Remembering Slavery

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Resistance & Rebellion

From the moment of their capture, enslaved Africans were looking for ways to free themselves. Slave owners were terrified of rebellion and punishments were horrifying - the enslaved were flogged, had limbs cut off or were branded. Many were sentenced to death.

More information on Ship Rebellions

Ship rebellions

Records kept by the captains of slave ships reveal that African rebellions were very common during the middle passage, the journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. Few of them were successful but they could cause great disruption to a voyage.

  • Revolts aboard ship often took place close to the African coast or even before they set sail.  The Africans tried to seize control of the ship and would sometimes jump overboard in a bid to escape.

Runaways

Runaways

Africans working on plantations resisted their owners in a variety of ways – they worked slowly, they damaged crops, animals and machinery and even poisoned their masters. They ran away from their owners when they could. By the 1700s there were large communities of runaway slaves in the Caribbean Islands and the Americas.

  • Pictures like this often appeared on notices offering rewards for the return of runaways. The enslaved sometimes ran away to try to visit friends rather than to escape slavery itself.

Armed uprisings

Armed uprisings

The kind of resistance masters feared the most was mass uprisings. Armed rebels led many violent rebellions across the Caribbean Islands. These acts of resistance inspired other slave uprisings and raised awareness about slavery in Europe. The enslaved Africans' fight for survival and freedom played a huge role in the abolition of slavery.

  • The rebellion in the French colony of St. Domingue (1791-1804) was the most successful slave revolt and frightened the British government. They feared that the same could happen in the British colony of Jamaica.  The rebels burned plantations and killed their masters. As a result of the revolt the island became the Republic of Haiti in 1804 and half a million enslaved people were freed.

Take a look

  • In the United States in the 1800s, ex-slaves and their supporters organised a network of escape routes and often supplied runaways with weapons and transport.
  • The underground rail road in the United States helped 10,000 enslaved people flee from southern plantations to northern states or Canada. It is believed that the remarkable former enslaved worker Harriet Tubman assisted 300 of these runaways to freedom.

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