Slavery & Emancipation

    Slave Uprisings  "Sleep With One Eye Open"

Throughout history, civilizations that employed large numbers of slave laborers had to take measures to ensure control of the slaves, and always had to sleep with one eye open, figuratively, in case the slaves rose up in revolt against their masters. The Southern United States, with slaves comprising about 40 percent of the population, had good reason to fear slave uprisings and had seen enough demonstrations of what could happen should an organized revolt develop. Many of the islands in the West Indies, including Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Dominique, and Martinique, had experienced slave uprisings that brought on the wholesale slaughter of the white masters and their families and the burning of the great plantations. The most famous of the revolts, in Saint Dominique, was successful in freeing the slaves, who then formed the independent country of Haiti. As recently as 1832, Jamaica had had the latest of a series of violent slave revolts.

In spite of its long history of slavery, slave rebellions in North America had been few and relatively bloodless. The principal uprisings had been a revolt in New York in 1712; the Stono rebellion in South Carolina in 1739; the Gabriel Plot in Richmond, VA, in 1800; the Denmark Valley conspiracy in Charleston, SC, in 1822; and the Nat Turner uprising in Virginia in 1831.

Southern slaveholders maintained that the docility of the slaves was due to the humane treatment they received, and compared with many other slave societies, the South's slaves were indeed well treated. However, another reason for the docility may have been the ruthlessness with which rebellions were repressed and the strict codes that were adopted to regulate the slave population. During the Civil War, there were no memorable slave revolts in the South even though much of the white male population was off at war and slaves had every opportunity to rebel.

Fascinating Fact:  The South was astounded at the number of Northerners and Northern newspapers that openly supported John Brown's attempted slave insurrection at Harper's Ferry, VA. Southerners decided they could no longer live with countrymen who advocated that the South's white population be murdered in their sleep.


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