Slave rebellion  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by slaves. Slave rebellions have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery, and are amongst the most feared events for slaveholders. Famous historic slave rebellions have been led by Denmark Vesey; the Roman slave Spartacus; the thrall Tunni who rebelled against the Swedish king Ongentheow, a rebellion that needed Danish assistance to be quelled; the poet-prophet Ali bin Muhammad, who led imported east African slaves in Iraq during the Zanj Rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate in the ninth century; the Haitian Revolution, the only country founded by a slave revolt; Madison Washington during the Creole case in 19th century America; and Granny Nanny of the Maroons who rebelled against the British in Jamaica.

Ancient Sparta had a special type of serf-like helots. Their masters treated them harshly and helots often resorted to rebellions. According to Herodotus (IX, 28–29), helots were seven times as numerous as Spartans. Every autumn, according to Plutarch (Life of Lycurgus, 28, 3–7), the Spartan ephors would pro forma declare war on the helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a helot without fear of blood or guilt (crypteia).

In the Roman Empire, though the heterogeneous nature of the slave population worked against a strong sense of solidarity, slave revolts did occur and were severely punished. Probably the most famous slave rebellion in Europe was that led by Spartacus in Roman Italy, the Third Servile War. This was the third in a series of unrelated Servile Wars fought by slaves to the Romans.

English peasants' revolt of 1381 led to calls for the reform of feudalism in England and an increase in rights for serfs. Peasants' Revolt was one of a number of popular revolts in late medieval Europe. Richard II agreed to reforms such as fair rents and the abolition of serfdom. Following the collapse of the revolt, the king's concessions were quickly revoked, but the rebellion is significant because it marked the beginning of the end of serfdom in medieval England.

In Russia, the slaves were usually classified as kholops. A kholop's master had unlimited power over his life. Slavery remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter the Great converted the household slaves into house serfs. Russian agricultural slaves were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679. 16th and 17th centuries runaway serfs and kholops known as Cossacks (‘outlaws’) formed autonomous communities in the southern steppes.

There were numerous rebellions against the slavery and serfdom, most often in conjunction with Cossack uprisings, such as the uprisings of Ivan Bolotnikov (1606-1607), Stenka Razin (1667-1671), Kondraty Bulavin (1707-1709), and Yemelyan Pugachev (1773-1775), often involving hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions. Between the end of the Pugachev rebellion and the beginning of the 19th century, there were hundreds of outbreaks across Russia.

Contents

South America and Caribbean

North America

Numerous black slave rebellions and insurrections took place in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. There is documentary evidence of more than 250 uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves. Three of the best known in the United States are the revolts by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822, and Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831.

The largest slave revolt in American history, however, took place outside of New Orleans in 1811. The 1811 German Coast Uprising was suppressed by volunteer militias and a detachment of the United States Army, and the heads of over sixty slaves were put on pikes along the levee.

Slave resistance in the antebellum South finally became the focus of historical scholarship in the 1940s, when historian Herbert Aptheker started publishing the first serious scholarly work on the subject. Aptheker stressed how the rebellion was rooted in the exploitative conditions of the Southern slave system. He traversed libraries and archives throughout the South, managing to uncover roughly 250 similar instances, though none of them reached the scale of the Nat Turner uprising.

John Brown had already fought against pro-slavery forces in Kansas for several years when he decided to lead a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (West Virginia was not yet a state). This raid was a joint attack by former slaves, freed blacks, and white men who had corresponded with slaves on plantations in order to form a general uprising amongst slaves. It almost succeeded, had it not been for Brown's delay, and hundreds of slaves left their plantations to join Brown's force - and others left their plantations to join Brown in an escape to the mountains. Eventually, due to a tactical error by Brown, their force was quelled. But directly following this, slave disobedience and runaways sky-rocketed in Virginia.

Africa

In 1808 and 1825 there were slave rebellions in the Cape Colony, newly acquired by the British. Although the slave trade was officially abolished in the British Empire by the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and slavery itself a generation later with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, it took until 1850 to be halted in the territories which were to become South Africa.

See also

slave, rebellion




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