Slave Rebellion in Baton Rouge

By Chandler Couvillion

Slave rebellions were rare, but a very real threat to slaveholders. Legal restrictions were in place that prohibited the enslaved population from gathering, as well as prohibiting free people of color and whites from conspiring with them. Despite these restrictions, enslaved people were able to gather and plan with varying degrees of success. Although slavery was practiced throughout the American South, slavery in Louisiana was different from other states. Throughout its history, Louisiana had been handed back and forth between the French and Spanish Empires before it was claimed by the United States.

Depiction of a revolt aboard a slave ship

In the late 1790’s the enslaved people in Louisiana began to hear word of successful slave revolts in the Caribbean, as well as the emancipation of slaves throughout the European colonies in the Americas. The changes in power caused the settlers of the area to constantly revolt and resist from their new authority. Because the slaves in Louisiana were more heavily exposed to revolts and shifts in power, insurrection was sometimes seen as solution.

Pointe Coupee – 1791

Just months before events that took place in Saint-Domingue in August of 1791, enslaved people in Louisiana conspired to rebel in the parish of Pointe Coupee.

In June of 1791, a group of enslaved people met on the night of the 25th at a social gathering on the Robillar Plantation. During this party, an enslaved man named Jaco began speaking of revolting against their masters, seizing their weapons and killing them. They planned to stage their insurrection on July 7th, after obtaining supplies and weapons.

On the intended night, due to unforeseen weather, the original plan to revolt was postponed for two days. Using this time between the original date, Jaco used the time to seek new support from other enslaved people from outside of Robillar plantation. It was this attempt to form an alliance that would cause the operation to fail. Jaco, who was originally from the Minas tribe, sought the help of Venus, who was from the Ado tribe, and distrusted Jaco for his affiliations. Venus eventually shared the news of a possible insurrection with others, and it was soon reported to their master Georges Oliveau.

News of the planned insurrection eventually reached the authorities and Alexandre LeBlanc, the commander stationed at Pointe Coupee, who began to identify and arrest the conspirators. Seventeen people were arrested, including Jaco, and stood trial for the next year in New Orleans.

Pointe Coupee – 1795

Letter from Armand Duplantier to his brother about the possible uprising

4 years later, the enslaved people in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana planned another insurrection in response to the beating of two enslaved men, as well as the successful revolution in Saint-Domingue. This time they had the support of free people of color and whites. Prior to the planned revolt, word began to reach the enslaved people that the French Monarch had declared the emancipation of slaves under his rule. This news caused planning of the revolt to halt, as they began to consider the possibility of petitioning the right to their freedom instead.

The pause in their initial plans would lead to the same results as the last attempt of an insurrection in Point Coupee, the plan was revealed to the authorities before the uprising could take place.

Lower Mississippi River Valley – 1841

While a large-scale insurrection was not very likely in Louisiana, the mere thought of one was enough to cause hysteria among the white population. In July of 1841, word began to spread that there was a massive uprising planned that would encompass the entire coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. It started with an overseer on Robert J. Barrow’s plantation who heard a conversation between two of the enslaved people speaking of inciting a possible insurrection.

Robert Barrow, a member of a wealthy slave holding family, begins his July 17th 1841 diary entry stating that he had heard news that some of his slaves were planning an insurrection on August 1st, and that they had intended to do so the previous March. Barrow had his slaves arrested and began to interrogate them, finding that there was truth to the rumors. The planned insurrection was reported by local news, and even with assurance that it did not come to fruition, the public and other media outlets began to speculate the possible scale of this planned attack.

Newspaper article title from The Daily Whig, July 27, 1841

The fear of a slave rebellion was an ever-present thought in the minds of slave holders in the south. News of a suppressed uprising triggered the paranoia of the surrounding areas as they blew the situation out of proportion and began to prepare for a massive revolt. Reports of the attempted uprising circulated throughout the south for 10 days, and the white population began to prepare for confrontation by arming themselves, or by fleeing and advising others to flee.

Slave rebellions were rare and white slave owners generally appeared confident in their ability to suppress them, but the white population still lived in fear of a possible insurrection.

The Creole- 1841

On October 27, 1841 a ship called the Creole departed from Richmond, Virginia with 135 slaves that were to be sold once they reached New Orleans, one of them being Madison Washington.

Madison Washington

Washington was a former slave who had escaped to from Virginia to Canada, and began to work with the intention of earning enough money to eventually free his wife, Eliza, who was still enslaved in Virginia. When he did return to deliver his wife, he was subdued and forced back into chains. Washington was placed on the Creole was en route to New Orleans to be sold. While navigating the waters, Washington gained the trust of the crew, who allowed him to perform work on the ship during the voyage.

Washington used the little autonomy he had to meet with the other enslaved people on the boat, help release them from their chains, and make a plan to attack the crew. Washington, along with the other enslaved people on the boat, successfully commandeered the ship and set a course for the island of Nassau. Nassau was an island in the Bahamas that was under British control at the time. The British Empire had halted their participation in the International Slave Trade in 1807, and abolished the institution in 1833. When they arrived at the port of Nassau, in accordance with British law, Washington and the other 134 men and women were declared free people, making this act one of the most successful slave rebellions in the United States.

Conclusion

Because of its location on the Mississippi River, the influence of its diverse inhabitants, and its history of being both Spanish and French owned, Louisiana had a different environment from the rest of the Southern slave holding states. The enslaved people in Louisiana witnessed the shifts in power and the subsequent resistance that accompanied them, which sometimes spurred them to action, such as in the Louisiana revolt of 1768 when the French population challenged their new Spanish rulers. Their proximity to the ports provided more access to world news, such as successful slave rebellions and the emancipation of enslaved people throughout the colonized Americans. These factors would allow Louisiana to become a catalyst for resistance and rebellion.

Despite the rarity of an actual slave rebellion, the importance of the resistance that took place in any form should not be diminished. The slaves in Louisiana resisted their bondage in smaller or less noticeable ways more frequently, which was far less dangerous and had smaller consequences. However, the act of an organized, armed rebellion made clear the discontent with the systems in place.

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Sources

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