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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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