Slave Revolts

Slavery was rife in the Western world as hundreds of Africans were captured and sold to work as slave in coffee and sisal plantation. The slaves lived under poor and very harsh conditions which saw them die in large numbers. The constant mistreatment and torture by their masters was what gradually led to the slave revolts that weakened slave labor and later led to the abolishing of slavery across the world. Slave revolts were heard across nations from Bahia in Brazil, to Mexico, the Madinga revolution, the French and Haitian Revolution.

Before the actual revolution, the slaves attempted to escape from the plantations but more often than not they were capture, they also tried colonial courts so as to have their right accorded to them but when it also failed they resorted to slave revolts and many were successful due to the large number of African slaves that were present during that time and also due to the desperate need for freedom and a dignified life.


In Brazil many slaves sought to be released and join their counterparts in the runaway slave settlement which were known as quilomba. These Brazilian settlements had African characteristic, they had leaders who they chose from the bravest and the wisest and in some instances they selected those that were said to have been kings or queens before their capture (Conrad, 1984).The continuing incidences of slave revolts and runaways placed a permanent claim on the emergencies and the assets of the slaveholding class.

They lost slave labor and the number of people who worked in the farm and plantation reduced immensely, the owners also lost livestock and other precious assets as the runaway slaves made away with their valuables. The situation was so serious that advertisements were placed in newspapers promising rewards to those that captured the runaways’ slaves and brought them back. To survive, the quilombolas linked with the merchants for trade, they also raided neighboring plantations and settlements so as to acquire more supplies and sometimes to re-enslave other people.

In Northern Brazil runaway settlements were established, they were known as Palmares. The black of Palmares constantly attacked the natives of Alagoas and Porto Calvo, where they killed their cattle and stole their slaves so as to enlarge their quilomba and increase their defenders (Conrad, 1984). Slave resistance and rebellion in Latin America rose due to the need for self identity. The slaves had established families and raised children under the control of others, their labor defined by others coupled with restricted social behavior that any human being would have so wished for. The slaves were also tired of constant mistreatment by the white man which aimed at instilling fear on the slaves.

The rebellion was lassos as a result of lack of the physical well being of the slaves which was in the hands of their mastered. The high degree of dependency on their masters and the general lack of control of their lives is what caused uncertainty and general hostility towards their masters thus resulting to rebellions and resistance (Klein & Vinson 2007).The slaves revolted for basic human rights which had been violated in slavery. However, some laws such as the Romans laws which stated that the killing of slaves by their masters or any one else was a crime punishable by death. Slaves also acquired the basic right of worship and partaking of the sacrament, the masters therefore had no choice but to abide by the rights of the black man.

The Catholic Church in Spanish and Portuguese America also fought for the right of the sacrament of marriage by the slaves, this meant that once the two slaves were married they could not be separated through the sale of one partner. The ibero-American legal code supported the slave’s right of self purchase. This meant that the rented slaves had the right to own a few possessions as well as the surplus from the plantation. Rented slaves were also allowed to have earnings more than the permitted rental wage. The slaves finally had the morale to work harder so that they could be in apposition to purchase their own freedom and free off their masters (Klein & Vinson 2007).

Despite these rights and protections majority of the slaves still remained at the will of their masters and it is because of these that they resulted to resistance, violence and escapes. For revolts the slaves in the Spanish colonies choose to be blasphemous. In the middle of a punishment such as a whipping the slaves retorted to renouncing god or Christianity as a means of putting an end to their agony. The slaves did this with the hope that their master’s would stop punishing them further and denounce the slave. Resistance was also done via colonial laws where the slaves litigated their master in the court of law, in this court of law the slaves accused their masters of denying them conjugal rights, accused them of mistreatment and also denied them the right to self-purchase (Klein & Vinson 2007).

When these methods proved fruitless, the slaves resorted to other unlawful measures such as running away/ marronage. These escapes were however temporary as the slaves almost always returned to the plantation. In Bahia for example the slaves would negotiate to return after for example getting time to work in their own gardens. However, the temporary runaways sometimes came with severe punishment such as whipping, incarceration and torture. In situations where negotiation was not possible the slaves fled for good.

Some succeeded to escape for good by hiding in the dense forests and the mountains that were highly inaccessible. Due to the inaccessibility of these areas the soils and the climates were fertile for food production. The high mobility of some native communities also made it easy for slaves to escape almost unnoticed. Other slaved opted to run to free colored cities or societies where they knew that they could be easily accepted. These cities were mainly made of self-employed slaves and freed men and the escapees would pass unnoticed. The main aim of running away for these slaves was so that they could lead a normal life as peasant (Conrad, 1984).

Slave revolts were the last resort that the slaves always opted for. This occurred mainly if the slave felt that they had endured their suffering long enough and they were desperate for freedom. One common characteristic of such revolts was that they were predominantly dome by African slaves. Revolts were normally premeditated and planned and escaping was the final plan after the revolt. The French and Haitian revolution for example sparked a series of revolts in America as the demand for emancipation and equality rose. The revolt of Santo Domingo was the bloodiest having led to the deaths of the plantation masters and destruction of crops (Carroll, 2008).

Most runaway slave communities were overcome by the native in bloody retaliations but some such as the Madinga community survived to become fully legal and recognized towns. The Madinga community began by the running away of a group of slaves from the sugar and tobacco plantations of Orizaba and Cordoba districts. The many uprisings in these two districts saw the natives and slaves loose their lives and properties. The escapees made their way through the uninhabited terrain and settled in six settlements one of them being Palacios de Madinga.

Madinga, having an African touch in the name stood for the African cultural holdover of the community. Eight years after its formation the people of Madinga petitioned the royal audience for freedom. The Madinga community was strategically located on the mountains and this gave them the advantage of being able to see approaching attacks way before the attackers arrived at their location. They therefore had enough time to escape. The mountainous and impenetrable terrain that surrounded Madinga made it impossible for the white man to reach the runaway slaves (Carroll, 2008).

Another successful community settlement was the Yanga in Spain. To survive the maroon communities came up with virtual monarchies with the power and authority all being in the hands of one individual that was recognized as the king. To better deal with the neighboring communities and make negotiations for the best interest of its people settlements like Yanga came up with dispersed authority and vested leadership. Christian churches operated alongside African religious system that the Africans had carried with them to the foreign land during times of slavery. Resistance in Spain was felt mainly because of the large numbers of African slaves in that country.

The Spanish administrators though worried of the racial disparity still depended on the slaves. When the marooning of slaves began the Spaniards were unable to control them as the slave runaways continued to multiply. When the Yanga settlement was formed, they begun to loot the cargo that was being transported along the Camino Real to Mexico City, they also kidnapped indigenous men and women and in some instances Spaniards.

The Spanish attempts at eradicating the Yanga settlement proved fruitless as the Yanga people-built strongholds and also laid false trails so as to deceive the attackers. The Yanga settlement also had a way of camouflaging with the jungle and was barely noticeable therefore difficult to trace. The Yanga also had camouflaged pits that concealed sharpened stakes. When the maroon settlement began large enough and posed a threat to the Spanish community the opted to develop a standard of interaction, negotiate peace and reduce the communities so as to legitimate the towns (Landers, chapt.4)


Ultimately, the revolts and escapes of slave communities fundamentally threatened the institution of slavery. It brought into light the inhumane lifestyle that the masters subjected their slaves to. Without the escapes, revolts and the colonial courts the world would have been in the dark about the constant suffering and deaths of the slaves who were mistreated and were not seen as human beings. Slave revolts and escaped slave communities became present in every slave-holding community in Latin America. Revolts such as the Bahian revolts, Quilomba’s, Palmares and Madinga were witnessed.


Conrad, R. (1984). Children of God’s Fire: A documentary History of Black Slavery in Brazil. Princeton University Press

Klein, H. & Vinson, B. (2007). African slavery in Latin America. Oxford University Press.

Carroll, P. (2008) Madinga: The Evolution of a Mexican Runaway Slave Community. Cambridge University Press



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