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Rebels and Runaways

Rebels and Runaways: Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Rebels and Runaways
    Book Description:

    This gripping study examines slave resistance and protest in antebellum Florida and its local and national impact from 1821 to 1865. Using a variety of sources such as slaveholders' wills and probate records, ledgers, account books, court records, oral histories, and numerous newspaper accounts, Larry Eugene Rivers discusses the historical significance of Florida as a runaway slave haven dating back to the seventeenth century and explains Florida's unique history of slave resistance and protest. In moving detail, Rivers illustrates what life was like for enslaved blacks whose families were pulled asunder as they relocated from the Upper South to the Lower South to an untamed place such as Florida, and how they fought back any way they could to control small parts of their own lives. Against a smoldering backdrop of violence, this study analyzes the various degrees of slave resistance--from the perspectives of both slave and master--and how they differed in various regions of antebellum Florida. In particular, Rivers demonstrates how the Atlantic world view of some enslaved blacks successfully aided their escape to freedom, a path that did not always lead North but sometimes farther South to the Bahama Islands and Caribbean. Identifying more commonly known slave rebellions such as the Stono, Louisiana, Denmark (Telemaque) Vesey, Gabriel, and the Nat Turner insurrections, Rivers argues persuasively that the size, scope, and intensity of black resistance in the Second Seminole War makes it the largest sustained slave insurrection ever to occur in American history. Meticulously researched, Rebels and Runaways offers a detailed account of resistance, protest, and violence as enslaved blacks fought for freedom.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09403-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Florida: A Runaway Haven
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    No close examination of American slavery can better expose the institution’s cruel realities than a careful look at the many and varied ways in which its victims resisted their bondage and oppression. This argument, of course, is not a new one. Over a decade past, John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger’s seminal workRunaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantationtook on the subject in a comprehensive manner by focusing directly on slave flight and rebellion throughout the South during the period 1790 to 1860. Their study showed, as the authors remarked, “how a significant number of slaves challenged the system...


    • 1. Day-to-Day Resistance
      (pp. 11-24)

      The majority of Florida’s enslaved blacks of the nineteenth century lived and worked in “slave labor camps,” as Peter Wood articulated the situation; most did so as nonviolent dissenters, even though many men, women, and even children physically resisted slavery and its cruelties. This resistance occurred despite the fact that bondservants understood the dire, self-destructive, and even deadly consequences of outright rebellion or retaliation. As early as 1828—only seven years after the United States had assumed control over the former Spanish colony—this reality had hardened into law. That year, Florida’s criminal code was amended to create latitude for...

    • 2. Stepping Up the Degrees of Resistance
      (pp. 25-36)

      The practice of dissidence by enslaved Floridians involved degrees of intensity, as would be expected. Escalation could occur in a variety of ways and manifest itself very privately or quite publicly. Sometimes the results evidenced themselves immediately; other times discovery or recognition might not occur for a while. The actions could be of the simplest nature or reflect considerable intelligence and creativity. Complications, as always, abounded.

      When bondpeople perceived that owners and overseers had overstepped their bounds with regard to the slave community, for instance, some protested by temporarily not working. An instance arose on one of George Noble Jones’s...


    • 3. Away without Leave
      (pp. 39-50)

      A drama played out at St. Augustine in 1830 that was to see itself repeated countless times during Florida’s pre-emancipation era, a circumstance that spoke volumes about slave humanity and the courage to resist. The story commenced when Mary A. Sanchez purchased a man named George from the estate of the “late Col. Weeks” of the Ancient City. Then, shortly after George arrived at his new home, he ran away. As sometimes happened, the new owner never recaptured her fugitive. His reasons for departure are not known with certainty. As discussed in this chapter, though, George’s thinking may be surmised...

    • 4. A Yearning for Freedom
      (pp. 51-63)

      Florida’s enslaved men and women might take advantage of perceived weaknesses in masters and overseers in order to force a degree of flexibility into the institution of slavery sufficient to permit opportunities for lurking or even for more permanent escape; still, the enduring brutal reality of the institution could not be denied. The fact was that bondpersons constituted valuable property that most owners intended to preserve and exploit. In that endeavor, many, if not most, individuals who possessed human property were prepared to take whatever measures they found necessary. The resulting collision of wills sparked further resistance that, in turn,...

    • 5. Destinations of Runaways
      (pp. 64-76)

      Questions related to where enslaved blacks fled have occupied historians of the southern experience for generations. Traditionally, the answers reached have pointed to the majority absconding to other southern states as opposed to the northern states. In that vein, John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger focused in one recent and respected study on fugitives who fled, primarily, from one place in the South to another in the same region. Florida’s situation, however, offers a somewhat different view. Although considerable numbers of its fugitives replicated the traditional patterns noted by Franklin, Schweninger, and other historians, a significant number possessed or, at...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 6. Flight Away from Florida
      (pp. 77-89)

      As promised early on, this survey intends to emphasize the complexities inherent in Florida’s slave resistance experience, and it must be stated that those complexities applied to flight just as they did to other facets of the subject. To this point in the narrative, temporary flight, flight within the immediate vicinity, flight within the immediate region, flight to area havens, and flight into the wilds of the peninsula have received close attention. Those discussions do not begin to cover the topic of the present chapter. However, highly relevant to any examination of this kind are additional factors, including flight away...

    • 7. In Search of Kinfolk and Loved Ones
      (pp. 90-105)

      The direction that escapees traveled when running away might have varied, but the knowledge of where does not necessarily offer an explanation as to why. The answer to that question, in good part, involved one of slavery’s most unfortunate aspects, the separation of family and kinfolk. In their dream to regain what they had lost in the Upper South, elite planter families and considerably greater numbers of less well-to-do farmers sought honor, independence, and wealth by forcibly uprooting their bondservants and moving them to the Lower South (or Deep South), where cheap, fertile land could be found in which to...

    • 8. Catch the Runaway
      (pp. 106-118)

      Florida by the 1820s had long stood out as a runaway slave haven. The origins and evolution of this status will receive closer attention in chapter 10. Suffice it for now to assert that slave owners and persons desiring to own slaves who moved to Florida during that decade and afterward demanded that lawmakers take firm steps to control and eventually stop the flow of freedom-seeking slaves coming into the territory. As the years passed, these and individuals like them found greater and greater need to regulate all movement of human property, not simply of runaways bound for freedom in...


    • 9. Slave Violence
      (pp. 121-130)

      Without doubt, many more of Florida’s enslaved blacks absconded from 1821 to 1860 than committed physical violence against whites, but acts of physical violence remained nonetheless the ultimate demonstration of discontent with the institution of slavery. Violence could result in the destruction of human lives but might simply entail destroying property. Large-scale rebellion certainly constituted the ultimate in violence against whites; yet with a major exception to be discussed in chapter 10 and not unlike the southern experience generally, individual acts of violence perpetrated by slaves against whites represented the typical and most frequent such action in Florida.¹

      Acts of...

    • 10. The Second Seminole War
      (pp. 131-145)

      Florida’s experience with slavery from 1821 to 1865 evolved within an environment that, from beginning to end, was filled by the threat of race war, the actuality of race war, or the legacies of race war. Patterns of resistance that developed in the territory and state during that period also derived from that environment. In fact, it can be argued with credibility that the nation’s largest slave rebellion marked the midpoint of that era, an event so profound that no Floridian could have escaped its impact in one way or another. Known to history as the Second Seminole War, this...

    • 11. The Civil War
      (pp. 146-160)

      Florida contained nearly 62,000 enslaved persons when it seceded from the Union in January 1861, about 44 percent of its total population. Most bondservants lived in the Middle Florida black belt—the area, it will be remembered, that was framed by the Apalachicola River on the west (but including Jackson County) and by the Suwannee River on the east. Here resided over 50 percent of the state’s slave population. Northeast Florida—eastward of the Suwannee and including the peninsula—held the second largest slave concentration, about 20 percent of its population. West Florida (the district in the western panhandle that...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 161-168)

    Slave resistance in nineteenth-century Florida, while reflecting many similarities with respect to experiences reported for bondpeople in other southern states, nonetheless differed significantly. But what made Florida bondservants and their experiences unusual? The fact was that Florida’s history, geography, and topography combined to set a unique stage for its rebels and runaways. Unlike other southern states, Florida boasted a matchless history as a runaway slave haven, the reality of which changed little over time, at least until the final countdown to the Civil War. Freedom-seeking bondpeople knew about and had sought refuge in its numerous runaway settlements and vast, virtually...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 169-210)
  10. Index
    (pp. 211-222)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-228)