Resistance to slavery through marronage
The enslaved people always run away into the swamps of Louisiana and became maroons. Marronage (the act of running away) was a permanent and very common act of resistance. The maroons were relatively well armed. They surrounded the plantations killing cattle or taking food from smokehouses and granaries. They cultivated corn, squash, rice, and gathered herbs, roots, and wild fruits for food. They made baskets, sifters, and other articles woven from willow and reeds. They carved indigo vats and troughs from cypress wood. They trapped birds, hunted and fished, and acted as independent contractors for their labor in the cypress industry. Some even went to New Orleans to sell their products and gamble. In the 1770s, the maroons of Louisiana had control over Bas du Fleuve, the area between the mouth of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. The leader of this community was Saint-Maló, a former slave of Karl d’Arensbourg who was for many years the commander of the militia and leader of the German Coast. He was captured after several expeditions led by Spanish officers. Saint-Maló and his companions were hanged on 19 June 1784, after a simulacrum of trial held by the Spanish authorities.
Document: Article 32 of the 1724 Code Noir
The runaway slave, who shall continue to be so for one month from the day of his being denounced to the officers of justice, shall have his ears cut off, and shall be branded with the fleur de lys on the shoulder; and on a second offense of the same nature, persisted in during one month from the day of his being denounced, he will be hamstrung, and be marked with the fleur de lys on the other shoulder. On the third offense, he shall suffer death. »
Marronnage remained a permanent issue in Louisiana and on the German Coast, from the beginnings of slavery through the Civil War. During the decade preceding this conflict, the local press regularly published advertisements of runaway slaves.
Samba Bambara and the 1731 conspiracy
On 24 June 1731, Samba Bambara was brought before the Superior Council of Louisiana for the charge of leading a conspiracy against the French. A former resident of St. Louis, Senegal, Samba had also been an interpreter (maître de langue) at Galam, the major French trading post on the Senegal River. For some reason he deported to Louisiana where he became the commandeur (driver) of the slaves of the Company of the West Indies and an interpreter before the Superior Council in cases involving Bambara slaves. Samba and seven other alleged conspirators were tortured with fire (mèches ardentes) but they refused to talk in spite of great suffering. They were finally broken on the wheel.
Breaking on the wheel was a horrific punishment. It was a form of crucifixion, but with several cruel refinements. In its evolved form, a prisoner was strapped, spread-eagled, to a large cartwheel that was placed axle-first in the earth so that it formed a rotating platform a few feet above the ground. The wheel was then slowly rotated while an executioner methodically crushed the bones in the condemned man’s body, starting with his fingers and toes and working inexorably inward. An experienced headsman would take pride in ensuring that his victim remained conscious throughout the procedure, and when his work was done, the wheel would be hoisted upright and fixed in the soil, leaving the condemned to hang there until he died from shock and internal bleeding a few hours or a few days later. source:blogs.smithsonianmag.com
Antoine Cofi Mina and the Pointe Coupée Conspiracy of 1795
In April 1795, a number of slaves were arrested at Pointe Coupée for plotting against their masters. The conspiracy was organized from the estate of Julien Poydras. Slaves throughout Pointe Coupée and False River were involved and the plot had ramifications throughout lower Louisiana. The trial began at Pointe Coupée on May 4, 1795.
By June 2, twenty-three slaves were executed, their heads cut off and nailed on posts at several places along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Pointe Coupée. Antoine Cofi Mina, the free black leader of the Mina community, was viewed as a key figure in the 1795 conspiracy. His was deported to Havana.
The 1811 Slave Revolt
On 8 January 1811, slaves from St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James parishes rose up and walked downriver toward New Orleans. They were armed with few rifles, sabers, machetes, fire-hardened oak sticks, or simply with their tools. They killed two white men, and caused considerable damage to the plantations they crossed. They were stopped only two days later after a rough battle against the local militia backed by Federal troops. The insurrection started on the property of Manuel Andry, then the head of the local militia of St. John parish. The 1811 revolt had several leaders from various origins, some of them born in Africa. The main leader was Charles Deslondes, a Mulatto born on the plantation of Widow Jean-Baptiste Deslondes.
The trial of the insurgents took place on the plantation of Jean Noël Destrehan, from January 13 to January 15. The court was composed of Pierre Bauchet St.Martin (President) and a jury of five members: Jean Noël Destrehan, Juge Alexandre Labranche, Pierre-Marie Cabaret de Trepy, Adelard Fortier, and Edmond Fortier. The judgments were rendered without appeal. Several death sentences were pronounced. It was decided that the convicts will immediately be delivered to be shot to death, each before the habitation to which he belonged; that the death penalty will be applied to them without torture but the heads of the executed will be cut and planted on poles at the place where each convict will have undergone the “right punishment due to his crimes, in order to frighten by a terrifying example all malefactors who would attempt any such rebellion in the future.” In New Orleans, the prisoners were held in jail on the lower level of the Cabildo and the trials were held on the second floor. Many death sentences were pronounced and the heads of the victims were severed and exposed on the lower gates of the city. This was the fate of those enslaved people whose only fault was their quest for freedom. Their goal was to capture New Orleans and free all the slaves. They knew they could not win and only death would be at the end of the journey. Although they did enjoy nothing but few precious hour of freedom, their action is comparable in its principle to that of the founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that they would be hanged if they lost the War of Independence.
The statistics of the insurrection reveal a horrendous bloodshed: about thirty insurgents were killed in the action; forty-five were condemned to death and were executed by 15 January 1811. Few others were found in the woods, taken to trial, and executed. On January 16, 1811, a temporary end of arrests was ordered at the request of the planters. The St. Charles Parish courthouse evoked “the opinion of all respectable inhabitants” and specified that the decision was dictated by “difficult and imperious circumstances.” Indeed the local economy had lost many young workers. The state of losses presented two months later reveals that most of the slaves who had been killed were aged between twenty and thirty years, many among them described as sucriers (sugar makers) or experts of “roulaison” (harvesting of sugarcane). By January 18, twenty-seven slaves were still missing, most of them hiding in the woods. Twenty-two insurgents, including twenty in New Orleans, were still awaiting judgment which later led many of them on the scaffold or before a firing squad.
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