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American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This study of a January 1811 slave uprising and march on New Orleans exhumes the deliberately obscured and "largest act of armed resistance against slavery in the history of the United States." Historian Rasmussen expands on scarce source material to provide a complex context for a revolt that dwarfed such better-known rebellions as Nat Turner's and Denmark Vesey's, a stealthily organized uprising of 500 armed slaves dressed in military uniforms marching on and trying to conquer New Orleans. The author ties together diverse political, economic, and cultural threads in describing the rise (and brutal suppression) of the "ethnically diverse, politically astute, and highly organized" army, and investigates why this "story more Braveheart than Beloved" was consigned to historical footnote. While the book's ambition occasionally exceeds its grasp, it vividly evokes the atmosphere of New Orleans of the early 19th century and how a recalcitrant, French-rooted Louisiana and some Spanish possessions in the Deep South were incorporated into the expanding American nation though brutal revenge justice and political pressures. (Jan.) (c)
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From Booklist

When Americans think of slave rebellions, Nat Turner and John Brown come to mind, but the largest armed resistance to slavery in U.S. history was commanded by Kook, Quamana, Harry Kenner, and Charles Deslondes. The four led an army of several hundred slaves in 1811 to revolt against plantation masters and to march on New Orleans. Historian Rasmussen details the political climate of the time, including French sugar plantation owners destabilized by efforts of the U.S. government to Americanize the region, threats from nearby Spanish-held territories, and the recent slave revolts in Haiti, 6,000 miles away. The slaves were emboldened by Haiti and aided by a cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups—Africans, Native Americans, people of mixed race, slaves, and Maroons—who enjoyed fairly free movement around the area. Rasmussen details the history and politics of the region, the revolt itself, and the vengeful reprisals that followed, including efforts to rewrite the history of the revolt. Readers will appreciate not just the historic recollection of the attempt to overcome the oppression of slavery but also the more recent developments that have recovered it from obscurity. --Vanessa Bush
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061995215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061995217
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dan Rasmussen was born and raised in Washington, DC, where he attended St. Albans School. He graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 2009, where he studied History and Literature with a focus on American slavery and the 19th century American South. He wrote his senior thesis, Violent Visions, on the 1811 German Coast Uprising - the largest slave revolt in American history. Rasmussen's thesis won the Kathryn Ann Huggins Prize, the Perry Miller Prize and the Thomas Temple Hoopes Prize, Harvard's top undergraduate academic honor. The thesis is the basis for Rasmussen's first book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. Read more about Dan at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By DRDR on January 7, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Why bother reading about a slave revolt from 200 years ago? I grew up with the fable that American expansionism (i.e. Manifest Destiny) was motivated by a god-given duty to spread our nonviolent democratic institutions from sea to shining sea. Daniel Rasmussen's book makes a convincing connection between American expansionism and preserving the "Southern way of life," otherwise known as slavery-based agriculture. Rasmussen details the atrocities a priviliged class will go through to keep a lower class under control to their benefit. The New Orleans planters put down the rebellion violently, and they wrote the rebels into history as petty criminals for centuries. Meanwhile, violence was a necessary recourse for slaves whose freedom was supressed by violence, though the vision of the 1811 rebels was not fully realized until blacks' role in the Union's Civil War effort. These themes touched on by Rasmussen are eternally relevant.

Rasmussen pieces together a rich tale of the rebellion's mechanics despite sparse historical sources. We learn of the challenges faced by American diplomats trying to bring French aristocrats and Spanish Florida into the Union, and how a blind eye was turned to the potential for revolt. We learn about the cultural diversity of the slaves, including the origins of African military tactics that proved successful against American forces. We understand how the successful slave rebellion of Haiti influenced both the slaves and planters. We discover the heroic leader Charles Deslondes, a half-white who rebelled despite rising high within the hierarchy of slaves. His story reminds me of Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption.

The book's only weak paragraph comes when Rasmussen speculates why Deslondes rebelled despite his privilige.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Toro on January 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read this book with no real knowledge of American history, and read it in a single sitting. Rasmussen's writing is fluid, and in his hands the landscape has come alive - the sights and sounds of the rebellion, the stunning contradictions of life along the German Coast, and the energetic and secretive networks of communication among slaves. The book is wonderfully confident, but without sacrificing any nuance in a comprehensive and insightful account.

If Rasmussen has unearthed a fascinating and rich history, he has also reemphasized contemporary responses and strategies that suppressed this important rebellion. His brilliant investigation into primary sources is matched by his striking analysis of the trends and characters that conspired to smooth over violent unrest, and to gloss indigenous narrative and progress. This is an important contribution not only in writing the events of American history, but also as a fascinating reflection of its wider historical process, political context and repercussions, and the meaning of its often violent symbols.

Rasmussen is an immensely gifted and promising writer, and his layered approach means that this book can engage absolutely any audience - from the academic to the casual reader to the high school or college student keen to tackle new and exciting material. He's a name to watch, and I'll be jotting it down to snap up his next work right away.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Margaret on January 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I tore right through this book, and highly recommend reading it! It has the narrative flair of Nathaniel Philbrick's "in the Heart of the Sea," and it is as psychologically insightful as William Styron's "Confessions of Nat Turner." It was also impressively well-researched, so I would recommend it both for an avid historian as well as a casual reader just looking for a lively and entertaining read.

Regarding the storyline, the main thing that struck me about this book was the heroism of the slaves. It's a pretty incredible story, both in terms of their outright bravery and the high level of organization with which the revolt was conducted. Rasmussen also does a great job of bringing the story and the characters to life - my favorite character was definitely one of the revolt leaders, Charles Deslondes. As a Louisianan Creole slave driver with a slave mother and a plantation-owner father, he was able to build the trust of his master, and then use that trust to orchestrate the revolt. Fascinating! I also enjoyed learning more about the social fabric of New Orleans in 1811. Rasmussen exposes the underlying societal tensions and contradictions of the times, and it really made me stop and think about my own paradigms, and what it means to be American.

Overall - 5 stars for sure. And I really hope they make a movie of it! It would be something along the lines of a combination of Amistad and Braveheart... and it would be awesome.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia McFadden on January 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As a high school history teacher, I highly recommend this stunning account of a never before described event. This is the book my students want to read outside of class! I will absolutely work this into my book group and class curriculum and recommend to my colleagues / friends. The young author uses his substantial literary talents to depict a story of sufficient complexity at a graspable level. Rasmussen limns the gripping process taken by the enslaved in their valiant attempt at liberty. The depiction is the rare recent work that can further inject a sense of élan into such an important body of scholarship. I look forward to Rasmussen's future works. A must read!
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