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Slave Revolts

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The Deslondes Revolt

"On to Orleans" : The Negro insurrection (1888), by Maurice Thompson. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Though not as well known as Nat Turner's Rebellion, the German Coast Uprising in Louisiana was likely the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. The insurrection was led by Charles Deslandes (Deslondes), a thirty-one-year-old slave driver on the sugar plantation of Manuel Andry. Scholars differ on whether Deslondes had arrived from Saint-Domingue, Haiti, a free man or if he was born into slavery in New Spain, but he occupied a favorable position on Andry's homestead, a detail that would haunt slave owners and authorities who believed that a slave's desire for emancipation could be neutralized by a privileged position.

On the night of 8 January 1811, Deslondes turned on his masters. Andry was able to escape the surprise attack, but his son, Gilbert, was hacked to death by Deslondes and his band of self-emancipated slaves. They raided the estate's stockpile of weapons and horses and began heading toward New Orleans, approximately fifty miles southeast. As the mob rampaged through nearby plantations, its ranks swelled with new slaves and runaways, eventually numbering close to five hundred members. The rebellion was so fierce that it took three days for authorities to begin mounting a defense, the governor of the Territory of Orleans marshaling a combined force of nearly seven hundred militiamen, slave owners, and U.S. Army soldiers to finally put down the revolt. Deslondes, along with nearly all of his surviving coconspirators, was sentenced to death for his role in the uprising. In a brutally clear warning to future insurrectionists, his "body was mutilated, dismembered, and put on public display" by local authorities, who were profoundly unsettled by the incident (Barnes).

Barnes, Rhae Lynn. "Deslandes (Deslondes), Charles." African American National Biography. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Oxford African American Studies Center. Web.

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