The Largest Slave Revolt in American History


In January of 1811 hundreds of slaves in what was then still the Orleans Territory began a march from their plantations to New Orleans to demand their freedom. Within three days, a combination of white vigilantes, local militias, and United States army forces had put down the uprising and killed or executed about 100 slaves.

The Origins of the Revolt

Twenty years earlier, in 1791, the enslaved people in the French colony of Saint-Domingue began a rebellion which ended two years later with the establishment of the independent Republic of Haiti and the abolition of slavery. These events inspired many slave uprisings in the United States, including that of 1811. Although documentation is scanty, it appears that planning for the 1811 revolt had begun some years earlier, under the influence of a mixed race slave overseer named Charles Deslondes.

The Sudden Beginning and Rapid End of the Revolt

On January 8, 1811, Deslondes and other slaves began a march from their plantation in LaPlace along the River Road toward New Orleans. Along the way they were joined, as they had planned, by other slaves and some freed blacks. Estimates of their eventual numbers range from 200 to 500. They burned plantations and crops along their way, but only two whites were killed. As word of the uprising spread, plantation owners in the area organized themselves into ad hoc militias to recapture the slaves. They were joined by regular army troops called up by the territorial governor. By January 10, the march was over, its participants killed or forced to surrender.

The Aftermath of the Revolt

Some of the slaves fled and were never found. Others were captured and returned to their owners. Many were killed in the fighting, and many others, including Charles Deslondes, were tried and executed on the spot. In all, at least 95 of the slaves were killed. Some, like Deslondes, were shot, then beheaded, and their heads put on poles along the route of their march as a warning to other slaves.

News of the rebellion and its brutal suppression spread rapidly, making more Americans aware of the cruel nature of slavery and helping to spur the formation of abolitionist movements in other parts of the country.