News release: July 27, 2005
For more information contact J.B. Bird:
Historical discovery: Scholars have overlooked largest U.S. slave rebellion for more than 167 years, Web site shows
AUSTIN, Texas—Since 1838, scholars have overlooked the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history and their reference works have been wrong, shows a new historical Web site.
“Rebellion: John Horse and the Black Seminoles, the first black rebels to beat American slavery” (www.johnhorse.com) documents the facts surrounding the rebellion, which took place in Florida from 1835-1838 in conjunction with the Second Seminole War. The site is the first source in any medium to document authoritatively the size of the rebellion.
The slave rebellion was led by the Black Seminoles, a group of maroons (free blacks and fugitive slaves) historically allied with Seminole Indians in Florida and the west. Scholars have long known that Black Seminole maroons took part in the Second Seminole War, but they have misunderstood the participation of a third group of rebels, plantation slaves.
Hundreds of plantation rebels joined a general uprising at the war’s onset. Joining Black Seminole maroons and Seminole Indians, the slaves helped destroy 21 wealthy sugar plantations. They then fled to the wilderness, for three years aiding the black and Indian Seminole allies, combating military units often led by their former masters.
“Rebellion” documents the participation of at least 385 plantation slaves in the uprising, a number that constitutes by far the largest slave revolt in U.S. history.
One would never know the scope of the rebellion from the nation’s history books. Historians, including authors of the definitive works in African American studies, have persisted for 167 years in omitting the Florida rebellion from the pantheon of famous American slave revolts. Leading scholars have maintained that no major slave insurrections took place in the U.S. after Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831, when in fact the largest and most successful rebellion occurred in Florida from 1835-1838.
The oversight can be traced to many factors—a climate of censorship when the conflict took place, slaveholders’ tendency to claim slaves had not rebelled but
had been captured by Indians, the legacy of pro-slavery scholarship, even the confusing nature of the conflict. Yet the persistence of the oversight remains something of a mystery.
Only two historians, Dr. Canter Brown and Dr. Larry Rivers of Florida A&M University, have suggested that the Florida slave rebellion was the largest in U.S. history. Brown advanced the idea in a 1995 article in Florida Historical Quarterly. Rivers followed up in his book Slavery in Florida (2000) with a tentative claim and call for further study.
“Rebellion” furnishes the first full substantiation of the claim, accompanied by complete historical references and a comparison with other major U.S. slave revolts.
Remarkably, the sources that substantiate the rebellion’s size have been accessible for years and they are among the best sources for any U.S. slave insurrection, coming mainly from military records corroborated by memoirs of observers and newspaper accounts.
Visit http://www.johnhorse.com/toolkit for an information toolkit, including
- Fact sheet on the rebellion.
- Print-ready graphics and images.
- Quotations from key historical figures and list of historical sources.
- Original essay on the rebellion.
- Examples of scholarly oversight.
Independent historians available for interview
These historians were not involved with “Rebellion” but have agreed to talk to reporters seeking an independent perspective on the Black Seminole slave rebellion:
Dr. Canter Brown, professor of history at Florida A&M University, the first scholar to note the Black Seminole slave rebellion was largest in U.S. history:
(summer contact information) 850-383-0269,
Dr. Terrance Weik, professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina, who led excavation of Black Seminole town in Florida: 803-777-6500,
Dr. Kevin Mulroy, archivist at the University of Southern California and author of Freedom on the Border (1993), a history of the Black Seminoles: 213-821-2341,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Note Mulroy’s area is the Black Seminoles in the west, not Florida.
About “Rebellion” at www.johnhorse.com
“Rebellion: John Horse and the Black Seminoles, the first black rebels to beat American slavery,” tells the story of an epic quest for freedom that changed American history. The site documents the 19th-century odyssey of John Horse and the Black Seminoles, descendants of free blacks and fugitive slaves who sought freedom on three American frontiers, from Florida to Mexico. The Black Seminoles helped shape American politics toward slavery, inspired the emancipation movement, and led the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history. The first source to substantiate the size of the Black Seminole slave revolt, “Rebellion” was written and produced by J.B. Bird, supported by a grant from the Summerlee Foundation under sponsorship from the SouthWest Alternate Media Project.