Jeff Scott's Reviews > American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt

American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen
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Feb 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: oppression, race, non-fiction, racism, slavery
Read from May 22 to June 13, 2011

** spoiler alert ** “With little attention from scholars, North America’s largest Antebellum slave revolt has languished in the footnotes of history for 200 years. While historians jostled to write about Nat Turner, who had mobilized fewer than 100 slaves, this diverse band of Louisiana slaves has been remembered only by a few. “. P. 207

American Uprising provides vivid detail to a little known uprising by slaves in New Orleans in January 1811. In fact, this was the biggest slave uprising in U.S. history, but it is given short attention by historians since most of this information was covered up by an embarrassed U.S. military and plantation owners.

I first became interested in this book after reading a review of it in the New York Times. I had actually just finished Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, a historical fiction book that describes the life of Tete, a slave in Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) during the slave rebellion. She is later moved with her plantation owner to New Orleans and witnesses the change to slavery in the United States.

What Allende brought to life in fiction, Rasmussen provides in factual vivid detail. He provides the typical back-story for any work on Slavery, the Dark Passage, and the history of emancipation, but it’s the details of the revolt that prove fascinating.

Two slaves (Kook and Quamana) were behind the formation of this revolution that involved well over 100 slaves, and some claim as many as 200 to 500. French Sugar Plantation masters were known to be extremely cruel and that cruelty resulted in the revolution in Haiti and the defeat of major western armies (even those sent by Napolean). After the revolution in Haiti, those ways were transferred in New Orleans and as a result, another major insurrection followed.

Rasmussen provides the landscape and then how the plot unfolded on a night in January where hundreds of slaves banded together killing a plantation owner’s son and then finding a storehouse of arms. Many of these slaves had only cane knives and axes, but many more were armed with muskets and were trained on their use. They began their slow march and burned down plantation by plantation on the way to New Orleans. They were only stopped by a smaller American military presence with better technique in musket warfare and quickly killed most of the slaves and captured others only to be executed later. In another gruesome detail, their heads were placed on pikes and places along the path the soldiers marched, all along the river.

“Along the course of the revolt, from the Plantation of Manuel Andry down the River Road through the gates of New Orleans and into the center of the city, the decomposing heads of slave corpses reminded everyone with a nose, ears, eyes, where power resided.” P. 148

I think the two most important aspects of the book are the details of the revolt, which were, until now, never told and pieced together. It’s told with such stirring detail, even despite going on several unreliable reports after the fact, which leads to the second aspect. Rasmussen’s details about the motivation for the cover-up demonstrate how insecure a nation it was in 1811. He also emphasizes that any unearthing of this tale has been done for political reasons, whether they be racists or communist reasons, the story was never told without agenda and this aspect would be fascinating to any historians. Both of these points lead to a riveting tale that explores our dark history with slavery. It should be added to the many works that detail the antebellum years in the United States.
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