The stereotype that many of us were taught in American history class, either implicitly or explicitly, was that slaves were submissive, docile, and compliant. Clint Smith in Crash Course Black History challenges that myth as he discusses the largest slave revolt in American History which few knew about because it wasn’t taught until relatively recently, due to limited documentation, discomfort with the history and moral blindness: “Uprisings of enslaved people in the United States were not uncommon, and they had a big influence on how the institution of slavery evolved. One uprising that gets less attention, historically, is the German Coast Uprising that took place in Louisiana in 1811. A group of enslaved people rebelled, and the after effects would be felt in Louisiana and throughout the nation for decades.” Transcript.
As Dr. Smith points out, this was related to the Haitian Revolution, which ended in the abolition of slavery in 1793; and the Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson from Napoleon in 1804. During and after the Haitian revolution, refugees flooded into U.S. cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston and New Orleans, and spread notions of liberty to American slaves.
“Napoleon Bonaparte was in need of some money, after the Haitian Revolution had dashed his hopes of building a French empire in the New World. The French army was so beleaguered from battle and disease that by the end of the war, more than 80% of the soldiers sent to try and quell the Haitian Revolution had died. Napoleon Bonaparte, looking to cut his losses and refocus his attention on his military battles in Europe, sold the entire territory of Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson’s negotiators for a paltry fifteen million dollars—about four cents an acre.
“Without the Haitian Revolution, it is unlikely that Napoleon would have sold a land mass that doubled the size of the then United States, especially as Jefferson had intended to approach the French basically looking to purchase New Orleans in order to have access to the mouth of the Mississippi River. There were also many Haitians who emigrated to the US in the years following the revolution.”
Louisiana’s German Coast was located above New Orleans on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. It was named for the German immigrants who settled there, but about 60 percent of the population was enslaved.
More on the 1811 German Coast Uprising.
More on Charles Deslondes.
Clint’s book, How the Word is Passed is available now! https://bookshop.org/a/3859/978031649…
Haiti Was the First Nation to Ban Slavery. Why This Matters Today. Washington Post, Made by History column.
Philippe R. Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napolean, (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2011), 343
-Address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana to the Texas Secession Convention,” Causes of the Civil War website, last modified June 8, 2017, accessed October 23, 2020
-Rasmussen, American Uprising