Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book: American Uprising -- February 5, 2011

Amercian Uprising/the Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen is a study of the 1811 Louisiana slave revolt that threatened New Orleans.

The revolt, involving hundreds of slaves, required years of planning. Rasmussen does a good job of talking about the societies from which many of the slaves had been kidnapped, and how their methods of methods of warfare influenced the revolt.

Rasmussen was faced with many problems in relating the events. The uprising lasted only two days and may have killed only two whites. There are no written records from any of the slaves involved in the uprising, and only a limited number from any slaves in the United States.

One solution to the problems was to go into excellent detail about the history of Louisiana, of sugar farming with slave labor, of the Louisiana Purchase and the first, terrible, US Governor, William Claiborne. Rasmussen spends a significant amount of time on the conquest of West Florida. This made sense when I saw that this was the subject of an award-winning Sophomore essay. It was also important because at the time of the revolt, much of the US Army force in Louisiana had been diverted to West Florida.

Once the revolt was defeated, largely because of a surprise attack by a party of planters from across the river, the planters took brutal revenge on the surviving slaves. They then set to work to suppress the memory of the revolt. Rasmussen describes this and explains the motives of the planters and Governor Claiborne. He devotes most of a chapter to the ways that historians treated the revolt in later years.

I enjoyed reading the book and had only two real criticisms. I got lost in a jump from talking about Louisiana to talking about the revolt in Haiti, which provided inspiration for the rebels in Louisiana. Also, I had trouble finding the one map in the book, when I wanted to go back and trace the progress of the revolt.

This is the author's first book, based on his Senior thesis at Harvard. Based on this, I'll keep an eye open for his future work.

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