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Resistance to Slavery

Haitian revolution

Until recently the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade has largely ignored the role of the African people who resisted enslavement and fought to end slavery in various ways. The African freedom movement was active from the beginning of chattel slavery

Recent research has revealed the extent of this resistance, which took many forms, some individual, some collective. They resisted capture and imprisonment, attacked slave ships from the shore and engaged in shipboard revolts, fighting to free themselves and others. Sometimes pregnant women preferred abortion to bringing a child into slavery. On the plantations, resistance reduced profitability. Enslaved Africans tried to slow down the pace of work through pretending illness or breaking tools and they ran away whenever possible, escaping to South America, England or North America. Some escaped Africans, like the Maroons in Jamaica, formed guerrilla bands which attacked plantations. 

No matter what punishments were carried out, or how many harsh laws were passed to control them, enslaved Africans still rebelled. Many former slaves also worked with the abolitionists in Britain and elsewhere; you can read some of their stories in the abolitionists section. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the slave revolts grew bigger. Many enslaved people who rebelled were killed but, despite this, resistance to slavery continued in Africa, aboard the slave ships and in the Caribbean and Americas. They made it clear that if they were not set free, they would soon free themselves.

In this section:

You can find details of four rebellions as well as facts and figures about slave resistance on board the ships and on the plantations.

Picture Gallery


Resistance on Board the Ships
It is important to remember that there was resistance throughout the
Resistance on the Plantations
Resistance on the Plantations
On the plantations, many enslaved Africans tried to slow down the pace of work by pretending to be ill, causing fires or ‘accidentally' breaking tools. Whenever possible, enslaved...
Haitian revolution
Case Study 1: St. Domingue - The Rebellion
Saint Domingue was controlled by the French and had the largest enslaved population in the Caribbean. It had a booming sugar industry that had created the world's richest colony, with half a...
Toussaint L'ouverture
Case Study 1: St. Domingue - Vincent Oge & Toussaint l'Ouverture
Vincent OgéVincent Ogé (Oje) was born in Dondon in 1750, one of a growing number of free men of colour. As...
Portrait of Henri Christophe by Richard Evans (1816)
Case Study 1: St. Domingue - The Link to Thomas Clarkson
What connects Haiti to Suffolk and Cambridgeshire?In 1789, just a few years after leaving Cambridge University, Thomas Clarkson travelled to...
The Island of Barbados
Case Study 2: Barbados (1816) - The Rebellion
Barbados had been under British control for a long time and there had been no slave rebellions for over one hundred years, when rebellion broke out in 1816.It shocked...
Bussa Statue
Case Study 2: Barbados (1816) - Bussa and Nanny Grigg
BussaVery little is known about Bussa (also known as Busso or Bussoe). He was born a free man in Africa in the 18th century, captured and...
Georgetown Demerara
Case Study 3: Demerara (1823) - The Rebellion
By the 1820s, sugar prices were in decline and British plantation owners started to push the enslaved people even harder. In Demerara, they were worked from 6.30 in the...
Case Study 3: Demerara (1823) - Quamina and John Smith
Quamina Quamina was an African-born enslaved carpenter and a senior deacon at the small chapel where John Smith was...
Jamaica Map by Herman Moll, 1720
Case Study 4: Jamaica (1831) - The Rebellion
There had been a number of rebellions by enslaved Africans on the island of Jamaica. Sixteen slave rebellions had taken place between 1655 and 1813. There were also major uprisings...
Samuel Sharpe
Case Study 4: Jamaica (1831) - Samuel Sharpe
Samuel Sharpe, was an enslaved person who fought for freedom by organising a general strike in Jamaica. He was born in Jamaica in 1801 and brought up in Montego Bay. He was...
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