We Shall Not Be Oppressed

Resistance to Slavery


For as long as slavery had been around, there were slave insurrections (an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against an authority). When a slave revolted, their masters were reminded that their slaves were not beasts, but humans and needed to be treated as such. Slave insurrections never ended peacefully. Rebellious slaves were often whipped, burned, jailed, hanged or banished from the colony. Even worse, in 1723, the laws were changed. Now, a slave that took part in a rebellion with five or more slaves could be punished by death; however, some remained undaunted.

There were mainly two methods of resistance that slaves practiced: passive and active. Passive resistance was a peaceful alternative to active resistance. Instead of fighting violently (Active Resistance), slaves would sabotage tools, fake sick, steal food, lie, damage crops, play dumb, refuse to work, work slowly, and sing. Sometimes, slaves would cripple themselves so that their value would decrease, preventing their master from receiving more money at the auction block. These acts of resistance would anger slave masters, and also cause less work to get done. This method of passive resistance was extremely helpful and successful for slaves.

Perhaps the most well-known act of active resistance was Nat Turner's Rebellion. When Nat Turner was bought by Joseph Travis in 1831, Turner was soon convinced that god wanted him to instigate a rebellion. So, on August 21 of that year, Turner and seven other slaves killed Travis and his family, along with many other whites. In all, around 50 whites were killed. Seventy five people joined in Turner's rebellion, but he hoped for more. 3000 members of the militia were sent to settle the rebellion. Turner was quickly defeated. In retaliation to the rebellion, more than 100 innocent slaves were murdered. Turner went into hiding, but was caught six weeks later. On November 11, 1831 Turner was executed. After this rebellion, many whites noticed how upset slaves were, which caused more opposition to slavery.

The Underground Railroad is certainly not what you would expect it to be. It was not underground or a railroad, but a series of unorganized escape routes for slaves. Some routes actually extended to Florida, Wisconsin and even other countries. While many runaways went north, there were some that went south. In the book Copper Sun, Amari, Tidbit and Polly travel to Fort Mose, in Florida, in search of freedom. The runaway slaves traveled on foot, wagons, boats, and trains. Runaways usually traveled at night and hid during the day. If the slaves were caught, they would be taken back to their master and severely punished.

Harriet Tubman was an extremely well known conductor for the Underground Railroad. She helped over 300 southern slaves escape slavery, protecting them and giving them a chance to start new lives. Tubman put her own life on the line in order to lead people to freedom. Plantation owners considered Tubman such a threat, that they offered a 40,000 dollar reward for her capture.

When a slave revolted, their masters were reminded that slaves were not beasts, but humans that needed proper treatment. Resisting slavery often resulted in severe punishment. However, some slaves were brave and believed that their boldness would help end slavery.

This link contains interesting background information on the Underground Railroad.
http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/underground-railroad-1820-1861