5 Rebellious Black People Who Fought Against Slavery

 A scene from a supposed slave rebellion in Antigua circa 1736
A scene from a supposed slave rebellion in Antigua circa 1736

I’d imagine that most people have not heard of all of the names listed below. Many people from all over the world found different and genius ways to oppose the institution of slavery. This isn’t just an American list of names, but 5 people from across the globe who resisted slavery, some of them by force. Some of their endings are different from others, some slave rebels disappeared from history and some were hanged. However they all participated in the justified opposition to the global system of white supremacy that expressed itself through chattel slavery and all its appendages.

                                                                    Sylvia DuBois – the Rebel

Born sometime between 1768 and 1789, Sylvia DuBois gained her freedom through force. A rare event during the slave era that usually ended in a ghastly sort of way for those who took the violent route.

 Sylvia DuBois
Sylvia DuBois

At the age of 2 Sylvia’s mother, Dorcas Compton, took out a loan against herself (given that she was “property” and could be used as collateral) in a failed effort to gain Sylvia’s freedom. When she could not pay off the loan to the financier named Dominicus DuBois, she and her children (including Sylvia) were forced back into slavery. Sylvia’s mother soon thereafter left her children, either under duress or of her own will, and Sylvia herself was left under the ownership of DuBois and his wife for several years.

Mistress DuBois tortured and abused Sylvia for many years. In a record of her life that was written in 1883 before her death, Sylvia recalled that her Mistress would use any weapon she could get a hold of to “level me with.” Sylvia was brutally attacked with a club, axe, hatchet, a fire shovel and other items by Mistress DuBois.

As she became older and stronger however, Sylvia was determined to physically resist her bondage. Her autobiographer, a man by the name of Dr. Cornelius Larison, described her as 5’10, 200 pounds and she is known to have been given jobs usually done by men. Slavery hardened Sylvia and one day when Mistress DuBois struck her violently in public, Sylvia saw the opportunity and struck her Mistress back in front of a large crowd. She hit Mrs. DuBois so hard that she fell to the ground and crashed against the door. Filled with righteous anger, she dared any of the onlookers to attempt to fight her stating that she’d “thrash every devil of them.”

Afterwards, Sylvia fled to New York before returning to her Master when he called for her. Her Master, Dominicus DuBois gave her and her daughter their freedom under the condition that they never return. Sylvia of course agreed and wound up in Flag Town, New Jersey and began looking for her Mother whom she ended up finding in New Brunswick. She lived there for years and even owned a homestead for a while before it was burned to the ground.

Sylvia was never re-enslaved and died a free woman in 1889 at the age of either 100 or 101.

                                                               Cudjo – Leader of the Maroons

In 1655, the British defeated the Spanish for control over the island of Jamaica. Using this golden opportunity, many of the men and women who were enslaved by the Spanish escaped into the Blue Mountains and linked up with Amerindians and other free Blacks in an ever-growing hidden maroon colony. For 76 years, the British tried and failed to subdue the free Black men and women.

Cudjo was the leader of the Maroons between 1730 – 1739 during the First Maroon War. With the help of his sisters and brothers, Cudjo led a force of 5,000 former slaves in a successful military campaign against yet another British attempt to re-enslave them.

Cudjo had been born into the Maroon community and was of Akan heritage in the modern-day country of Ghana. After becoming the new chief when his father died, Cudjo implemented a military reform that divided the Maroons into 5 separated towns spread throughout the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country which provided environmental boundaries that made it nearly impenetrable. After appointing his sisters and brothers the leaders of the 5 different towns, the Maroons developed a guerilla technique using the ‘ambush’ that the British could not stop.

The repeated victories by the Cudjo-led Maroons forced the British into a peace treaty that granted the Maroons independence and unprecedented liberty for Black people during this time. Both the British and Maroons respected a 3-mile wide ‘No Man’s Land’ that separated Maroon territory from British territory. Cudjo and the successive leaders of the Maroons would maintain sovereignty over themselves and their people, however part of the treaty contained an agreement that the Maroons would return any runaway slaves they came across which has caused tension between Maroons and others on the island to this day.

The Maroon uprisings represent symbols of successful slave rebellions that should be spoken about in the same vein as the Haitian revolution.

                                             Ottobah Quobna Cugoano – the Radical Abolitionist

Born in a coastal village in 1757 in the modern-day country of Ghana, Cugoano was kidnapped from his homeland at the age of 13 and was taken to what is today the country of Grenada. He was kept in bondage by a man named Alexander Campbell who would eventually bring him to England sometime in late 1772. It is in Britain that Ottobah would become a radical member of Britain’s abolitionist movement. He became the first Black man to write a jeremiad attacking and criticizing the trans-Atlantic slave trade and to call for slaves to resist their “Masters”…stating it was their moral duty.

Along with Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano fought back repeatedly against pro-slavery arguments that set to apologize for the real world barbarisms of the system itself. Arguments that we often time see get used today about Blacks gladly and knowingly selling other Blacks into chattel slavery in Africa were being used as well back during Cugoano’s time by enslavers themselves! Cugoano made the radical argument that not only did every slave have moral right, but the duty to resist enslavement and he also laid blame of the system of slavery on every British citizens stating that they ‘shared the blame.’ Both Equiano and Cugoano were members of Britain’s population of Africans and were in close contact with some of the highest ranking members of European society in an attempt to strengthen their cause.

Cugoano’s death remains a mystery to this day as no one know’s where or when he died.

                  Gullah Jack – Sorcerer and Lieutenant of the Denmark Vesey Slave Rebellion

Gullah Jack was of Angolan heritage and spoke an Angolan dialect and was born in the town of McChoolay Moorema in Africa. Somehow, Jack became a prisoner of war and wound up being sold to Zephaniah Kingsley on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa. Kingsley would transport Gullah Jack with him to the Florida sea islands.

While on the ship to the Americas, Jack was allowed to carry a bag with him which allowed him to maintain possession of all sorts of herbs and other materials owned by conjurer’s, witch doctors and priests of the spirit realm which Gullah Jack claimed to be part of. This strange skillset caused some to respect him and others to fear him, this was on top of his rumored animated mannerisms. However in 1812 during a Seminole raid on the Kingsley plantation, 40 slaves escaped and Gullah Jack was among them.

He disappears from the historical record for some years before popping up again in 1821 in Charleston, South Carolina where he attended the same AME church that Denmark Vesey frequented. By this time, Jack had become re-enslaved by a man named Paul Pritchard and that was how he ended up attending Vesey’s church. Sometime late 1821, Denmark Vesey recruited Gullah Jack to be a lieutenant in the uprising that he was planning for Charleston and some of the nearby islands. Vesey chose Gullah Jack because he represented an Angolan company called the Gullah Company, or Gullah Society. There were also rumors and tall tales floating in the air claiming that Gullah Jack could not be killed due to his dabbling in sorcery and the ‘dark arts.’ Jack claimed to be able to summon African Gods and he fused African and European spiritual systems. It is believed that he provided charms and incantations to members of the Vesey uprising to prevent them from death and to destroy any man to would harm them.

As with many slave rebellions, the Vesey uprising was exposed before it could be set into motion by likely slaves who were acting as double agents. Denmark Vesey, as well as 131 others were put on trial as conspirators. Gullah Jack was captured on July 5th, 1822, condemned to death on July 9th and hanged three days later on July 12th.

                                                  Samuel Sharpe and the Jamaican Baptist War

The Baptist War (also known as the Christmas rebellion) was an uprising that took place in Jamaica long after the days of Cudjo from 1831-1832. It is sometimes called the Baptist War, because the leader of the uprising was a black Baptist preacher by the name of Samuel Sharpe.

Sharpe was a man born into bondage in the Jamaican parish known as Saint James. He was allowed to have an education that was not provided to most others slaves, making Sharpe the envy of many of his fellow Black brothers and sisters. He’d go on to become a well-known preacher at a Baptist church located in Montego Bay. This allowed him to go around to different parishes to not only spread the gospel and the word of the Bible, but to also get to know the people in those areas and spread messages of freedom and equality.

One of the things that sparked the Baptist uprising was the enslaved population believing that freedom was right around the corner. Another thing was the passing of a law in 1831 that granted free people of color equality with Europeans…however not the enslaved. The fateful mistake that might have set off the slave rebellion itself was a shutting down of rumors of nearby freedom by the Governor Lord Belmore who basically acknowledged that there was no intention to free any remaining slaves anytime soon. Even before the Governor’s proclamation came down, plans for an uprising had already been in the works for months. Slaves from multiple plantations around the island were involved which would end up turning the Christmas rebellion into the largest slave rebellion in the Caribbean in terms of the number of enslaved who were involved.

The plan wasn’t originally meant to be violent, however what was originally meant to be a peaceful protest to demand wages and better working conditions, quickly devolved into all out chaos and revolution. The slave revolution spread over 750 square miles and would end up involving over 60,000 escaped slaves! However the Jamaican government was able to use the armed Jamaican military to put down the rebellion in 2 weeks. The colonial government would end up using the Navy as well as the 84th West India regiment to violently suppress the massive uprising that would end up killing over 900 Blacks,14 white planters and over 200 properties spread across 5 parishes. Sharpe himself was hanged along with over 300 other co-conspirators.

Even though the Baptist War ended with a military victory for the British, it became clear that slavery in Jamaica was no longer possible. The Christmas rebellion is credited with being one of the major events that directly led to the passage of the 1833 Slave Abolition Act which abolished slavery throughout the British Empire by 1838.

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