Recent Harvard grad Rasmussen uncovers the buried history of “the largest slave revolt in American history.”
In 1811 outside of New Orleans, 500 enslaved men, some armed with guns, battled plantation owners. “While Nat Turner and John Brown have become household names,” the author writes, “Kook and Quamana, Harry Kenner, and Charles Deslondes [the leaders of the revolt] have barely earned a footnote in American history.” Rasmussen not only provides the backdrop against which the battle occurred, but explores the cultural roots of the conflict. Only eight years before, a successful slave rebellion had driven out the plantation owners, transforming the French sugar-producing colony Saint Domingue (now Haiti) into a free republic. That same year the United States had acquired the Louisiana Purchase and was still struggling to assimilate the disgruntled French sugar planters. In the early years of the occupation of the new territory, federal troops had to “confront the dangers of a sugar colony that relied on the forced labor of a slave population,” while driving the Spanish out of Florida. The leaders of the 1811 revolt seized the opportunity of kickoff celebrations to the Carnival season for “a fight to the death against the planters and their militia.” The brutal battle initially ended in a temporary victory, but reprisals were severe and the heads of executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. Rasmussen believes that this was a first step on the road to freedom. During the War of 1812, British forces garrisoned a fort with former slaves whom they had freed, and by the end of the Civil War “black soldiers constituted nearly 10 percent of the fighting force of the North.”
Impressive work by an up-and-coming historian.