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Slave Resistance

It could be considered almost ludicrous that most African-Americans were content with their station in life. Although that was how they were portrayed to the white people, it was a complete myth. Most slaves were dissatisfied with their stations in life, and longed to have the right of freedom. Their owners were acutely conscious of this fact and went to great lengths to prevent slave uprisings from occurring. An example of a drastic measure would be the prohibition of slaves receiving letters.

They were also not allowed to converge outside church after services, in hopes of stopping conspiracy. Yet the slaves still managed to fight back. In 1800, the first major slave rebellion was conceived. Gabriel Prosser was a 24 year old slave who was deeply religious. He felt that slavery was morally wrong and chose to fight against it. During the spring and summer of 1800, he began carefully creating a plan, in which he would invade Richmond, Virginia. From there he would take over the armory and the powder house, in order to have complete control over the city.

He soon recruited more than a thousand slaves and had weapons on hand. On August 30, 1800, Gabriels army collected outside Richmond. Unfortunately, they were unable to attack the city, as a violent rainstorm ensued, and ended up washing out all the bridges and roads. His plans were revealed to Governor James Monroe by traitors. Before the slave forces could regroup after the storm, the state militia was sent out by the governor in an effort to stamp out the rebellion. They succeeded, and Gabriel Prosser was captured along with 34 followers. He was executed shortly afterwards.

Denmark Vesey was an “upper class” slave, who had some degree of independence and free thought. He was able to purchase his freedom in 1800 by winning a lottery of $600. From there he resided in Charleston, South Carolina as a carpenter. He was highly influenced by Christianity and was very religious. This later inspired him to make plans to free his fellow slaves. In particular, he liked to use the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. He related it to the situation that the slaves were in, and used it to inspire other blacks to rebel against their plight.

In 1821, he began organizing a revolt of his own with Peter Poyas. Peter Poyas arranged the rebellion into a sort of hierarchy. Slaves were placed into groups with different leaders, who then reported to Peter Poyas and Denmark Vesey. This grouping was simple, but brilliant. He was able to prevent the entire plot from being divulged by one slave, because only the leaders had complete knowledge of the extent of resistance. Therefore, if a slave betrayed the plot, they would only be informing on their group. The scheme was that a fire would be started by a group of rebels.

Outside the homes of whites, different groups of insurrectionists would be waiting for the men to come out the door and would then proceed to kill them. Many of the slaves in the plantations surrounding Charleston had joined the revolt, and the numbers kept growing. Although, they were betrayed almost from the beginning, the cell system stopped slave owners from discovering the magnitude of the resistance. Ironically, the night before the attack, officials were informed of the entire plot by a house servant. They then made preparations to thwart the attempt, and the entire operation was terminated.

Denmark Vesey was tried and convicted along with 67 others. Thirty-five of his followers, including Denmark Vesey were then executed. His conspiracy frightened Southerners, because the thoroughness and cunning of it were a stunning blow to them. On October 2, 1800, a “prophet” was born. Nat Turner was the only rebel whos fight against slave owners was successful. He was brought up despising slavery. In fact, his mother attempted to kill him when he was a baby in order to save him from the life of a slave. Nat Turner was another greatly devout man.

He learned to read from one of his masters sons and devoted his time to religion. During his life he had several “visions”. In 1821, he ran away from his plantation, but was then visited by the Spirit who told him to return. Then in 1824, he had his second vision, in which he saw light in the sky and then discovered drops of blood on the corn “as though it were dew from heaven”. Four years later, the Spirit returned to him and told him it was now his time to fight against the evil, and that a sign from heaven would tell him when to strike.

In February of 1831, a solar eclipse occurred. He took this as his sign from God and disclosed his plan to four trustworthy men. Then on August 13 the sun appeared to be a turquoise color, and he saw that as his final sign. Soon afterwards, on August 21, he set out on his path of destruction. They first set out to the home of his master, and killed the entire family. They moved from house to house, massacring all the white people they could find. His numbers soon grew to about 40 slaves and from there roughly 100.

He decided to march towards Jerusalem, Virginia, but word had spread that a rebellion was occurring, and they were deterred by a group of militia. In the end, they were crushed by the state militia, but Nat Turner was able to escape. He hid for about six weeks but was discovered and captured. In total, around 60 white people were slain as a result of his rebellion. He was eventually tried and hanged. Finally in 1839, the Amistad mutiny occurred. This was a revolt on a slave ship near Cuba, organized by a man named Joseph Cinque.

The slaves, newly taken from Africa, killed the captain of the ship and demanded to be taken back to Sierra Leone. The navigator managed to sail the ship back in the direction of the United States, where they were later towed in by a U. S. Navy ship. The rebels were placed into jail and then went on trial. A committee of Abolitionists formed to help defend the slaves and they were later freed. The courts ruled that because slave trafficking was illegal now, the slaves were to be considered kidnapped, and therefore were able to be set free.

They returned to Sierra Leone, along with missionaries who intended to set up a Christian mission. This case was important because the Supreme Court actually ruled in the favor of slaves. Although the slaves seemed utterly powerless, they were able to fight back against the injustices wrought on them. They used strength and perseverance to maintain their war against their enslavement. Despite the low success rate of their rebellions, they won the battle in the end. It seemed that most slaves were willing to sacrifice everything to possess freedom, and ensure it for the future generations after them.

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