Maybe it wasn’t such an unusual sight to see a large number of enslaved African Americans banded together. They’d probably marched militantly on the road to New Orleans with the express purpose of freeing their people before. Yet, no one was quite prepared for the force and organization of their attack. The enslaved Africans didn’t have the best weapons by far. Their arsenal included big sticks, garden tools, or anything else they could use as weapons. And they weren’t highly trained soldiers. Many of them had just been recruited from the trail of liberated plantations the freedom fighters left behind them. But they had something that no one could take away. They had determination.
It was that determination that led them along that lonely New Orleans road, surrounded by the swamps and bayous of Southern Louisiana. It kept pushing them toward the high walls that enclosed the French Quarter, toward artillery and hope.
Those 500 people represent the best of what black people were, are, and can become. They decided to fight for their freedom, even if failure ensured their deaths. Many of them had heard, seen, or experienced such cruelties as being thrown into cauldrons of boiling sugar or being buried from the neck down and having their faces smeared with syrup to whet the appetites of the ants. They knew of earlier freedom fighters such as Baukman Dutty, who started the Haitian Revolution. They learned from people such as Toussaint L’Overture, a military genius who helped to win the Haitian Revolution. They followed people such as Charles Deslondes, a principal leader in the 1811 Slave Revolt. So, despite the fact that many of them never experienced freedom firsthand, only knowing of it form the wistful longing on the faces of the elders and the defiance of those freshly torn from Africa, they fought with passion.
In some people’s eyes the 1811 Slave Revolt was a failure. Its participants were made to walk back to the plantations they came from, where they were beheaded, their heads displayed on poles as a warning to all those foolish enough to follow their lead. But the 1811 Revolt was a prelude to many revolts that lasted long after the War of 1812. Those people did not fight in vain. They were role models for leaders of revolts that followed theirs. And the 1811 revolutionaries should still be considered role models for people today.
As a people, we have been brainwashed into believing slaves were submissive creatures who accepted slavery as their due. Through movies such as Gone with the Wind and Shirley Temple films, we’ve been taught that slaves were happy in the “loving bondage” of their masters who, of course, knew what was best for them. But through the lives of people such as Baukman, Deslondes, and L’Overture, we realize how courageous the slaves were in expressing their dissatisfaction with their situations.
If the 1811 Slave Revolt succeeds at one thing, let it be to teach us the knowledge that we were a courageous and dignified people once upon a time. Let us get back to the point where we can come together to accomplish great things.
© 2005 Students at the Center.