Bruce Chadwick, PhD, prominent historian and a university professor, was researching another book entirely when he accidentally found two books about the mutiny on the slave ship Creole on its way to New Orleans in 1841. He was spurred to write The Creole Rebellion: The Most Successful Slave Revolt in American History (UNM Press, 2022).
“They mutinied off the coast of Florida and killed someone in the process,” he said in a phone interview. But by the time the slaves disembarked, they were in the Bahamas, a British Territory, within which slavery was illegal. Although the Creole was an American slave ship, its occupants were now under British rule.
“England’s highest court had ruled that if you are [a slave] on British soil and you kill somebody in the act of getting free, you are exonerated,” Chadwick said. “Other slave ships were wrecked in storms in the Bahamas and the [surviving] slaves were freed on the spot where they landed.” All in all, 128 slaves were freed, making the Creole rebellion the largest slave rebellion in history.
Newspaper coverage during this time grabbed the story of the Creole rebellion and ran with it, stirring abolitionist sentiment among the public. “The slaves were taken into custody. When the decision was made to release the prisoners, all coverage stopped,” the professor said. “The media was afraid that if people got so riled up, there would be civil war.”
Eventually, of course, there was. The notoriety of the 1839 slave mutiny on the more well-known Amistad and the Creole mutiny both helped to fuel anti-slavery passion.
Because the American slaves on board the Creole had been on their way from a sugar plantation in Virginia to be re-sold further south, the original slaveholders were heavily compensated for their losses. “It was a huge sum,” Chadwick noted.
I asked Dr. Chadwick what he thinks about the uproar over teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools. “It’s a very complicated subject,” he said. “I disagree with the premise that slavery is the basis for all of the events in American history. There are other factors.”