Under the Radar: American Uprising

Quick: when was the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history? Think it was Nat Turner’s rebellion? Or do you simply have no idea?

Look no further, because I have a fascinating (and blessedly short) book to recommend to you. Daniel Rasmussen’s book American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt was released in 2011 without much fanfare, but received deservedly positive reviews. In it, he tells the story of the 1811 German Coast slave revolt, a little-known part of our nation’s history and perfect reading for Black History Month.

A small group of slaves from several plantations in the New Orleans area carefully planned their rebellion in secret and on the night of January 8th they led a huge group – maybe as many as 500 slaves – to revolt. Ultimately, they were quashed and cruelly punished, but the event had far-reaching consequences. For instance, one of the reasons the Americans won the Battle of New Orleans was because the city was so well fortified in response to the slave rebellion.

Rasmussen packed a lot of information into this short book. He includes background including the slave revolts in Haiti, a possible inspiration for the German Coast uprising, as well as analysis of the aftermath and how the uprising affected later events through the Civil War. Finally, he described the cover up of the uprising and how the events were downplayed by the government and consequently became somewhat lost in history.

I found this book very readable and surprisingly enjoyable. It’s not written like a history book – a litany of names, places, and dates – but has a pretty good narrative feel.  It’s these details that really make the history come alive. He describes sights, smells, food, weather conditions and other details that make the story so much more real and immediate than the history I read in school. This would be great for high school students who are bored of the usual dry reading of facts and dates, or anyone interested in learning more about the history of American slavery. Not only is it informative and well-written, but it’s only 150 pages – there’s no excuse not to delve into this fascinating account. The library owns copies of the book and audiobook.

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