, quote from the Haitian Act of Independence, January 1, 1804
Born, Christopher Henry, probably in Grenada, the son of a slave mother and Christophe, a freeman, he was brought as a slave to the northern part of Saint-Domingue.
As an adult, Christophe changed his name to “Henri Christophe” and worked as a mason, sailor, stable hand, waiter, and billiard maker; most of his pay went to his master. He worked in and managed a hotel restaurant in Cap-Francais, the first capital of the French colony of Saint-Domingue and a major colonial city. There he became skilled at dealing with the grand blancs, as the wealthy white French planters were called. He was said to have gained his freedom from slavery as a young man, before the Slave Uprising of 1791, sometime after that, he had settled in Haiti. He brought his sister Marie there; she married and had children. The political skills he learned as a hotelier, also served him well, when he later became an officer in the military and leader in the country.
The facts of Christophe’s early life are questionable and confused. An official document issued on his own order, gives the birth date and birthplace conventionally cited, but these and other facts are debated by historians. He may have been born free but been enslaved as a youth. In any event, he reached Haiti sometime in his teens. In 1780, during the American Revolution, he may have fought in a French unit at Savannah, Georgia, either as an enlistee or as the property of a French naval officer. He returned to Haiti and apparently worked initially, as a domestic in an inn called the Couronne, working his way up and marrying the proprietor’s daughter. (Another story has him marrying the French naval officer’s daughter after buying his freedom.)
After the spirit of the French Revolution spread to Haiti, Christophe in 1793 openly embraced the party of the Haitian independence leader Toussaint Louverture and became one of his chief lieutenants, fighting the French, the British, and the Spaniards. The French attempted to reconquer the colony in 1801, but Christophe held out until 1802, surrendering only on the promise of a pardon and retention of his military rank in the French army. He later joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in ousting the French and commanded the army under that ruler. After Dessalines’s assassination, he was appointed provisional chief of the nation, by a military council. Although he thought despotism the only form of government for his people, he summoned a constituent assembly on Dec. 18, 1806.
Alexandre Sabes Petion, Christophe’s only rival for power, secured control in the south and west and thereby secured majority representation in the assembly. He was appointed chairman to draft a constitution, which in its final form, made Christophe little more than a figurehead. In retaliation, Christophe led his troops against Pétion, but was defeated on Jan. 6, 1807, and he retreated north.
In northern Haiti, Christophe set up his own domain, which he ruled as King Henry I from 1811 and for which he created a hereditary nobility, comprising 4 princes, 8 dukes, 22 counts, 37 barons, and 14 knights. He established an elaborate dress code and court ceremony and built himself eight palaces and six châteaus. During his reign he distributed plantations to military chiefs, restored soldier peasants to their former occupations, and maintained a general prosperity. He built the famous Citadelle Laferriere, a fortress south of his capital at Cape-Haïtien. In August 1820 he suffered a paralytic stroke. When his condition was learned, revolts broke out. In despair over his failure to pacify the country, he shot himself at Sans-Souci palace (the citadel and palace were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1982), and his kingdom became part of the Haitian republic in 1982. Haitian king Henry Christophe to Sir Home Riggs Popham, commander- in- chief of the England West Indian fleet:
“”Perhaps if we had something we could show you, if we had something we could show ourselves, you would respect us and we might respect ourselves.”
“If we had even the names of our great men! If we could lay our hands on things we’ve made, monuments and towers and palaces, we might find our strength. While I live I shall try to build that pride we need, and build in terms white men as well as black can understand! “(Henri Christophe)
David Walker,(born September 28, 1785,Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S.—died June 28, 1830,Boston, Massachusetts. African American abolitionist whose Pamphlet, Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World, was published in 1829.
Born of a slave father and a free mother, Walker grew up free and obtained an education.
At one point, Walker declared that he could not “remain where I must hear slaves’ chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers.” He left Wilmington between 1815 and 1820. He traveled the country—spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, which had a large population of free African Americans and then settled in Boston in 1825.
Not long after his arrival in Boston, Walker became the owner of a successful secondhand clothing shop. However, even in Boston, he continued to note the effects of discrimination, such as African Americans not being allowed to serve on juries and their children having to attend inferior schools.Walker became involved with the Massachusetts General Colored Association, an organization opposed to slavery and racism. He began to share his views in speeches and by serving as a Boston agent for Freedom’s Journal, which was the country’s first newspaper that was owned and managed by African Americans.
In 1829, Walker published his pamphlet entitled, Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. In it he urged slaves to fight for their freedom. It was one of the most radical documents of the antislavery movement. Over the course of more than 70 pages, he used references within the Bible and the Declaration of Independence to passionately argue against slavery and discrimination. Two more editions of Walker’s Appeal were printed in 1830.
As its message spread, some abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, denounced the violence advocated in some of its passages. However, Walker stood by his position, believing that his support of violence, was a means for slaves to regain their humanity, not as a reprisal tactic. With the end of slavery and discrimination in America, Walker envisioned “no danger, but we will all live in peace and happiness together.”
From his clothing shop, Walker may have sewn pamphlets into the linings of sailor’s clothes, relying on sympathetic agents to distribute the papers in the South. The existence and circulation of these pamphlets alarmed slaveholders. Many Southern states proceeded to outlaw the sharing of antislavery materials and made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write.
“Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.” (David Walker)
Denmark Vesey, originally Telemaque, (1767 – July 2, 1822) was an African-American man who was most famous for planning a slave rebellion in the United States in 1822.
Vesey, was enslaved in South Carolina. Sometime after purchasing his freedom, he planned an extensive slave rebellion. Word of the plans was leaked, and authorities arrested the plot’s leaders at Charleston, South Carolina, before the uprising could begin. Vesey and others were convicted and executed.
Many antislavery activists came to regard Vesey as a hero. During the American Civil War, abolitionist Frederick Douglass used Vesey’s name as a battle cry to rally African-American regiments, especially the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
No records exist of Denmark Vesey’s origins, although scholars have speculated that he may have been born in St Thomas or in Africa. One writer, novelist David Robertson, suggested that Denmark may have been of Mande origin, but this evidence has not been accepted by historians. Historian Douglas Egerton suggested that Vesey could be of Coromantee (an Akan-speaking people) origin, based on a remembrance by a free black carpenter who knew Vesey toward the end of his life.
Denmark labored briefly in French, Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), before the Bermudian sea captain Joseph Vesey who had sold him, was forced to take him back and re-imburse the plantation owner due to his epileptic fits. He then worked as a personal assistant to Joseph Vesey, including periods spent in Bermuda, until the captain retired from the sea and settled in Charleston, which was a continental hub of Bermuda’s thriving merchant shipping trade. On November 9, 1799, Denmark Vesey won $1500 in a city lottery. He bought his own freedom and began working as a carpenter. Although a Presbyterian as late as April 1816, Vesey co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817. The church was temporarily shut down by white authorities in 1818 and again in 1820.
Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of slaves during the 1791 Haitian Revolution and furious at the closing of the African Church, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to execute their enslavers and temporarily liberate the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation. Two slaves opposed to Vesey’s scheme, leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.
Sandy Vesey, one of Denmark’s sons, was transported, probably to Cuba. Vesey’s last wife Susan later emigrated to Liberia. Another son, Robert Vesey, survived to rebuild Charleston’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1865.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion
One of the most famous slave revolts in American history came in 1831, when Nat Turner led a bloody uprising in Southampton County, Virginia.
Nat Turner is widely regarded, as one of the most complex figures in American history and American literature. October marks the anniversary both of his birth and of his arrest as the leader of one of the United States’ most famous slave rebellions.
Turner was born the property of a prosperous small-plantation owner, in a remote area of Virginia. His mother was an African native who transmitted a passionate hatred of slavery, to her son. He learned to read from one of his master’s sons, and he eagerly absorbed intensive religious training. In the early 1820s he was sold, to a neighboring farmer of small means. During the following decade, his religious ardor tended to approach fanaticism, and he saw himself called upon by God, to lead his people out of bondage. He began to exert a powerful influence on many of the nearby slaves, who called him “the Prophet.”
Turner was deeply committed to his Christian faith and believed he received messages from God through visions and signs in nature. When he was in his early 20s, these signs led him to return to his master after an escape attempt. Similarly, a solar eclipse and an unusual atmospheric event, are believed to have inspired his insurrection, which began on August 21, 1831.
Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the bloodiest and most effective in American history. It ignited a culture of fear in Virginia, that eventually spread to the rest of the South, and is said to have expedited, the coming of the Civil War.
As stated, Turner was deeply religious, and he planned his rebellion, after he experienced prophetic visions ordering him to gain his freedom by force. On the night of August 21, together with seven fellow slaves, in whom he had put his trust, he launched a campaign of total annihilation, murdering Travis and his family in their sleep and then setting forth on a bloody march toward Jerusalem. In two days and nights about 60 white people were ruthlessly slain.
Doomed from the start, Turner’s insurrection was handicapped, by lack of discipline among his followers and by the fact that only 75 blacks, rallied to his cause. Armed resistance from the local whites and the arrival of the state militia, with a total force of 3,000 men, provided the final crushing blow. Only a few miles from the county seat, the insurgents were dispersed and either killed or captured, and many innocent slaves, were massacred in the hysteria that followed. Turner eluded his pursuers for six weeks, but was finally captured, tried, and hanged.
Nat Turner’s rebellion put an end to the white Southern myth, that slaves were either contented with their lot, or too servile to mount an armed revolt. In Southampton county, black people came to measure time from “Nat’s Fray,” or “Old Nat’s War.” For many years in black churches throughout the country, the name Jerusalem, referred not only to the Bible, but also covertly to the place where the rebel slave, had met his death.
Hysteria swept through the region in the aftermath of Nat Turner’s revolt, and as many as 200 slaves were eventually killed by white mobs and militias. The rebellion also triggered a series of oppressive restrictions on slave populations. Citing Turner’s intelligence as a major factor in his revolt, several states would pass laws making it illegal to teach blacks to read or write.
Harriet Tubman Born: c. 1820, Dorchester County, Maryland Died: March 10, 1913, Auburn, New York. Harriet Tubman was a runaway slave from Maryland who became known as the “Moses of her people.”
Over the course of 10 years, and at great personal risk, she led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their journey north to freedom. She later became a leader in the abolitionist movement, and during the Civil War, she was a spy for the federal forces in South Carolina, as well as a nurse.
After Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery, she returned to slave-holding states many times, to help other slaves escape. She led them safely to the northern free states and to Canada. It was very dangerous to be a runaway slave. There were rewards for their capture, and ads that described slaves in detail. Whenever Tubman led a group of slaves to freedom, she placed herself in great danger. There was a bounty offered for her capture because she was a fugitive slave herself and she was breaking the law in slave states, by helping other slaves escape. When someone she was helping became frightened and wanted to turn back, or change his or her mind, during the journey to freedom, Tubman would pull out a gun and say, “You’ll be free or die here as a slave!” Tubman knew that if anyone turned back, it would put her and the other escaping slaves in danger of discovery, capture or even death.
Tubman became so well known for leading slaves to freedom that Tubman became known as the “Moses of Her People.” Many slaves dreaming of freedom sang the spiritual “Go Down Moses.” Slaves hoped a savior would deliver them from slavery just as “Moses had delivered the “Israelite s” from slavery”. Tubman made 19 trips to Maryland alone and helped 300 people to freedom. During these dangerous journeys she helped rescue members of her own family, including her 70-year-old parents. At one point, rewards for Tubman’s capture totaled $40,000. Yet, she was never captured and never failed to deliver her “passengers” to safety. As Tubman herself said, “On my Underground Railroad I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
A famous quote by Harriet Tubman is “I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves. ‘” ………If I could have convinced more slaves, that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.”