Two Slave Revolts

As you can see from the previous entry, I am still finding tidbits of information for my Latin American history papers that are too good to ignore, stuff that should have gone in when I composed the manuscripts between 2010 and 2014, but I am only learning about them now.  Well, better late than never, as the saying goes.  And now that these items are in the documents, if I do a major rewrite at a later date, they will not be forgotten or left out unintentionally.  This time I learned about two slave revolts from Latin America’s colonial history, and would you believe that one of them succeeded?  One of the ongoing trends of history I have noticed is that when slaves spontaneously revolt, they are almost always doomed to fail.  It doesn’t matter where or when the site of the rebellion is; chances are the master’s guards or troops have better weapons, and better training.  Until now, the only successful slave revolts I could think of were the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt (of course they had God on their side!), and Toussaint L’Overture’s revolt that created the nation of Haiti.

Anyway, the only decent place I could find for the first revolt was in footnote #52 of Chapter 2.  Here is how it reads now:

One group of slaves in Mexico gained their freedom even before the Spanish Empire stopped growing. In 1570 a slave named Gaspar Yanga launched an uprising at a sugarcane plantation near Veracruz; he and the escaped slaves who followed him fled inland, and founded a community in the mountains, naming it San Lorenzo de los Negros. Because of the community’s isolation, they were able to live unmolested for nearly forty years, and other escaped slaves came to join them. During this time, they made ends meet either by farming, or by raiding the Spanish supply convoys traveling between Veracruz and Mexico City. In 1609 the viceroy of New Spain dispatched 550 soldiers to stop the raids and secure this area. Opposing them was a roughly equal-sized force, of which only 100 had guns, but they knew the local terrain far better than the Spaniards did. As a result, the Spaniards burned the town, but they could not catch the blacks who fled into the countryside. After years of this stalemate, the Spaniards agreed to negotiate, and in 1618 they signed a treaty, which allowed the first free black community in the Americas to exist with Yanga’s family in charge of it, provided it returned any escaped slaves who went there in the future. The town was rebuilt in 1630, under the name of San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo; today it is called simply Yanga.

The other revolt occurred in Jamaica in 1831, so that puts it right at the beginning of the period covered by Chapter 4.  Since I don’t have anything else to say about Jamaica during this period, I put the revolt in the section covering the nearest British colony, Belize.  This story does not have a happy ending, but we now believe it hastened the end of slavery in the British Empire, so some good came out of it.  Also, I heard once that the reggae song “96 Degrees in the Shade,” by Third World, is about a failed revolt on Jamaica before independence came came; perhaps it is this one.  I have added it to the narrative as follows:

At the beginning of this period, Jamaica saw the worst revolt in the history of the British West Indies. Today it is often called the Baptist War because the leader, Samuel Sharpe, was both a slave and a Baptist pastor; alternate names include the Christmas Rebellion and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt. At first the slaves, encouraged by the Abolitionist movement in the mother country, staged a peaceful protest; on Christmas Day of 1831, 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves went on strike, promising they would not return to work until they were given freedom and a working wage of "half the going wage rate." It did not stay peaceful for long, though. Rumors that the British would break the strike with armed men prompted the slaves to burn and loot their plantations, and because the strike had turned into a rebellion, soldiers were called in to restore order, meaning the rumors had come true. On January 4, 1832, ten days after the uprising had started, it was over. An estimated 207 slaves and 14 whites were killed, while property damage was estimated at more than £1.1 million (probably £54 million today, or $82 million). The aftermath was even bloodier, as more than 300 slaves, including Sharpe, were hanged. Some of the executions were for trivial crimes; we have reports that one execution was the penalty for stealing a pig, another for stealing a cow. Though the revolt was a failure, it is now credited with speeding up the emancipation process, by convincing the British that they could not keep their slaves in chains forever. One year later, slavery was formally abolished in Great Britain, and the process of freeing the slaves in the colonies soon followed.

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