1811 Bayou Slave Uprising

“An attempt was made to assassinate me by the stroke of an axe,” Andry wrote. “My poor son has been ferociously murdered by a horde of brigands who from my plantation to that of Mr. Fortier have committed every kind of mischief and excesses, which can be expected from a gang of atrocious bandittis [sic] of that nature.” [1]

1811-slave-revolt

 

The above quote is from Manuel Andry, a slave owner on the “German Coast” along the Mississippi River north of New Orleans in 1811. Andy had just been attacked by a group of slaves and witnessed his son’s murder at their hands. Given this background, it is no wonder he would refer to the slaves as a gang, full of mischief and excess. I’m not a parent, however, if I witnessed my son’s murder I would use much stronger language than he expressed. Words of the four letter variety come to mind. It reminds me of comedian Louise C.K.’s bit about the types of words people used to express disbelief, amazement, or anger before “Jesus Christ!”

The group was led by Charles Deslondes, a bi-racial slave that attempted to achieve in New Orleans what recently occurred on the island of Haiti. Deslondes dreamed of freedom; he desired to be the second coming of Toussaint Louverture. On the night of January 8, 1811, Deslondes charismatically inspired 15 slaves to grab whatever weapons they could find; axes, hoes, pitchforks, etc. and start a revolution.

Referred to as the ‘1811 German Coast Uprising,’ the revolt comprised anywhere from 200-500 slaves; many of which were employed in the sugar fields harvesting sugarcane. This is important to note because these would have been the largest and strongest members of the plantation, aged between 20-30 years, and having the least amount to lose. Individuals that worked as house slaves were less inclined to join the movement and most likely would have tried to sway their closest friends and family members from joining. However, dreams of heroism burns in the hearts of young men, and these slaves were were ready to sacrifice their lives for something greater than a life working sugarcane.

After leaving Andry’s Plantation, the slaves marched southeast for 15-20 miles, burning plantations, and acquiring more slaves to their cause. As January 8 became January 9, the slaves did something rather peculiar. Instead of marching all the way to New Orleans, they turned around and started marching northwest in the direction from where they came. Why would they do this? What was their plan beyond burning down plantations and acquiring numbers? Did they hear that the militia was forming north of them and determined it was in their best interest to turn around and meet them head on? History remains unclear on these facts, but we can surmise one reason why they turned around and marched back towards the Andry Plantation.

One of the reasons the slaves chose January 8 as the starting point of their revolution was because they knew the military would be heavily stationed along the coast near New Orleans. This was well known because the territorial governor had fears the Spanish would try to regain control of the city. It is possible, albeit likely, that Deslondes believed it was in the best interest of the slaves to return northward and seek hiding amongst the waterways and bayous where it was easier to find safety and refuge from search parties. Heading closer to New Orleans would have made it easier to be found and would have meant meeting a larger opposing army. This could help explain their rationale for marching back towards their starting point.

Around 4am, on January 9, the slaves were met by an onslaught of gunfire from a militia of planters organized by Manuel Andry. While his son was killed in the very beginning stages of the revolt, Manuel survived his wounds, made his way across the Mississippi River, organized a group of militiamen, and discovered the slaves as they were returning northward.

Throughout the conflict, the slaves killed a total of 2 individuals. One has to wonder, if that number had been 3, and they had in fact done away with Manuel Andry, could their revolution actually have survived? Or, if they had dispatched of Manuel and not his son, would there have been a group of armed militiamen waiting for them near the Bernoudy estate? Even if they had not killed Manuel, but at the very least, tied him up, the possibility for a group of planters to organize with their rifles and hunt down the slaves would have been minimal. This small oversight on the part of Deslondes and his men, perhaps done out of compassion for killing his son, would eventually lead to their demise and the suppression of their uprising.

Of course, all of that is conjecture, what we do know, is the slaves were met by Andry and his group of planters, numbering around 80 men. Within the first hour of the fighting, nearly 50 slaves were killed, and the rest had scattered and vanished into the bayous of the region. Over the course of the next few days, more and more slaves were captured. On January 11, 1811, Deslondes was captured and without trial or questioning, was “feriousicly murdered by a horde of brigands,”[2] however, the brigands this time were the militiamen.

As T.R. Smith describes in his book, Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century,”

“Charles [Deslondes] had his hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other, until they were both broken – then shot in the Body and before he had expired was put into a bundle of straw and roasted!” [3] This was only the beginning as upwards of 40 more insurgents were tried and executed, and had their heads removed, placed on pikes, and displayed throughout the plantations and the bayou as a warning to all slaves and future uprisings. slaverevolt

As Rasmussen describes from one observer, “Their Heads … decorate our Levée, all the way up the coast, I am told they look like crows sitting on long poles.” [4] In all, nearly 100 slaves lost their lives as a result of the uprising, while 2 whites were killed at the hands of the slaves. To describe the slaves as brigands and atrocious bandittis is an overstatement, as the suppression of the uprising proved to be the bloodier and more repulsive event.

 

[1] Rasmussen, Daniel (2011). American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt. New York: Harper. Pg. 135

[2] Rasmussen, Daniel (2011). American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt. New York: Harper. Pg. 135

[3] Smith, T.R. (2011). Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 31. ISBN 9781847251930. Retrieved April 6, 2015. Pg. 31

[4]  Rasmussen, Daniel (2011). American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt. New York: Harper. Pg. 14

 

Oh, Martin!

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

I think it’s safe to say, the vast majority of people overvalue certain items they have assuming they’re actually worth something. If you watch Antiques Roadshow enough (I watched countless hours of A.R. in University simply because it was the only program that my rabbit ear antennae could pick up on my television), you’re bound to come across an episode that features an individual that is CONVINCED the item they are having appraised is worth thousands; see this fine gentleman here. Poor fellow kept that item for decades, assuming it would increase in value, only to be told he’d essentially be lucky to break even. I fell victim to a similar feeling of disappointment when I attempted to trade in my vintage Batman toys at a local antiques, only to be told they were worth about $25.

corgi40box

I was only offered $25 for this (IMO) awesome Batman vehicle set. I passed, and unfortunately,  lost the toys a few years later moving from the Midwest to the Southwest.

Captain Martin Frosbisher (1535 or 1539 – 1594) is one of the earliest historical figures on record that fell prey to an even larger embarrassment when he was charged with finding a northwest passage in the New World. During his first voyage to the New World, his party fell prey to difficult conditions and hostile run ins with the Inuit and returned to England. However, during the mission his crew discovered a black stone believed to be gold ore. Intially, the ore was assayed at a value of £5.2 per ton which called for more excursions to the region to recover more of the valuable material. Of course, not all assayers in London were convinced of the gold ore uncovered by Frosbisher. Only one of four experts that looked at the shipment believed it contained gold. However, that’s all it took for Frosbisher to receive the financial support he needed for another trip to collect more ore. However, the Queen herself was convinced, and invested £1,000 in the mission.

(c) Bodleian Libraries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Nice Hammer Pants! 

Without hesitation, Frosbisher organized a larger party and set sail for the New World. Returning to Canada, his crew collected 200 tons of the gold ore and returned, once again, to England. When they arrived, they were warmly received by the Queen and labeled as ‘heroes.’ Once again, amidst heated debate the Queen invested more funds into a third mission, that was set to be the largest (15 vessels) one yet and charged with establishing a colony in the region.

During his third, and final mission, Frosbisher received 1,350 tons of gold ore and returned to England. Although history isn’t clear, one would have to imagine that Frosbisher and his men believed they were going to be rich. I can imagine all of them engaging in spending sprees and purchasing items on credit, convinced their gold ore, once smelted, would provide them with immense profit. Unfortunately, after years (yes, years!) of smelting, it was revealed that Frosbisher had nothing more than iron pyrite, which is better known as “fool’s gold.”

The pyrite was eventually used to construct roads, but the amount of time, energy, and money used to organize the three voyages and return the pyrite makes them some of the most expensive in history. Given the embarrassment he must have suffered, Frosbisher turned out alright and eventually played a pivotal role in the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The Zimmermann Telegram – Germany’s Invitation to Mexico – WWI

It’s been far too long since my last blog post. I’ve been chewing on the idea of writing about the “Zimmermann Telegram” for some time now, however, I have been unable to present it in any kind of way that I was comfortable with. However, after 2 months of silence on here, I think it’s time just to bring it up regardless. Once again, I’m plugging Dan Carlin’s Hardcore HIstory Series titled ‘A Blueprint for Armageddon’ for anyone interested in the history of WWI. I can’t remember whether or not he touches on the “Zimmermann Telegram,” but given the depth of the series, I’m confident it’s in there. In addition, for any film lovers, Russell Crowe recently directed and starred in the film ‘The Water Diviner,” which chronicles Crowe’s attempt to recover the bodies of his three deceased children that died on a battlefield in Turkey during WWI. It has some gripping scenes depicting the horror of war as experienced in WWI as mankind hadn’t yet adapted to the total carnage and destruction of modern-day weaponry with classical attacking strategies.

Zimmermann_Telegram

Moving forward, the Zimmermann Telegram is an early depiction of the use of intelligence and diplomacy during modern warfare and highlights the challenges many military leaders and diplomats faced with the creation of the telegraph machine in the 19th century. Scholar David Paul Nickles, in his work, “Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy” highlights the slow learning curve acquired by nations wishing to use the new technology in their favor. According to Nickles, the speed at which the telegraph improved communication actually created greater mishaps and errors and ultimately led to “more emotional and less creative decisions.”(1)

This portrayal of the incompetence of leaders to adjust and administer intelligent decisions is best represented through the story of the Zimmermann Telegram. As the story goes, Germany was embarking on increased U-Boat deployment and unrestricted operations in the Atlantic Ocean that would have likely forced the United States hand into joining WWI on the side of the allies. In at attempt to circumvent the American entrance into the war, Berlin Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann approved of the plan created and authored by Hans Arthur von Kemnitz that later became the Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was well aware of the fact that Mexico was heavily involved in a revolution in 1917, however, they also recognized how much vitriol Mexican citizens had towards their American neighbors to the north. Looking to divide the American’s attention, Germany offered to restore all of the land Mexico had lost to the United States if they would join Germany and attack the United States. Of course, the plan failed because the message never reached Mexico and further persuaded the American’s to enter the war.

220px-Arthur_ZimmermannArthur Zimmermann

220px-KemnitzHansArthurvonHans Arthur von Kemnitz

The note further contrasts the strength of the British Intelligence community in WWI which intercepted the message with their German counterparts who “continued to send messages in codes it knew to have been cracked.”(2) The British code breaking division, known as Room 40, was headed up by Captain William Reginald Hall, whose ingenuity, creativity, and intelligence helped create the future British intelligence division known as GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) which serves as one of the leading intelligence agencies in the world alongside the American NSA (National Security Agency). Contrarily, the creator and author of the telegram, von Kemnitz, was such a poor intelligence officer, he was unable to find employment as a diplomat following WWI and was even rejected from obtaining a position in the Nazi’s Foreign Affairs Department during WWII. As John Ehrman explains in his review of “The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I,” the Zimmermann Telegram “was but one example of Kemnitz’s unrealistic schemes for drawing Mexico or other Latin American states into the war on Germany’s side; Kemnitz somehow convinced himself that such marginal players could tip the scales in Berlin’s favor.” (3) For his part, Berlin Foreign Minister Zimmermann, prior to dispatching the telegram to Mexico, was described as having “a poor understanding of European politics” and an inability to effectively respond to stressful situations. (4)

Of course, one wonders how much good the telegram would have achieved had it been received in Mexico and was acted upon by the Mexicans? By the middle of 1917, Mexico was still in shambles as a result of the Mexican Revolution, and America, the leading regional power, was well on its way to becoming the global power that it is today. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play the ‘what if’ game as it relates to the historical significance of the Zimmermann Telegram.

(1) – DAVID PAUL NICKLES. Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy. (Harvard Historical Studies, number 144.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2003. Pp. 265.

(2) – John, Richard R. The American Historical Review, Vol. 110, No. 3 (June 2005), pp. 765-766 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.110.3.765

(3) – Ehrman, John. Review of “The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I by Thomas Boghardt.” Studies in Intelligence Vol. 57, No. 2 (June 2013). Pgs. 71-72

(4) Boghardt, Thomas. “The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I” Naval Institute Press, 2012. 319 pp.

The Faceless Men meet the Ismaili’s.

gameofthrones15-58-131982

The House of Black and White – Home to The Faceless Men in The Game of Thrones

Like many people these days, I am swept up in Game of Thrones fury. I look forward to Sunday evenings in a way I never would in the past. Normally Sunday night means the end of the weekend; the end of fun. However, for 10 weeks out of the year (11 if you count the Superbowl), it means a new episode of Game of Thrones. Currently, the show is nearing the conclusion of the fifth season. One thing that caught my attention recently was the order of The Faceless Men, which serve as a group of assassins for hire, and possibly their real life counterparts; the Ismaili of Medieval Iran.

Assassins-MAP-LG_zps5847cae9

Map representing Ismaili strongholds and castles during the 12th century.

Even though The Faceless Men are a fictional group of assassins, some similarities can be found between the Game of Thrones representation and the real-world Ismaili. Both groups were skilled fighters, talented at concealing their true identities, believed in a code of conduct, and were devoutly religious.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Middle East, after surviving The Crusades, was competing with China for the title of the most advanced and civilized parts of the world. Europe was lagging behind in the middle ages, and South and North America was still unknown at this point. The Ismaili were formed in 1080 and adhere to the branch of Shia Islam. The group known as the ‘Ismaili assassins’ were formed when a rift over Islamic law forced some members to take to the mountains or face oppression and opposition from other Islamic groups.

Their group had a standing army, but they much preferred a defensive approach to protection than an offensive one. Although skilled in battle, their most effective method of violence was assassination with the use of a poison-tipped dagger, in broad daylight, to provide the greatest amount of shock and fear from bystanders. Given their proclivity against head on warfare, the Ismaili needed to present themselves as a force to be feared and respected. The group of assassins preferred singular targets and primarily opposed widespread violence. Their attacks were not carried out against civilians, or children; on the contrary, their attacks were only attempted against prominent social and political figures that stood in their way from practicing their beliefs peacefully. [1]

The Ismaili were interested in the long game, and many times infiltrated the regions and towns of their enemies by blending in and living a normal life. They would take up employment in key places and wait until the right time to assassinate their targets. Often times, if given the chance, they would attempt to threaten and scare their enemy into submission first, before outright killing them. There methods became so prominent and famous it was not uncommon for the people to attribute other murders and assassinations to the Ismaili, regardless of proof or fact to the contrary.

As it were, like much of the world at the time, they would eventually meet their end at the hands of the Mongols in the 13th century. While much of the world at the time lived in fear and respect over the ability of the Ismaili assassins, the Mongols, like many enemies before and after, easily dispatched of them and destroyed their lineage. Unfortunately, very few primary source accounts remain describing the history of the Ismaili, and many of it that does was written through biased lenses. Nevertheless, their place in history remains intact, even if it is shrouded in mystery. However, that’s probably how many of the Ismaili assassins would have preferred it anyways.

[1] Daftary, Farhad. A Short History of the Ismailis: Traditions of a Muslim Community. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press. Pg. 129