Slaves, Spaniards, and Subversion in Early Louisiana: The Persistent Fears of Black Revolt and Spanish Collusion in Territorial Louisiana, 1803–1812
- Journal of the Early Republic
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 36, Number 2, Summer 2016
- pp. 283-311
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Scholars of the early republic have tended to overlook the extent to which elite U.S. officials feared that enslaved and free people of color might collude with local Spanish officials in the Louisiana borderlands, and in so doing threaten plans for westward expansion. By exposing these fears and explaining the reasons for them, this article attempts to show how enslaved and free people of color, combined with local Spanish officials, posed a serious challenge to the United States’ attempt to gain control over the trans-Appalachian west. Several factors explain why U.S. officials feared Spanish and black collusion: First, U.S. officials worried that Louisiana’s black population might rebel at the loss of the rights granted to them during period of Spanish colonial rule. Second, after the U.S. took control of Louisiana, slaves continually escaped to Spanish Texas with the explicit encouragement of local Spanish officials, who tried to weaken U.S. authority over Louisiana. Last, enslaved and free people of color exploited the tumult unleashed by the Spanish Atlantic empire’s rapid collapse. By the end of the territorial period, U.S. officials’ fears of a slave revolt, I argue, had less to do with the Haitian Revolution than with the Latin American Wars of Independence, which began in 1810. Ultimately, this paper suggests the need to take seriously the joint role played by local Spanish and black actors in the broader imperial struggle for the trans-Appalachian west.