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 1712 New-York revolt in the British province of New York.

1712 New York slave revolt
British province of New York

The NY Slave Revolt in 1712

A revolt of 23 African slaves in New York city, in the province of New York was formatted during the year 1712. They killed 9 whites before they were stopped in their efforts.  In 70 blacks arrested and jailed, 21 were convicted.

New York city was known to have the largest slave population in the New England There were no large plantations while slaves worked as “house slaves” like servants, artisans, dock workers etc. New York city differed from any southern cities. More they worked also among free blacks. Slaves were able to communicate and planned conspiracy easily.

When the English took over the colony New Amsterdam in 1664 from the Dutch, they imposed different rules and restricted the free slaves from marrying or possessing any land. A slave market was built in the area of what we call now “Wall Street” to facilitate the sale of slaves imported by the Royal African Company. B the beginning of 1700’s around 20% of the population were enslaved black people. Measures require blacks to carry a pass to travel more than a mile from home. Gatherings of more than 3 people, were prohibited.

On the night of April 6. 1712 a group of 20 black slaves set up fire to a building (Maiden Lane) near Broadway. They were armed with guns, hatchets and swords to attack the whites. Colonial forces arrested seventy blacks. Among the one arrested six committed suicide and 21 were convicted and sentenced to death including one woman and a child. 20 blacks were burned to death and one was execute on a breaking wheel (“Supplice de la Roue”). I can add that the Supplice of the Wheel was popular with the French colonialist in the Caribbean and one has to remember after the French revolution in 1789 the way Vincent Oge perished on the place of Cap-Haiti.

More restrictive laws were passed in the colony affecting Blacks and Indians slaves. As we already described earlier, they were not permitted to stay in group of more than three (3), nor they will be able to carry firearms or gambling. Rape, Conspiracy or propriety damage were punished by the death penalty. Free blacks were still allowed to own land. Anthony Portuguese, owned land which represent the present-day Washington Square Park and his daughters and grand-children still remained present owners.

To free a slave, a tax of 200 pounds was needed and it was debated in 1715 before the Lords of Trade in London by the Governor Hunter, that a slave might inherit part of a master wealth and share his lifetime fortune.

Maxime Coles MD


1-     Diehl, Lorraine B (October 5, 1992) “Skeletons in the Closet”. New York Magazine: New York Media LLC pp 78-86.

2-     New York Slave Revolt 1712. In O’Callaghan, E.B. (ed.) Documents relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York procured in Holland, England and France. Albany, New York: Weeds, Parson (2016-06-14)

3-     “New York’s Revolt of 1712”. Africans in America (January 5, 2008).

4-     “The Freedmen of New Amsterdam”. In McClure Zeller, Nancy Anne (ed). A Beautiful and Fruitful Place: New Netherland Institute (April 4, 2018). selected.

5-     Geismer, Joan H. (April 2004). The Reconstruction of Washington Square Arch and Adjacent Site Work”. New York City Department of Park and Recreation, P 10 (April4, 2018).

6-     Johnson, Mat (2007), The Great Negro Plot, New York: Bloomsbury.

7-     Horton, James & Horton, Lois (2005), Slavery and the Making of America, New York: Oxford University Press,


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