Chronicle of Slave rebellions in the Americas.
All societies practicing slavery will have to deal with slave revolts because there is that desire for Freedom in any human being. One can express it in their songs or their story-telling nights. It becomes part of their culture and an art in knowing how to implant it on others with the same background.
History is full of examples of such revolts. When a Roman slave named Spartacus (73-71 BC) rose against abuses committed by the Roman Empire or a Scandinavian Slave Tunni, in the 9th century, revolted against the Swedish Monarchy, you can also understand well how the slaves of Santo Domingo, Bookman, Dessalines and others may have felt in the 18th century (1791) against the French Imperialism of Napoleon Bonaparte. The French revolution indeed bought to us the words of Liberty and Equality for all.
Muhammed led the east African slaves in the Zani Rebellion in Iraq to revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate. Nanny of the Maroons revolted against the British in Jamaica. In continental United States, Denmark Vesey rebelled in South Carolina.
Ancient Sparta had serfs called helots who rebelled against the Spartans as reported by Herodotus. English peasants revolted in 1381 to obtain reform in the feudalism system in England and increase the right of the serfs and Richard II agreed to their requests. In Russia, the slaves were called Kholops and slavery remained an institution until 1723 when Peter the Great converted the slaves into serfs. They became outlaws called “Cossacks” living in the southern steppes. Numerous rebellions and Cossacks uprisings with Ivan Bolotnikov (1606), Stenka Razin (1667), Kondraty Butavin (1707) are some of the many hundred outbreaks across Russia.
Numerous African slave revolts took place in America during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. More than 250 uprising have been documented. Slaves like Gabriel Prosser (Richmond, VA 1800), Denmark Vesey (Charleston SC 1822) Nat Turner (South Hampton County VA 1831) merit their named to be mentioned and this is the story of the most striking revolts that I want to bring to light.
I have taken solemnly that task to bring to light the most distinctive slave revolutions in the Americas and chose to review some of the most epic African slave revolts which have marked forever the new world in this “Chronicle of African Slave revolts in the Americas”. I am sure you will find time to appreciate what our ancestors have done to make Haiti a free Nation for the Haitians.
This month, we will talk about the 1570 Gaspar Yanga’s revolt in Vera Cruz, New Spain. This is the beautiful story of a slave who become National Hero of Mexico and considered as “ El Primer Libertador de las Americas”.
1570 Gaspar Yanga’s revolt
Vera Cruz- New Spain
Gaspar Yanga (Yanga or Nyanga) was an African maroon, leader of a colony of old slaves near Veracruz, Mexico, born on May, 14, 1545 during the early period of Spanish colonial rule. He is known for his successful resistance to the Spanish since 1609 until an agreement with the colonial government was reached in 1618 for self-ruling of the maroon settlement. Centuries later Yanga was named a National Hero of Mexico and “Primer Liberator de las Americas” and the settlement in the Veracruz province was named “Yanger” in his honor.
It is reported that Yanga was a member of the royal family among the “Bran people” in Gabon. He was captured and sold as a slave and this is in Mexico that he gained the name of Gaspar Yanga. New Spain had an estimated population of 200,000 compared to 4.9 million in Brazil and 4 million in the Caribbean (Hispaniola and Cuba).
It is said that Yanga led a band of slaves becoming maroons and escaping to the highlands near Veracruz, a small maroon colony (“Palenque”) which remained under his control for more than 20 years. Many other runaway slaves jointed the group. These maroons were raiding caravans going through roads between Veracruz and Mexico City forcing the Spanish colonial government to undertake in 1609, a campaign to re-gain control of their territory.
550 Spanish soldiers and adventurers confronted an irregular force of 100 maroons with fire arms and 400 other armed with stones, machetes, bows, arrows. Yanga and his group demonstrated superior knowledge of the terrain to resist and captured Spaniards used to settle the hostilities in requesting an area of self-ruling with in return. promises to provide support if any exterior attack from other countries were imminent. They were asked to return any run-away slaves. The Spaniards refused the terms and went to battle. Heavy losses were recorded on both sides. The maroon settlement was burned forcing them to fly is around territory they knee well.
Finally, the Spaniards agreed to Yanga terms and a treaty was signed in 1618 with the insurance that only Franciscan priests be allowed to tend to people. By 1630, the town of San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo was established in today province of Veracruz. Later, the town was named “Yanga”.
Yanga became a national hero of Mexico in 1871 and “El Primer Libertador de Las Americas”.
Maxime Coles MD
1- Gaspar Yanga, el primer Libertador de America. Mexico desconocido magazine
2- Rodriguez. Julius P Ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistances and Rebellion. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut. 2007.
3- Luis Camilla, “Gaspar Yanga”, Black Past (Dec 2014)
4- “Gaspar Yanga and Blacks in Mexico: 1570 African Slave Revolt in Veracruz”. Black History Heroes. (25 October 2015.
5- Landers, Jane G (2006). “Cimarron and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate Identity and the evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish Circum-Caribbean”. In Lander, Jane, Robinson, Barry (eds). Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America. Alberquerque: University of New Mexico Press.