Jan. 8, 1811: Louisiana’s Heroic Slave Revolt

“Deslonde Revolt 1811” – artist unknown. Image: San Francisco Bay View.

“Deslonde Revolt 1811” – artist unknown.

By Leon A. Waters

One of the most suppressed and hidden stories of African and African American history is the story of the 1811 Slave Revolt. The aim of the revolt was the establishment of an independent republic, a Black republic. Over 500 Africans, from 50 different nations with 50 different languages, would wage a fight against U.S. troops and the territorial militias.

This revolt would get started in St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes, about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans. At that time, New Orleans was the capital of what was called the Orleans Territory. The revolt sought to capture the city of New Orleans and make New Orleans the capital of the new republic.

Leon Waters and a revolt marker on a history tour in Louisiana.

Leon Waters stands next to the only historic marker that references the 1811 Slave Revolt.

The principal organizer and leader of this revolt was a man named Charles, a laborer on the Deslonde plantation. The Deslonde family had been one of the many San Domingo slave holding families that fled the Haitian Revolution (1790-1802). The Deslonde family fled to Louisiana for refuge. In their escape, the Deslonde family brought their chattel property, Charles and others, with them.

The Deslonde family acquired land and restarted their slave holding sugarcane operations in St. John the Baptist parish. The ideas of slave rebellion had been inspired by the Haitians’ defeat of Napoleon and his allies, who included President George Washington. The victory of Africans in gaining their freedom in Haiti had a powerful and stimulating effect on Africans held in bondage all over the world, especially in the Western Hemisphere. It gave enormous encouragement to the Africans on plantations in Louisiana. To capture the city of New Orleans, Charles Deslonde’s strategy consisted of a two-pronged military assault.

One prong of the attack would be to march down the River Road to New Orleans. The rebels would gain in number as they moved from plantation to plantation on the East Bank of the Mississippi River from St. John the Baptist parish to New Orleans. They were intent on creating a slave army, capturing the city of New Orleans and liberating the tens of thousands of slaves held in bondage in the territory of Louisiana.

The other prong of attack was to involve the enslaved Africans inside the city of New Orleans in a simultaneous uprising. Here the rebels would seize the arsenal at Fort St. Charles and distribute the weapons to the arriving slave army. The two-pronged attack would then merge as one and proceed to capture the strategic targets in the city.

On the evening of Jan. 8, 1811, Charles and his lieutenants would start the revolt. The rebels would elect their leaders to lead them into battle. They elected women and men. The leaders were on horseback. Several young warriors marched ahead of them with drums and flags. Men and women assembled in columns of four behind those on horseback.

Author and historian Leon Waters speaks on the 1811 Slave Revolt, the largest in the U.S. He is descended from the rebels. Photo: San Francisco Bay View.

Author and historian Leon Waters speaks on the 1811 Slave Revolt. He is descended from the rebels. Photo: San Francisco Bay View.

The rebels rose up on the plantation of Col. Manuel Andry (today the city of LaPlace) in St. John the Baptist Parish. They overwhelmed their oppressors. Armed with cane knives, hoes, clubs and a few guns, the rebels marched down the River Road toward New Orleans. Their slogan was “On to New Orleans” and “Freedom or Death,” which they shouted as they marched to New Orleans.

However, despite their best efforts, they were not able to succeed. The revolt was put down by Jan. 11 and many of the leaders and participants were killed by the slave owners’ militia and U.S. federal troops. Some of the leaders were captured, placed on trial and later executed. Their heads were cut off and placed on poles along the river in order to frighten and intimidate the other slaves. This display of heads placed on spikes stretched over 60 miles.

The sacrifices of these brave women and men were not in vain. The revolt reasserted the humanity and redeemed the honor of the people. The uprising weakened the system of chattel slavery, stimulated more revolts in the following years and set the stage for the final battle, the Civil War (1861-1865) that put an end to this horrible system. The children and the grandchildren of the rebels of 1811 finished the job in the Civil War. Louisiana contributed more soldiers—over 28,000—to the Union Army than any other state.

These women and men of 1811 represented the best qualities of people of African descent. They were people of exceptional courage, valor and dedication. These were women and men who put the interest and welfare of the masses above their own personal desires. These were people who understood that the emancipation of the masses is a precondition for the emancipation of the individual.

The sacrifices of these brave women and men were not in vain. The revolt reasserted the humanity and redeemed the honor of the people.

Remember the Ancestors! Remember the women and men who carried out the largest African uprising on American soil.

Author and historian Leon A. Waters, publisher and manager of Hidden History Tours, chairman of the Louisiana Museum of African American History and descendant of the 1811 rebels, can be reached at leonawaters8@gmail.com.

This article was originally published by the San Francisco Bay View on July 1, 2013, and republished with author’s permission.

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There are 19 comments by other visitors:

  • Thank you for this American History lesson, I have never heard of this saw via FaceBook, use this article to get more information….

    Response shared by Michelle — June 10, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

  • I never knew of this I wonder how much is out there that we know nothing about. I want to know more.

    Response shared by Antonio — June 10, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

  • Wow! 60 miles of spikes! Never heard this story in school. Very sad.

    Response shared by Natalie — June 11, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

  • Took american history in high school and US history at univ of michigan, yet I seem to have missed such a significant event. So much for my education. Need to zinnify my knowledge of history. I wonder if there is any images of the rebels heads on pikes. Knowing the confederates I am sure they had pics to intimidate other slaves.

    Response shared by rafe — November 13, 2015 @ 12:50 am

  • Mr. Leon A. Waters is an excellent historian. When in New Orleans, I highly recommend his Hidden History Tours. I also recommend “On to New Orleans! Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt,” written by Albert Thrasher and published by Mr. Waters. Learn more about revolutionary ferment in 19th century Louisiana in “The New Orleans Tribune, An Introduction to America’s First Black Daily Newspaper” which can be found (along with many other excellent resources) at http://www.roudanez.com.

    Response shared by Mark Roudané — January 8, 2016 @ 10:16 am

  • and another worth checking out : American Uprising the untold story of america’s largest slave revolt by Daniel Rasmussen

    Response shared by keith brooks — January 8, 2016 @ 6:28 pm

  • Leon Waters is a national treasure. Pick up his book. Rasmussen’s is not credible — despite the high profile endorsements.

    Response shared by laura — January 11, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

  • Wow , never read , or heard anything like this.

    Response shared by Joseph Springfield — January 17, 2016 @ 11:59 am

  • Your. Not going to learn about black history in text books because anything that do with the black fight for freedom won’t appear in American history books because as you look around at what being taught in school today all form of the history of people of color is and been erased. Why do you think?

    Response shared by Anonymous — May 22, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

  • Excellent. Very little in the history books of the North or the South. Glossed over as merely a foot note in my school. White schools didn’t teach much about black history. Taboo.

    Response shared by Anonymous — June 1, 2016 @ 12:47 am

  • This is excellent. White teaching in the States is limited to footnotes about Black history per se. Best forgotten less spoken of Taboo. Don’t talk about it. Too shameful a period separate from the Civil War. Keep the two in their place. Civil War was not about abolishing slavery they say. Of course not. It was about freedom of the South to own slaves but the war was not about slavery. Absolutely not. LOL

    Response shared by steve — June 1, 2016 @ 12:51 am

  • This should be required reading in High School. The fact that it is not, is an indictment of the educational system in the U.S. in continuing the system of privilege.

    Response shared by Matthew Chenoweth Wright — June 10, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

  • Love this! Viva la revolution!

    Response shared by Craig Bates — June 16, 2016 @ 1:16 am

  • You would think that today’s history lesson would be teaching more on black history, with the small amount of strides we made. No! What I learn was nothing in my day, now I’m so interested in reading as much as o can digest! Let us “rise” know your history ! Thanks

    Response shared by Val — July 14, 2016 @ 12:25 pm

  • I was born in Baton Rouge and part of my blood line is from the area of the revolt. I often wondered when the truth would be told. Thank you for making this information available. There is much to do to gain equity. However, I believe that it includes knowing the truth.

    Response shared by AbpSLands2 — July 19, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

  • This is fascinating information that I had no idea about. I definitely plan to read more about this topic and others to increase my knowledge and understanding of the history of Africans in this country and around the world. I plan to visit the museum in New Orleans and hopefully join one of the tours as well. I heard of the revolt for the first time while listening to a really interesting radio interview on WBAI with Mr Leon Waters. Thanks for this important eye opener.

    Response shared by Charlene — July 23, 2016 @ 10:05 am

  • This site has become my favorite pass-time. My was curious as to why I was online more lately, until I started informing her of all the unknown black history facts. I love this site!

    Response shared by James Lacewell — August 12, 2016 @ 4:12 pm

  • I’m from St. James and live in St.John the Baptist Parish and I’m just learning about the 1811 slave revolt. I’m 32 yrs old.

    Response shared by R.Boudreaux — October 10, 2016 @ 12:07 am

  • That was interesting but, that was horrible hearing about those men being be headed. God bless those men who fault in that war. Thank you for sharing.

    Response shared by Renée Branch — November 19, 2016 @ 10:45 pm

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