9 – The Uprising on the Creole – 1841
In late 1841 the slave ship Creole departed Virginia headed for New Orleans. Onboard were 135 slaves that were slated for sale in Louisiana. Though the United States had joined with the British in outlawing the international trade of slaves in 1808, the sale of slaves over state lines remained legal within the United States. One of the slaves on board was Madison Washington, an unfortunate who had previously escaped from slavery into Canada but had been recaptured when he came back to Virginia to free his wife.
While at sea on November 7 1841, Washington noticed that one of the ship’s crew had failed to secure the hold, and he seized the opportunity to storm the deck along with eighteen of the other slaves. In a brief fight, the slaves killed one of the crew members and wounded several more before taking the ship.
In a stroke of insight, one of the slaves demanded that the captain of the Creole sail for the Bahamas, a British possession where slavery had become illegal in the aftermath of the slave revolt in Jamaica. When they arrived local authorities informed the slaves that under British law they were now free.
Though the British authorities arrested those slaves implicated in the violent capture of the ship, they allowed the remainder to reside in the Bahamas. Five slaves refused, and would eventually return to New Orleans and slavery with the Creole. The British court also soon ruled that the participants in the uprising had not committed a crime, as they were free and were just in using force to escape unlawful captivity. In all 128 former slaves gained their freedom in the Bahamas, making the uprising on the Creole the most successful US slave revolt in terms of the number of slaves freed.
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