even twentieth-century historians failed to grasp the
significance of the Black Seminoles as black militants. To this day most scholars
of African American history misunderstand their rebellion,
if they are aware of it at all.
Throughout the twentieth century, historians debunked
myths about American slavery as they sought a more accurate
vision of the South's peculiar institution. Beginning in the 1920s,
scholars analyzed myriad forms
of black resistance to slavery—sabotage, laziness, escape,
even murder and suicide were held up as examples. And yet
curiously historians have not been able to find any examples
of successful armed revolts against American slavery.
According to conventional scholarly wisdom, in fact, all of the rebellions
involving armed slaves, from the New
York City revolt in 1712 to John Brown’s raid in 1859, were
military failures. Conventional wisdom further contends that
slaves instigated no major insurrections in the U.S. after 1831,
when Nat Turner led his rebellion in Virginia. The absence
of armed revolts after 1831 has even been a scholarly
riddle, along with the general absence of successful armed
revolts taking place at any time on U.S. soil.*
And yet a successful, armed slave rebellion tool place after
1831—and it happened to have been the largest in U.S.
history. This was, of course, the rebellion led by the Black
Seminoles in Florida from late 1835 through 1838.
Sources: Freehling 77, 95, Elkins 136ff, 220-22, Stamp 134, 136, 139-49,
Genovese 18, 76.
*For more on the scholarship, see the accompanying
sidetrack, "Conventional scholarly wisdom
on American slave revolts."
Part 4, Freedom: l