The History of Major Slave Revolts; Americas and the Caribbean

The exact statistics of how many slave rebellions and revolts that took place are unknown, but historical records show there were many. American Negro Slave Revolts, by Herbert Aptheker concluded that there were at least 250 slave revolts within the United States alone prior to the year 1865, in addition to localized opposition. On record was also mutiny aboard slave ships, 155 on record; many success stories and many brutally suppressed mutinies.

According to African American Desk Reference, as early as 1522, slaves in Saint Domingue rose up in an attempt to create a African Republic; rebellious slaves destroyed the settlement of Santa Maria in Columbia.

Here are more recorded revolts.

1653 In Gloucester Virginia, a plot was betrayed by a man named Berkenhead (A White indentured servant); he was rewarded his freedom and 5,000 pounds of tobacco.

1658 Black slaves aided by Native Americans burned their masters’ homes in Hartford Connecticut.

1691 Mingoe, a Virginia slave escaped from his master; Mingoe gathered a group of followers and destroyed a number of plantations, mainly in Rappahannock County. The rebels acquired cattle, hogs and some guns. Sadly there wasn’t any documented account about their fate.

Discrimination against free blacks was more severe in Connecticut than in other New England colonies. Their lives were strongly proscribed even before they became numerous. In 1690, the colony forbade blacks and Indians to be on the streets after 9 p.m. It also forbid black “servants” to wander beyond the limits of the towns or places where they belonged without a ticket or pass from their masters or the authorities. A law of 1708, citing frequent fights between slaves and whites, imposed a minimum penalty of 30 lashes on any black who disturbed the peace or who attempted to strike a white person. Even speech was subject to control. By a 1730 law, and black, Indian, or mulatto slave “who uttered or published, about any white person, words which would be actionable if uttered by a free white was, upon conviction before any one assistant or justice of the peace, to be whipped with forty lashes.”

For more slave rebellions and revolts, go to Schomberg Center for research in Black culture; African American Desk Reference. 

Onesimus: Smallpox Inoculation


Thanks to the pioneering work of Onesimus, many lives were saved from the smallpox epidemic.

Onesimus (fl. 1706 – 1717), slave and medical pioneer, was born in the late seventeenth century, probably in West Africa, although the precise date and place of his birth are unknown. He first appears in the historical record in the diary of Cotton Mather, a prominent New England theologian and minister of Boston’s Old North Church. Reverend Mather notes in a diary entry for 13 December 1706 that members of his congregation purchased for him “a very likely Slave; a young Man who is a Negro of a promising aspect of temper” (Mather, vol. 1, 579). Mather named him Onesimus, after a biblical slave who escaped from his master, an early Christian named Philemon.

The idea behind this radical new treatment came from Africa, specifically from a slave named Onesimus, who shared his knowledge with Cotton Mather, the town’s leading minister and his legal owner. Boston still suffered dreadfully, but thanks to Onesimus and Mather, the terror linked to smallpox began to recede after Africans rolled up their sleeves—literally—to show Boston how inoculation worked.

Abolitionist H. Ford Douglass: 1860

MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I hope that my friends will not do me the injustice to suppose for a single moment that I have any connection either by blood or politically, with Stephen Arnold Douglas, of Chicago. I am somewhat proud of the name of Douglas. It was once, in the history of dear old Scotia, a tower of strength on the side of free principles; and so firmly did they oppose the usurpations of royal power, that, on one of the kings of Scotland coming to the throne, he issued an edict, expelling from his realm every man who bore that hated name; and I cannot account for the signal departure from the ancient and hereditary principles by one who bears that name, upon any other theory than that of bastard blood. There are a great many people in this country who seem to be in love with Stephen A. Douglas, and to regard him as a great statesman. It seems to me that there are certain elements necessary to true statesmanship. In the first place, a statesman must have a heart—that is one of the essential elements of statesmanship. Now, who supposes that Stephen A. Douglas has a heart? I cannot account for the existence of so mean a man as Douglas on any other theory than that of the transmigration of souls. It was held by one of the old philosophers of Greece that when a man died, somebody was born, and that the soul of the dead entered the body of the newborn; but when Douglas was born, nobody happened to die! But, ladies and gentlemen, I had no intention of making these remarks. We are here for the purpose of celebrating the Fourth of July.

Eighty-four years ago today, this nation had its birth. We stand, to-day, a governmental prodigy, surpassing, in our extraordinary growth, any of the states of ancient or modern times. But nations who seek success amid the possibilities of the future are not measured by the accumulation of wealth or by the breadth of territorial domain; for down beneath the glittering splendor which the jeweled hand of Croesus has lifted up to intoxicate the gaze of the unthinking multitude, there will be found a silent and resistless influence working its way beneath the surface of society and shaping the destiny of men. When John Adams wrote that this would always be a day of bonfires and rejoicing, he did not foresee the evils which half a century would bring, when his own son, standing in his place amid the legislators of the Republic, would shame posterity into a brave indifference to its empty ceremonies. John Quincy Adams said, twenty years ago, that “the preservation, propagation and perpetuation of slavery is the vital animating spirit of the national government,” and this truth is not less apparent today. Every department of our national life—the President’s chair, the Senate of the United States, the Supreme Court, and the American pulpit—is occupied and controlled by the dark spirit of American slavery. We have four parties in this country that have marshaled themselves on the highway of American politics, asking for the votes of the American people to place them in possession of the government. We have what is called the Union party, led by Mr. Bell of Tennessee; we have what is called the Democratic party, led by Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois; we have the party called the Seceders, or the Slave-Code Democrats, led by John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky and then we have the Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. All of these parties ask for your support, because they profess to represent some principle. So far as the principles of freedom and the hopes of the black man are concerned, all these parties are barren and unfruitful; neither of them seeks to lift the Negro out of his fetters and rescue this day from odium and disgrace.

Take Abraham Lincoln. I want to know if any man can tell me the difference between the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln and the antislavery of the old Whig party or the antislavery of Henry Clay? Why, there is no difference between them. Abraham Lincoln is simply a Henry Clay Whig, and he believes just as Henry Clay believed in regard to this question. And Henry Clay was just as odious to the antislavery cause and antislavery men as ever was John C. Calhoun. In fact, he did as much to perpetuate Negro slavery in this country as any other man who has ever lived. Henry Clay once said “That is property which the law declares to be property,” and that “two hundred years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified property in slaves.” Wherever Henry Clay is today in the universe of God, that atheistic lie is with him, with all its tormenting memories. I know Abraham Lincoln, and I know something about his antislavery. I know the Republicans do not like this kind of talk, because, while they are willing to steal our thunder, they are unwilling to submit to the conditions imposed upon that party that assumes to be antislavery. They say that they cannot go as fast as you antislavery men go in this matter; that they cannot afford to be uncompromisingly honest, or so radical as you Garrisonians; that they want to take time; that they want to do the work gradually. They say, “We must not be in too great a hurry to overthrow slavery; at least, we must take half a loaf, we cannot get the whole.” Now, my friends, I believe that the very best way to overthrow slavery in this country is to occupy the highest possible antislavery ground.

Washington Irving tells a story of a Dutchman who wanted to jump over a ditch, and he went back three miles in order to get a good start, and when he got up to the ditch he had to sit down on the wrong side to get his breath. So it is with these political parties; they are compelled, they say, when they get up to the ditch of slavery, to stop and take breath. I do not believe in the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln, because he is on the side of this slave power of which I am speaking, that has possession of the federal government. What does he propose to do? Simply to let the people and the territories regulate their domestic institutions in their own way. In the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois, when he was interrogated as to whether he was in favor of the admission of more slave states in the Union, he said, that so long as we owned the territories, he did not see any other way of doing than to admit those states when they made application, with or without slavery. Now, that is Douglas’ doctrine; it is stealing the thunder of Stephen A. Douglas. In regard to the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, Abraham Lincoln oc-cupies the same position that the old Whig party occupied in 1852. They asserted then, in their platform, that they were not in favor of the repeal of that law, and that they would do nothing to lessen its efficiency. What did he say at Freeport Why, that the South was entitled to a Fugitive Slave Law; and although he thought the law could be modified a little, yet, he said, if he was in Congress, he would have it done in such a way as not to lessen its efficiency! Here, then, is Abraham Lincoln in favor of carrying out that infamous Fugitive Slave Law, that not only strikes down the liberty of every black man in the United States, but virtually the liberty of every white man as well; for, under that law, there is not a man in this presence who might not be arrested today upon the simple testimony of one man, and, after an ex parte trial, hurried off to slavery and to chains. Habeas corpus, trial by jury—those great bulwarks of freedom, reared by the blood and unspeakable woe of your English ancestors, amidst the conflicts of a thousand years—are struck down by this law; and the man whose name is inscribed upon the Presidential banner of the Republican party is in favor of keeping it upon the statute book!

Not only would I arraign Mr. Lincoln in regard to that law, for his proslavery character and principles, but when he was a member of the House of Representatives, in 1849, on the tenth day of January, he went through the District of Columbia and consulted the prominent proslavery men and slaveholders of the District, and then went into the House of Representatives and introduced, on his own responsibility, a fugitive-slave law for the District of Columbia. It is well known that the law of 1793 did not apply to the District, and it was necessary, in order that slaveholders might catch their slaves who sought safety under the shadow of the Capitol, that a special law should be passed for the District of Columbia; and so Mr. Lincoln went down deeper into the proslavery pool than ever Mr. Mason of Virginia did in the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Here, then, is the man who asks for your votes and for the votes of the antislavery people of New England; who, on his own responsibility, without any temptation whatever, introduced into the District of Columbia a fugitive-slave law! That is a fact for the consideration of antislavery men. Then, there is another item which I want to bring out in this connection. I am a colored man; I am an American citizen, and I think that I am entitled to exercise the elective franchise. I am about twenty-eight years old, and I would like to vote very much. I think I am old enough to vote, and I think that, if I had a vote to give, I should know enough to place it on the side of freedom.

No party, it seems to me, is entitled to the sympathy of antislavery men, unless that party is willing to extend to the black man all the rights of a citizen. I care nothing about that antislavery which wants to make the territories free, while it is unwilling to extend to me, as a man, in the free states, all the rights of a man. In the state of Illinois, where I live—my adopted state—I have been laboring to make it a place fit for a decent man to live in. In that state, we have a code of black laws that would disgrace any Barbary State, or any uncivilized people in the far-off islands of the sea. Men of my complexion are not allowed to testify in a court of justice where a white man is a party. If a white man happens to owe me anything, unless I can prove it by the testimony of a white man, I cannot collect the debt. Now, two years ago, I went through the state of Illinois for the purpose of getting signers to a petition asking the legislature to repeal the “Testimony Law,” so as to permit colored men to testify against white men. I went to prominent Republicans, and among others, to Abraham Lincoln and Lyman Trumbull, and neither of them dared to sign that petition, to give me the right to testify in a court of justice! In the state of Illinois, they tax the colored people for every conceivable purpose. They tax the Negro’s property to support schools for the education of the white man’s children, but the colored people are not permitted to enjoy any of the benefits resulting from that taxation. We are compelled to impose upon ourselves additional taxes in order to educate our children.

The state lays its iron hand upon the Negro, holds him down, and puts the other hand into his pocket and steals his hard earnings, to educate the children of white men; and if we sent our children to school, Abraham Lincoln would kick them out, in the name of Republicanism and antislavery! I have, then, something to say against the antislavery character of the Republican party. Not only are the Republicans of Illinois on the side of slavery, and against the rights of the Negro but even some of the prominent Republicans of Massachusetts are not acceptable to antislavery men in that regard. In the Senate of the United States, some of your Senators from the New England states take special pains to make concessions to the slave power, by saying that they are not in favor of bringing about Negro equality; just as Abraham Lincoln did down in Ohio two years ago. When he went there to stump that state, the colored people were agitating the question of suffrage in that state. The Ohio Statesman, a paper published in Columbus, asserted, on the morning of the day that Mr. Lincoln made his speech, that he was in favor of Negro equality; and Mr. Lincoln took pains at that time to deny the allegation, by saying that he was not in favor of bringing about the equality of the Negro race; that he did not believe in making them voters, in placing them in the jury box, or in ever bringing about the political equality of the races. He said that so long as they lived here, there must be an inferior and superior position, and that he was, as much as anybody else, in favor of assigning to white men the superior position. – See more at:

David Walker: One of the Greatest Appeals Ever Written

David Walker and Maria Stewart (Maria will be touched upon in a separate piece) was the precursor to Black nationalism and unity. David expressed how he felt about both the Republican and Democratic party; they didn’t care about the plight of African Americans. He felt that people of African descent had a right to be treated as equals under the law and deserved respect for building The United States of America. It wasn’t just African Americans free-labor that propelled the U.S into the forefront, but their ingenuity as well. Creating crops like rice, knowing how to work the land more efficiently than their European counter-parts. The few who came over as free peoples and the vast majority who came over as slaves brought needed skills with them. Skills that if left absent would have made America a footnote in history.

This invigorated freedom fighting spirit is what made David Walker public enemy number one in the U.S, because he didn’t sugarcoat anything to make it more palatable to White society.

People have to comprehend that the Puritan work ethic as Martin Luther King eloquently stated, didn’t build America; Black Americans did. Free Black Americans were taxed higher than any other ethnic group. (Which still lives on today in many areas of the U.S like Ferguson). Every facet within Black culture was marginalized, while being used as profit at the same time.

People of African descent did not sit back to leave their fate within the hands of White society. Unlike popular belief, the major reason why slavery was abolished was due to the tenacity of African Americans/Caribbean/South America. From the slave revolts, to the creation of Abolitionist, and to their uncompromising integrity.

Benkos Bioho

Benkos Bioho and the Cimarrones

When the Spanish began to bring slaves from Africa to Colombia, there were some who escaped and began to form free, outlaw communities. These escaped slaves were called Cimarrones, and their communities and their enclaves were known as Palenques.
Benkos (called Domingo by the Spanish) Bioho is the most famous of all Cimarrones. He arrived in Cartagena de Indias in 1599, where he became the slave of Juan Gómez. The historian Fray Pedro Simón (1574-1628) wrote Benkos Bioho’s story in his epic work. According to Simón, the mistreatment of slaves by Gómez led Bioho to rebel and flee his master taking with him his wife, three other men and three other women. He also encouraged an additional 22 slaves, owned by Juan de Palacios, to rebel and flee with them. The group of 30 headed out into the swamps and camped near the village of Tolú — around 50 miles away.

Slavery’s Exiles

Music by Lauryn Hill

Sojourner Truth: American History


Born in New York circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was the self-given name, from 1843 onward, of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. Her best-known speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?”, was delivered extemporaneously in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention.

Slave Revolts; The Gullah, Maroon, and Black Seminoles

“The Gullah Wars”

 (1739 – 1858)

The Seminole Wars/The 100 Years War

Gullah People:

Maroon People:

Nanny, leader of the Windward Maroons is something of a mysterious figure in Jamaican historiography. Situated somewhere between mystic and martyr, rebel and myth, the former slave and military leader nevertheless occupies a place of great importance and reverence in Jamaica. The current and continuous debates concern not the existence of Nanny, but her level of participation in Maroon battles and the range and extent of her leadership. Priestess, warrior, spirit figure, Queen Mother�was she all of these things? Was she any?

Black Seminoles:


Herbert. (1939). Maroons Within the Present Limits of the United States.
Journal of Negro History, 24, 167-184

Aptheker, Herbert. (1974). American Negro Slave Revolts (New ed.). New York,
NY: International Publishers. (Original work published 1943).

Baird, Keith E. & Twining, Mary A. (1980, June). Guy B. Johnson Revisited:
Another Look at Gullah. Journal of Black Studies, 10, 425-435.

Bascom, William. (1941, January-March). Acculturation Among the Gullah Negroes.
American Anthropologist, 43, 43-50.

Bascom, William. (1991). Gullah Folk Beliefs Concerning Childbirth. In Mary A.
Twining & Keith E. Baird (Eds.), Sea Island Roots (p. 27-36). Trenton, NJ:
Africa World Press.

Berry, Mary Frances. (1971). Black Resistance/White Law: A History of
Constitutional Racism in America. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts
Educational Division, Meredith Corporation.

Boyd, Mark F. (1951, July). The Seminole War: Its Background and Onset. Florida
Historical Quarterly, 30, 3-115.

Brown, Wille James. (1956). The Negro and the Seminole Wars. Unpublished
Master’s Thesis, Florida A & M University.

Coe, Charles. (1974). Red Patriots: The Story of the Seminoles. Gainesville,
FL: University of Florida Presses. (Original work published 1898).

Covington, James. W. (1966, July). Episode in the Third Seminole War. Florida
Historical Quarterly, 45, 45-59.

Covington, James. W. (1982). The Billy Bowlegs War: 1855-1858 The Final Stand
of the Whites. Chuluota, FL: The Mickler House Publishers.

Craven, Frank Wesley. (1971). White, Red, and Black: The Seventeenth-Century
Virginian. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.

Creel, Margaret Washington. (1990). Gullah Attitudes Toward Life and Death. In
Joseph E. Holloway (Ed.), Africanisms in American Culture (p. 69-97).
Bloomington, IN: Indiana Press.

Cromartie, J. Vern (1984). Gullah Strata People: Historical Notes on the
Geechees. Unpublished Master’s Paper, California State University, Hayward.

Cromartie, J. Vern (nee Jimmie Levern Cromartie). (1987, December). Maroons and
Other Forms of Slave Resistance Within the Present Limits of Georgia,
1733-1865: A Chronology. Unpublished Master’s Special Project, California State
University Hayward.

Davis, T. Frederick (1930, October; 1931a, January; 1931b, April). United
States Troops in Spanish East Florida, 1812-1813 Part IV. Florida Historical

Deagan, Kathleen, & Landers, Jane. (1999). Fort Mose: Earliest free
African-American Town in the United States. In Theresa A. Singleton (Ed.),
“I, Too, Am America”: Archeological Studies in African-American Life
(p. 261-282). Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.

Foster, Laurence. (1978). Negro-Indian Relationships in the Southeast. New
York, NY:AMS (Original work published 1935).

Giddings, Joshua R. (1858). The Exiles of Florida: Or, the Crimes Committed
Against the Maroons who Fled from South Carolina and other Slave States Seeking
Protection Under Spanish Laws. Columbus, OH: Follet, Foster and Co.

Goggin, John M. (1946). The Seminole Negroes of Andros Island, Bahamas. Florida
Historical Quarterly, 24, 201-206.

Hancock, Ian. (1986). On the Classification of Afro-Seminole. In Michael B.
Montgomery & Guy Bailey (Eds.), Language variety in the South: perspectives
in the Black and White (p. 85-101). University, AL: University of Alabama

Harding, Vincent. (1981). There is a River: The Struggle of Black Freedom in
America. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Johnston, James Hugo. (1929, January). Documentary Evidence of the Relations of
Negroes and Indians. Journal of Negro History, 14, 37-40.

Katz, William Loren. (1986). Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York, NY:

Kly, Yussuf N. (1998). The Gullah War: 1739-1858. In Marquetta L. Goodwine and
The Clarity Press Gullah Project. (Eds.), The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah
Roots of African American Culture (p. 19-53). Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, Inc.

Kly, Yussuf N. (1999, May/June). The Gullah Wars: The Hidden American
Anti-Slavery War… Islamic Horizons, 28, 42, 45.

Krogman, Wilton Marion. (1934, October). The Racial Composition of the Seminole
Indians of Florida and Oklahoma. Journal of Negro History, 19, 421-422).

Littlefield, Daniel F. (1979). Africans and Creeks: from the Colonial Period to
the Civil War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Milliganm John D. (1974, Spring). Slave Rebelliousness and the Florida Maroon.
Prologue, 6.

Morse, Jedidia. (1822). A Report to the Secretary of War of the United States
on Indian Affairs.

The “Negro Fort” massacre


Henry P. Cheatham: American History

Born into slavery in Henderson, North Carolina, Henry Cheatham was the child of an enslaved domestic worker about who little is known.  An adolescent after the American Civil War, Cheatham benefited from country’s short lived commitment to provide educational opportunities to all children.  He attended public school where he excelled in his studies.  After high school Cheatham was admitted to Shaw University, founded for the children of freedmen, graduating with honors in 1882.  He earned a masters degree from the same institution in 1887.

During his senior year of college, Cheatham helped to found a home for African American orphans.  In 1883, Cheatham was hired as the Principal of the State Normal School for African Americans, at Plymouth, North Carolina.  He held the position for a year when his career as an educator gave way to his desire to enter state politics.
Cheatham ran a successful campaign for the office of Registrar of Deeds at Vance County, North Carolina in 1884, and he served the county for four years.   He also studied law during his first term in office, with an eye toward national politics.  In 1888 Henry Cheatham ran for Congress as a Republican in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District.  He defeated his white Democratic opponent, Furnifold M. Simmons.

Cheatham entered the Fifty-first U.S. Congress and would be returned to office again in 1890.  As a United States Congressman, Cheatham supported Henry Cabot Lodge’s Federal Elections Bill sponsored by representatives who wished to end election violence against African American voters.  Although Cheatham’s efforts helped the measure pass in the House of Representatives, the Lodge bill was killed in the U.S. Senate.  Later, Cheatham sponsored an unsuccessful bill requiring Congress to appropriate funds for African American participation at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Cheatham wanted the fair’s visitors to see the demonstrable progress African Americans had made since the end of slavery.

– See more at:

Other noteworthy people to look into:

James E. O’hara

John Adams Hyman

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Alexander Manly

Alex Manly was editor of the Daily Record, a black newspaper from Wilmington, North Carolina at the time of the Wilmington Riot in 1898.  Manly was born near Raleigh, North Carolina in 1866.  He was reportedly a descendent of Governor Charles Manly and Corrine Manly, a former slave in the governor’s household.  Alex Manly and his brothers were educated at Hampton Institute, and in 1895 he took over Wilmington’s leading black newspaper, the Daily Record with the help of his brother, Frank.

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