Then, in in the midst of the War Between the States, U. Slaves often rebelled against the cruelty of their white masters, cruelties such as branding, cutting off ears, whipping, and torture. The urge for freedom, and the desire to escape inhumane treatment, were the motives for slaves to rebel against their slaveholders. Signs of this resistance caused slave owners to fear insurrection, especially when slaves outnumbered whites. The rumor of a slave uprising was just as alarming to planters as an actual rebellion.
Second Creek Plot
Real and rumored slave rebellions always caused apprehension throughout Natchez. One of the earliest recorded incidents of a slave uprising in the area was the Natchez Indian Revolt of against the French colonists. The French traded in slaves and brought the first African slaves to Natchez to cultivate tobacco. The slaves came with a militant spirit. Their aggression initially took the form of resistance on slave ships, as illustrated in the film Amistad.
Their arrival in Natchez did not quell this militancy. If anything, it sparked aggression. The Natchez Indians fanned this spark. The French soon recognized the inevitable contact and interaction between the slaves and the Natchez Indians and eventually extended their cruelty to the Indians. The Natchez Indians became aware that the French began to whip young Indian boys just as they did their African slaves. This cruelty, along with pro-British leanings of some tribal leaders and the recent land grab by the French commander at Fort Rosalie, moved the proud Natchez nobles to act.
To protest the cruelty of the French, Natchez Indians recruited several slaves, promising them freedom, and staged a revolt against the French in , wherein approximately people were killed. The French retaliated, using their allies from other Indian tribes to punish the Natchez, and recovered many slaves. The Natchez Indians ultimately lost the war. Many were sold into slavery in the Caribbean while others joined other tribes.
The flames of violence were fanned again in A number of African slaves who had participated in the Natchez Indian Revolt were involved in a conspiracy to kill all the French and take over the colony. The governor of Louisiana heard rumors of the uprising but dismissed them, even after a female slave supposedly hinted of the rebellion to a French soldier.
A Swiss citizen who had lived in Natchez, Antoine Le Page du Pratz, investigated the incident and would later describe it in his history of Louisiana. He learned that his trusted first officer and interpreter, a slave named Samba Bambara, was the mastermind. Samba had been involved in a rebellion back in his homeland and was sentenced to a life in bondage for his resistance. He had also tried to instigate a revolt on the slave ship on which he traveled from Africa.
As punishment for his role in the would-be mutiny, Samba was placed in irons. For a time, Natchez slaves were quiet. The French ruled the Natchez area until , when the area was surrendered to the British and became part of British West Florida. The relative calm of Natchez slaves ended with the American Revolution. Slaves knew that here was an opportunity to seize their freedom.
The best example of slave resistance in Natchez during the American Revolution occurred in July To prevent this insurrection from happening, Dunbar and his fellow slave owners rounded up their slaves, questioned and tortured them, forcing them to confess. One of Dunbar's slaves was in a boat when he was questioned by the slave owners and instead of confessing as the other slaves had done, jumped overboard and drowned himself in the river.
Other would-be rebels were put on trial, found guilty of conspiracy, and executed. After the Revolution, the most common form of slave resistance was running away. Runaway slaves saw their action as liberation from slavery; the slave owner saw it as stealing. Slaves ran away for a number of reasons. Although many fled to find freedom in the northern parts of the country, most runaways escaped to be with family members at nearby plantations.
Flight was dangerous, and male slaves were more likely to flee than female slaves. Runaway slaves encountered slave patrols, slave catchers, dogs, wild animals, and unfamiliar surroundings. Desperation, starvation, and fear led many runaways to return to their masters.
Slaves favored weekends and holidays, particularly Christmas, to take flight. They tended to run away when corn rows were high in the fields to hide their escape. Slaves used some inventive methods to liberate themselves. Some mailed themselves to relatives in the North. Others were stowaways on riverboats.
A Guide to the Aventine Plantation Ledger,
Many forged passes that gave the slave permission to travel, and a number of slaves, sired by white slave owners, passed themselves for white. There is evidence that Natchez slaves also engaged in work slowdowns or other labor tactics to resist their bondage. Slaves either pretended to be ill, slowed down their pace, or simply stopped working. Work slowdown sometimes involved acts of sabotage, as was the case on Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, owned by a former governor of Mississippi and Mexican War hero John A. A slave named Samuel broke a new plow, according to the journal of overseer Robert Love.
One slave injured several members of the Quitman family by his sabotage. On the way to a wedding in , the slave deliberately drove a carriage down an embankment and injured the passengers. Natchez became part of the United States in when Mississippi entered the Union as a state. Despite new American rule, slave owners still feared the possibility of slave uprisings.
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Troubles were sometimes blamed on the slaves even when their involvement was suspect at best. A series of fires rocked Natchez in , at a time when Mississippi was cracking down on gambling.
History Doyen: Winthrop D. Jordan
John A. Murrell, a white man who was a land pirate and kidnapper of slaves, was said to have proposed a slave rebellion the previous summer. On July 4, , whites, thought to be agents of abolition, and slaves, intent on obtaining their freedom, had planned a revolt. There was to be a general uprising of slaves and some whites as far away as Maryland.
The insurrectionists hoped to capture towns from Natchez to New Orleans, to kill as many whites as they could, and to burn and pillage plantations. Slaveholders, however, uncovered the plot when a slave confessed to his master. No revolt occurred, however, but slave owners all over the state were apprehensive. Research today suggests that this entire would-be revolt was exaggerated or even false. Murrell was in jail at the time and was in no position to incite rebellion.
Nonetheless, the people of Natchez, who feared even the rumor of a slave uprising, were on alert. The fires both outraged and horrified the residents, especially since more than thirty houses in Natchez caught fire. Natchez resident Eliza Breeden wrote her mother in that whites were still edgy from the insurrection scare. The people were divided over who they thought had started the fires.
Some Natchez citizens believed that gamblers were the arsonists. Sign up here to receive your FREE alerts.
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