I first learned about the 1811 Louisiana Slave Revolt from my paternal cousin Clara Duncan, when I was 10 years old.

Duncan, affectionately known as “Cousin Kizzie,” grew up in Montz, Louisiana in St. Charles Parish, the location of the former Delhomme plantation. Her mother and father were enslaved on the plantation. 

As an adult, I began doing research about the slave revolt on my own.

I realized that the aspiration and struggle for freedom ran deep in the heart of the enslaved Africans of Louisiana, as elsewhere in the country. The spirit of self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom and democracy and resistance to oppression has always been present in the history of the Africans and the African American fight to end slavery. 

Nothing exemplifies these two qualities more than the famous revolt of slaves that took place in 1811 in St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, and Orleans parishes. And though the brave uprisings led by Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and Gabriel Proser are better known, the 1811 Louisiana Slave Revolt led by Charles Deslondes was the largest slave uprising in the history of the United States, involving more than 500 people.

Deslondes had a vision in which the newly freed Africans could govern themselves. Under the leadership of Deslondes, a provisional government would be created and a new legal framework would be adopted to form the basis of a new legal constitution. This strategic aim required the military capture of the city of New Orleans. 

The state government was then headquartered at the Cabildo building in the French Quarter. Deslondes and his comrades planned to capture the city of New Orleans and make it the capital of their new republic. New Orleans would then serve as the center and base of a liberated zone where enslaved people in the South could come to gain their freedom. Deslondes’ plan was to involve the enslaved Africans inside the city of New Orleans in a simultaneous uprising so they would seize the arsenal of weapons at Fort St. Charles and distribute the weapons to the arriving slave army. 

They almost succeeded.

On the evening of Jan. 8, 1811, Deslondes and his comrades launched the revolt on the plantation of Manuel Andry in St. John the Baptist parish.

The rebels marched down the River Road in columns of four toward New Orleans armed with cane knives, axes, clubs and a few guns. They were guided by two slogans: “On To New Orleans” and “Freedom or death.” 

They gained in number as they moved from plantation to plantation on the east bank of the river, covering approximately 15 miles (about the distance between the towns of LaPlace and Kenner).

William C.C. Claiborne, the territorial governor, allied with the slave owner’s militia and dispatched troops to put down the revolt. Several slave owners were killed and several plantations were burned to the ground. Despite their best efforts, however, the rebels were not able to succeed. 

The revolt was put down by Jan. 11. Deslondes and several leaders were captured and executed. Others were placed on trial at the Cabildo, Destrehan plantation, and Edgard Courthouse. They were found guilty and executed. Their heads were cut off and placed on poles along the River Road to intimidate and terrorize others.

The revolt helped set the stage for the Civil War, which ended this horrible system of slavery. 

I consider Deslondes and his comrades to be heroes, who understood that revolution is the only way to put an end to the domination of the exploiters. They understood that the emancipation of the masses is the precondition for the emancipation of the individual.

However, the story of the 1811 Louisiana Slave Revolt has been suppressed in the history books, school textbooks, especially Louisiana’s social studies textbooks, as well as the general sources of information: books, magazines, journals, essays, etc.

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Leon A. Waters is the manager of Hidden History Tours in New Orleans and publisher of the book, “On To New Orleans: Louisiana's Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt,” by Albert Thrasher.