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Rebels and Runaways

Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida

Larry Eugene Rivers

Publication Year: 2012

This gripping study examines slave resistance and protest in antebellum Florida and its local and national impact from 1821 to 1865. Using a variety of sources such as slaveholders' wills and probate records, ledgers, account books, court records, oral histories, and numerous newspaper accounts, Larry Eugene Rivers discusses Florida's unique historical significance as a runaway slave haven dating back to the seventeenth century. In moving detail, Rivers illustrates what life was like for enslaved blacks whose families were pulled asunder as they relocated from the Upper South to the Lower South and how they fought back any way they could to control small parts of their own lives. _x000B__x000B_Against a smoldering backdrop of violence, this study analyzes the various degrees of slave resistance--from the perspectives of both slave and master--and how they differed in various regions of antebellum Florida. Identifying more commonly known slave rebellions such as the Stono, Louisiana, Denmark (Telemaque) Vesey, Gabriel, and the Nat Turner insurrections, Rivers argues persuasively that the size, scope, and intensity of black resistance in the Second Seminole War makes it the largest sustained slave insurrection ever to occur in American history.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The New Black Studies Series

Quotes, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

Florida: A Runaway Haven

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pp. xi

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pp. 1-8

No close examination of American slavery can better expose the institution’s cruel realities than a careful look at the many and varied ways in which its victims resisted their bondage and oppression. This argument, of course, is not a new one. ...

Part One: Resistance by Wiles

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Chapter 1: Day-to-Day Resistance

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pp. 11-24

The majority of Florida’s enslaved blacks of the nineteenth century lived and worked in “slave labor camps,” as Peter Wood articulated the situation; most did so as nonviolent dissenters, even though many men, women, and even children physically resisted slavery and its cruelties. ...

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Chapter 2: Stepping Up the Degrees of Resistance

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pp. 25-36

The practice of dissidence by enslaved Floridians involved degrees of intensity, as would be expected. Escalation could occur in a variety of ways and manifest itself very privately or quite publicly. Sometimes the results evidenced themselves immediately; other times discovery or recognition might not occur for a while. ...

Part Two: Running Away

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Chapter 3: Away without Leave

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pp. 39-50

A drama played out at St. Augustine in 1830 that was to see itself repeated countless times during Florida’s pre-emancipation era, a circumstance that spoke volumes about slave humanity and the courage to resist. The story commenced when Mary A. Sanchez purchased a man named George from the estate of the “late Col. Weeks” of the Ancient City. ...

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Chapter 4: A Yearning for Freedom

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pp. 51-63

Florida’s enslaved men and women might take advantage of perceived weaknesses in masters and overseers in order to force a degree of flexibility into the institution of slavery sufficient to permit opportunities for lurking or even for more permanent escape; still, the enduring brutal reality of the institution could not be denied. ...

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Chapter 5: Destinations of Runaways

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pp. 64-76

Questions related to where enslaved blacks fled have occupied historians of the southern experience for generations. Traditionally, the answers reached have pointed to the majority absconding to other southern states as opposed to the northern states. ...

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Chapter 6: Flight Away from Florida

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pp. 77-89

As promised early on, this survey intends to emphasize the complexities inherent in Florida’s slave resistance experience, and it must be stated that those complexities applied to flight just as they did to other facets of the subject. To this point in the narrative, temporary flight, flight within the immediate vicinity, ...

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Chapter 7: In Search of Kinfolk and Loved Ones

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pp. 90-105

The direction that escapees traveled when running away might have varied, but the knowledge of where does not necessarily offer an explanation as to why. The answer to that question, in good part, involved one of slavery’s most unfortunate aspects, the separation of family and kinfolk. ...

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Chapter 8: Catch the Runaway

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pp. 106-118

Florida by the 1820s had long stood out as a runaway slave haven. The origins and evolution of this status will receive closer attention in chapter 10. Suffice it for now to assert that slave owners and persons desiring to own slaves who moved to Florida during that decade and afterward demanded that lawmakers take firm steps ...

Part Three: Violent Resistance

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Chapter 9: Slave Violence

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pp. 121-130

Without doubt, many more of Florida’s enslaved blacks absconded from 1821 to 1860 than committed physical violence against whites, but acts of physical violence remained nonetheless the ultimate demonstration of discontent with the institution of slavery. Violence could result in the destruction of human lives but might simply entail destroying property. ...

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Chapter 10: The Second Seminole War

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pp. 131-145

Florida’s experience with slavery from 1821 to 1865 evolved within an environment that, from beginning to end, was filled by the threat of race war, the actuality of race war, or the legacies of race war. Patterns of resistance that developed in the territory and state during that period also derived from that environment. ...

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Chapter 11: The Civil War

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pp. 146-160

Florida contained nearly 62,000 enslaved persons when it seceded from the Union in January 1861, about 44 percent of its total population. Most bondservants lived in the Middle Florida black belt—the area, it will be remembered, that was framed by the Apalachicola River on the west (but including Jackson County) and by the Suwannee River on the east. ...

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pp. 161-168

Slave resistance in nineteenth-century Florida, while reflecting many similarities with respect to experiences reported for bondpeople in other southern states, nonetheless differed significantly. But what made Florida bondservants and their experiences unusual? ...


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pp. 169-210


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pp. 211-222

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252094033
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036910

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The New Black Studies Series

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Subject Headings

  • Slave insurrections -- Florida -- History -- 19th century.
  • Fugitive slaves -- Florida -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- Florida -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Slaves -- Florida -- History -- 19th century.
  • Florida -- History -- 1821-1865.
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