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Introduction: Resistance
Digital History ID 506


Document: Four times during the first 31 years of the nineteenth century, American slaves organized insurrections against slavery. In 1800, a 24 year-old Virginia slave named Gabriel Prosser, a blacksmith, led a march of perhaps fifty armed slaves on Richmond. The plot failed when a storm washed out the road to Richmond, giving the Virginia militia time to arrest the rebels. White authorities executed Prosser and twenty-five other conspirators. In 1811 in Louisiana, between 180 and 500 slaves led by Charles Deslondes, a free mulatto from Haiti, marched on New Orleans, armed with axes and other weapons. Slaveowners retaliated by killing 82 blacks and placing the heads of 16 leaders on pikes. In 1822, a former slave named Denmark Vesey devised a scheme to take over Charleston, South Carolina on a summer Sunday when many whites would be vacationing outside the city. Vesey, who had been born either in Africa or the Caribbean in the late 1760s, had won a lottery, purchased his freedom, and opened a carpentry shop. The decision by Charleston authorities to close the city's independent African church led Vesey to organize his conspiracy. Before the revolt could take place, however, a slave betrayed Vesey's plans. The authorities proceeded to arrest 131 blacks and hang 37. The bloodiest slave revolt in American history took place in 1831 when Nat Turner, a Baptist preacher, led a force of between 60 and 80 slaves on a rampage through Southampton County in southern Virginia, leaving more than 50 whites dead. White authorities retaliated by killing about a hundred blacks. Twenty more slaves, including Turner, were later executed. Recognizing that open revolt against slavery was futile, most slaves expressed their opposition to slavery in more subtle ways, including sabotage, stealing, malingering, murder, arson, and infanticide. These acts of resistance most commonly occurred when a master or overseer overstepped customary bonds. Through these acts, slaves established a right to proper treatment.

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