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Reply #52: St. John slave rebellion of 1733 [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-11-06 11:04 AM
Response to Reply #51
52. St. John slave rebellion of 1733
On November 23, 1733 slaves carrying bundles of wood were let into the fort at Coral Bay. Concealed in the wood were cane knives, which the rebels used to kill the half-asleep and surprised soldiers who were guarding the fort. One soldier, John Gabriel, escaped by hiding under his bed and running away when he had a chance. He was able to get to St. Thomas in a small boat and tell the story to Danish officials there. The rebels raised the flag and fired three cannon shots. This was the signal for slaves on the plantations to kill their masters and take control of the island.

The rebels proceeded to kill many of the whites in the Coral Bay area. The insurgents gained in number as they progressed from plantation to plantation. Some whites were spared, notably the company's doctor, Cornelius Bdger, because of the good relationship he had with the Africans in treating their medical needs. Also spared were Dr. Bdger's two stepsons. They were saved from death out of respect for the surgeon, and also to be made into servants for the new rebel leaders.

The stated aim of the rebels was to make St. John an Akwamu ruled state, governed under the Akwamu system. Africans of other tribal origins were to serve as slaves in the production of sugar and other crops.

Many of the small planters on the East End, who had few slaves or possessions, were able to escape to other islands in their family boats. Some of the whites from the western and southern parts of the island were warned by loyal slaves, and they were either able to escape to St. Thomas or to assemble with the other surviving planters at Durloe's Plantation at Caneel Bay (then known as Klein Caneel Bay). The approach to the plantation was guarded in part by two cannons. Captain Jannis von Beverhaut and Lt. Charles assumed command. Women and children were sent to Henley Cay with the intention that they be picked up later and brought to St. Thomas.

Meanwhile, the rebels attacked Cinnamon Bay (then called Caneel Bay). John and Lieven Jansen and a small group of their slaves resisted the onslaught. The rebel force was overwhelming. Jansen's loyal slaves fought a rear guard action and held off the advancing rebels with gunfire, thus allowing the Jansens to retreat to their waiting boat and escape to Durloe's Plantation. Miraculously, the loyal slaves were also able to escape.

The rebels paused to loot the Jansen plantation before pressing onward to confront the white planters at Durloe's. The attackers became disorganized when faced with the initial cannon and musket fire of the defenders, and the attack on Durloe's plantation was repulsed.

Meanwhile in St. Thomas, Governor Philip Gardelin, under pressure from former Governor Moth, consented to send a small party of soldiers to St. John to relieve the besieged planters. More troops under the leadership of William Barrens, as well as a detachment consisting mainly of African slaves sent by the Danish West India Company and by St. Thomas planters, arrived on St. John soon afterwards. This well-armed and well-supplied army was able to recapture the fort and scatter the rebels who then took to hiding in the bush to fight a war of attrition.

To regain the status quo, the planters needed to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance. The remaining rebels could continue to survive by looting abandoned plantations and small farms and by living off the land where cattle now ran wild all over the island. The rebels would be a constant harassment to the orderly development and operation of any restored plantations. Furthermore, the Company and the St. Thomas planters feared that the St. John rebellion would inspire uprisings on St. Thomas and wanted to discourage slaves on that island from taking similar action.

The insurgents held their ground, fighting a guerrilla style war and disappearing into the bush when confronted with direct attack by the numerically superior troops led by the planters. This status quo continued for ten weeks.

The British were also concerned that the rebellion might spread to Tortola, and they decided to help the Danes by sending an English Man O' War from Tortola to St. John. The warship was commanded by a Captain Tallard had a crew of sixty soldiers.

When the British ship landed on St. John, the rebels staged an ambush in which four of Tallard's men were wounded. Tallard and his men, demoralized by this defeat, sailed back to Tortola.

Meanwhile, the owner of the plantation at Maho Bay, William Vessuup, had abandoned his plantation and fled to Tortola after being implicated in a murder. Maroon slaves had taken up residence at his plantation and had later used it as a headquarters for their troops in the rebellion.

In an attempt to regain favor with the Danes and be exonerated from the criminal charges against him, Vessuup offered a plan to trick the rebels. He was to lure the leaders aboard his ship with the promise of supplying them with badly needed guns and ammunition. He then planned to capture the rebel leaders and turn them over to the Danes. This attempt at treachery, however, proved to be unsuccessful.
In February of 1734 the St. John planters again solicited aid from the English, and shortly afterwards Captain John Maddox, a privateer, sailing from St. Christopher (St. Kitts) arrived on the ship Diamond with 50 volunteers. His motivation was personal gain. He arranged a contract with Danish officials that would have allowed him to keep all rebel slaves captured except for the 10 considered most dangerous. They were to be turned over to the Danes for punishment. For these 10 he demanded a payment of 20 pieces-of-eight each. On their first confrontation with the Africans, the forces of John Maddox suffered a loss of three killed (including one of his sons) and five wounded. Like his predecessor Captain Tollard, Captain Maddox and his men left St. John shortly after their defeat.

English Governor Mathews wrote:
On St. John the Danes at present hardly have possession. Their negroes rose upon them about six months ago. At my first arrival I heard they had quelled their slaves, but it was not so, they have in a manner drove the Danes off, at least they dare not now attempt any more to reduce these Negroes, who have always beaten them, and in a manner are masters of that Island. The governor of St. Thomas, was even modest enough to desire I would send some of H. M. ships to reduce them...and I now learn a rash fellow from St. Christophers, in open defiance of my positive orders to the contrary, having made a compact with the Danish governor, went with his two sons and three or four and twenty more on this errand, that the negroes have killed one if not both his sons, and two or three more of his company, and beaten them off.

In early April of 1734 a group of about forty rebels attacked Durloe's Plantation. This assault, like the previous one, was almost successful, but was finally repulsed by the defenders. The insurgents managed, though, to set fire to the defenders supply magazine.

Events in far away Europe were to deal a deathblow to the rebel cause. King Louis of France wanted to make his father-in-law, Stanislas Leszcynski the King of Poland. This would mean war with Poland, and France needed to know that Denmark would at least stay neutral. In addition to this, France was in need of money after having suffered severe financial losses in their Mississippi colony.

The Danes had been interested in the island of St. Croix for quite some time. Sensing an opportunity, the Danish West India Company offered the French 750,000 livres for St. Croix and sweetened the deal with the promise of Danish neutrality.

As a gesture of solidarity with their new friends, France offered Denmark help in subduing the slave rebellion on St. John. Monsieur de Champigny, the Governor of the French West Indies, sent Commander Chevalier de Longueville from Martinique to St. John with a force of two hundred soldiers. This included a free colored corps whose specialty was the tracking down, capturing and killing of runaway slaves, an activity they called maroon hunting.

The French detachment arrived on St. John on April 23, 1734 in two vessels, one commanded by Monsieur de Longueville and the other commanded by Monsieur Nadau. Danish Governor Gardelin dispatched a force of about 30 men under the command of Lt. Froling to offer any assistance necessary to the French soldiers. Gardelin also sent attorney Fries who was to mete out justice to captured rebels.

The French troops proceeded to relentlessly pursue the remaining rebels. A rebel encampment of twenty-six huts was found and destroyed. A young severely wounded slave named January was captured and led the soldiers to a point of land (Ram Head Point) where eleven rebels had committed suicide. A few weeks later eight slaves, two of whom were women, surrendered after their master promised them clemency.

From St. John Backtime, "The Raw Truth has Been Reported," Commander Longueville, from a document discovered and in the Colonies section of the French National Archives by Aimery P. Caron and Arnold R. Highfield:

On Sunday the 16 (May 16, 1734), six Negroes and two negroe women surrendered at the appeal of their master who spared their lives. He then informed me of the matter. I ordered him to bring them to me, since they were identified as rebels. I have them put into chains. Three of them were burned at the stake on three different plantations on St. John. I had previously informed the governor while passing through St. Thomas that should I catch a few of the rebels, I would put most of them to death and send him the rest so that he could make an example of them. The following day I informed him of their capture. He sent a judge who passed sentence for the sake of formality; I sent him the three other rebels along with the two women and requested that he not have them executed until I be present. One was burned to death slowly, another was sawed in half and the third was impaled. The two Negroe women had their hands and heads cut off after all five had been tortured with hot pincers in the town.

One week later twenty-five rebels were found dead on an "outjutting point of land in an unsuspected place" identified later as near Brown Bay. Commander Longueville and his men left St. John a few days later on May 26, 1744 and sailed to St. Thomas.

Unbeknownst to Longueville at the time of this departure, still at large, but hiding in the bush, was one of the leaders of the rebellion and a small group of his followers. He was a former Akwamu noble who was named Prince by his master. Through an intermediary, a deal was arranged whereby Prince and his supporters would be forgiven and allowed to come back to work. Prince and fourteen others surrendered to a Sergeant ttingen. Prince was summarily shot and killed. His head was cut off as a trophy and his followers were captured. Subsequently four of the followers died in jail in St. Thomas, six were tortured to death and four were sent to St. Croix to be worked to death.

Sergeant ttingen was given a reward and was promoted to Lieutenant for his bravery. The soldiers under him were also honored and rewarded.

The Danish West India Company reported that their losses in this rebellion amounted to 7,905 Rigsbankdalers.

http://stjohnbeachguide.com/Slave%20Rebellion.htm
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