In January 1811, 500 slaves dressed in military uniforms and armed with guns, cane knives, and axes rose up from the plantations around New Orleans and set out to conquer the city. Ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized, this self-made army challenged not only the economic system of plantation agriculture but also American expansion. Their march represented the largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States.
American Uprising is the riveting and long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. No North American slave uprising - not Gabriel Prosser's, not Denmark Vesey's, not Nat Turner's - has rivaled the scale of this rebellion either in terms of the number of the slaves involved or the number who were killed.
More than 100 slaves were slaughtered by federal troops and French planters, who then sought to write the event out of history and prevent the spread of the slaves' revolutionary philosophy. With the Haitian revolution a recent memory and the War of 1812 looming on the horizon, the revolt had epic consequences for America.
Through groundbreaking original research, Daniel Rasmussen offers a window into the young, expansionist country, illuminating the early history of New Orleans and providing new insight into the path to the Civil War and the slave revolutionaries who fought and died for justice and the hope of freedom.
©2011 Daniel Rasmussen (P)2011 Tantor
"Impressive work by an up-and-coming historian." (Kirkus)
The author has good intentions, but the book is weak in some areas, some of which aren't his fault. Others are. I hadn't heard of the slave revolt he describes, which he does very well. Unfortunately, unlike the Nat Turner rebellion, it was kind of covered up by the planters, so not much is really known about it. In compensation, the author spends only a small part of the book on the revolt itself, and the rest ranging over the history of slavery and plantation life in the New Orleans area in general of the first half of the 19th century, and its implications for antebellum American expansionism That's interesting too.
But in what I assume is a politically and academically trendy effort to give "agency" to the slaves, he makes all sorts of assertions about the slaves' political beliefs and how carefully they planned the revolt, etc, without much evidence. Perhaps it wasn't planned so well, had no sophisticated political philosophy beyond the desire to not be exploited, was betrayed by "loyal" slaves from the outset, and was scattered to the winds very quickly when the planters, with their superior weaponry and training, counterattacked. Would that be so bad? The author appears to strongly hint that saying so would put you in the same category as the slaveowners and their subsequent apologists.
The conclusion of the book is a bit bizarre. After an interesting discussion of the historiography of the revolt, he goes on to criticize Martin Luther King for unclear reasons, and praise Black Power advocates.
A detail point: the author appears to believe that the Articles of Confederation and the Confederate constitution are the same thing. This dents his credibility more than a little, as it is a mistake that you wouldn't want to see in a high school history class.
In sum, there are good and interesting parts to this book, but the author really could have been better served by dialing back his claims and having a better editor.
The story was compelling, but the author's focus on the aftermath was quite narrow. Seemed to be that way to support his main idea, but lost me along the way.
This read was educational and academic (in a positive sense), about an event in American history that has largely been covered up or forgotten, ever since it occurred nearly 200 years ago. It was quite fascinating to learn about the reasons this slave revolt was not "reported" accurately at the time, and the political undercurrents that made these events remain a tiny footnote in the history of slavery and our nation. While difficult to hear some of the daily horrors of slave life, at times I found myself rooting for the rebels, especially those who had earlier been African warriors with deadly experience in warfare before being captured and brought to New Orleans area plantations. The author does a good job of placing the reader right there in time as events played out, including the genuine terror the plantation owners felt, and the seemingly impossible optimism that the slaves felt -- that they could successfully overthrow the landowners and gain freedom for themselves and their families.
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