The best books on slave resistance and revolts

Matthew J. Clavin Author Of Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution
By Matthew J. Clavin

Who am I?

I long ago decided that I could contribute to the struggle for the freedom and equality of all people by becoming a historian. My fascination with the history of race has led me on a quest to illuminate the extraordinary efforts of enslaved people and their allies to challenge White supremacy and destroy the institution of slavery. My newest book, Symbols of Freedom: Slavery and Resistance Before the Civil War, examines the role that revolutionary nationalism played in inspiring slave and antislavery resistance.


I wrote...

Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

By Matthew J. Clavin,

Book cover of Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

What is my book about?

At the turn of the eighteenth century, a half million enslaved people in the French Caribbean of colony of Saint-Domingue launched a massive slave revolt that lasted more than a decade and resulted in the creation of the republic of Haiti. The Haitian Revolution, and the great Black revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture, had a profound impact on slave societies throughout the western hemisphere for generations. This was especially true in the United States, where in the nineteenth century a sectional conflict over slavery produced a violent cataclysm that, in many respects, mirrored the prior upheaval in Haiti. While some consider the American Civil War a Second American Revolution, this study imagines it as a Second Haitian Revolution—an existential conflict over slavery in a nation nominally dedicated to freedom.

The books I picked & why

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American Negro Slave Revolts

By Herbert Aptheker,

Book cover of American Negro Slave Revolts

Why this book?

It is hard to believe that this book first appeared eighty years ago. At a time when Jim Crow ruled and leading scholars adamantly argued for slavery’s benign nature, Aptheker proved that slavery was a savage institution that enslaved Americans violently resisted from the colonial era through the Civil War. Written by a radical White historian who commanded Black soldiers during the Second World War, the book obliterates the idea of the passive and pliant slave. 

American Negro Slave Revolts

By Herbert Aptheker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Negro Slave Revolts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first fully documented study of Negro slave revolts in The United States. Dr. Aptheker provides proof, obtained by painstaking research, that this content and rebelliousness were not only exceedingly common, but we're characteristic of American Negro slaves. Special attention is paid to the famous slave rebellion of Nat Turner, into the revolts led by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel. This pioneering study remains a major contribution to the destruction of the myth of Afro – American docility.


Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

By Laurent Dubois,

Book cover of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

Why this book?

This is the best written and most easily comprehensive narrative of the Haitian Revolution. Providing helpful historical context, poignant biographical sketches, and affecting anecdotes, the book simplifies the extraordinarily complicated story of the largest and most successful slave revolt in world history. While other accounts of the Haitian Revolution are more acclaimed, none are more enlightening than this one, especially for the general reader.

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

By Laurent Dubois,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Avengers of the New World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas began in 1791 when thousands of brutally exploited slaves rose up against their masters on Saint-Domingue, the most profitable colony in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Within a few years, the slave insurgents forced the French administrators of the colony to emancipate them, a decision ratified by revolutionary Paris in 1794. This victory was a stunning challenge to the order of master/slave relations throughout the Americas, including the southern United States, reinforcing the most fervent hopes of slaves and the worst fears of masters.

But, peace eluded Saint-Domingue as British and…


Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

By John Hope Franklin, Loren Schweninger,

Book cover of Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

Why this book?

Because White citizens outmanned and outgunned Black people in the antebellum South, enslaved people revolted far less frequently than their counterparts in other times and places; nevertheless, as Franklin and Schweninger demonstrate, these people continually resisted their captivity by taking flight. Whether securing a short respite from a vicious overseer, temporarily reuniting with loved ones, or seeking permanent freedom in a distant place or region, fugitive slaves subverted the slave society that comprised the antebellum South and thus helped put the republic on the path toward civil war.

Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

By John Hope Franklin, Loren Schweninger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Runaway Slaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From John Hope Franklin, America's foremost African American historian, comes this groundbreaking analysis of slave resistance and escape. A sweeping panorama of plantation life before the Civil War, this book reveals that slaves frequently rebelled against their masters and ran away from their plantations whenever they could.
For generations, important aspects about slave life on the plantations of the American South have remained shrouded. Historians thought, for instance, that slaves were generally pliant and resigned to their roles as human chattel, and that racial violence on the plantation was an aberration. In this precedent setting book, John Hope Franklin and…


Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

By Stephanie M. H. Camp,

Book cover of Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Why this book?

It is hard to think of any book of comparable size that packs a more powerful punch. In less than 150 pages, Camp reveals how in the antebellum South enslaved women resisted their oppression in ways that were both visible and invisible. By challenging slave owners’ control and conception of space, they carved out a “rival geography” where they, along with their friends and families, enjoyed a modicum of freedom despite longstanding and widespread oppression. Camp’s description of late-night plantation frolics, stolen dresses, and the interior walls of slave cabins redefines slave resistance in a way that highlights the efforts of enslaved women to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones in the face of almost insurmountable odds. 

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

By Stephanie M. H. Camp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Closer to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition. Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits…


Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802

By Douglas R. Egerton,

Book cover of Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802

Why this book?

The determination of an enslaved blacksmith named Gabriel to lead countless Black people in and around Richmond, Virginia, in rebellion has long captured the attention of historians of slave resistance and revolts; however, in Egerton’s hands, the event becomes something unique and different. Read in the context of the French and Haitian Revolutions, as well as the US Presidential Election of 1800 (the so-called Revolution of 1800), Gabriel’s rebellion stems from the issues of politics and class as much, or even more than, race and slavery, in post-revolutionary Virginia.

Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802

By Douglas R. Egerton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gabriel's Rebellion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gabriel's Rebellion tells the dramatic story of what was perhaps the most extensive slave conspiracy in the history of the American South. Douglas Egerton illuminates the complex motivations that underlay two related Virginia slave revolts: the first, in 1800, led by the slave known as Gabriel; and the second, called the 'Easter Plot,' instigated in 1802 by one of his followers. Although Gabriel has frequently been portrayed as a messianic, Samson-like figure, Egerton shows that he was a literate and highly skilled blacksmith whose primary goal was to destroy the economic hegemony of the 'merchants,' the only whites he ever…


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