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Leading slavery scholar speaks on latest research: ‘une grande carnage’
Kelley M. Arnold
Director of News and Public Information
MOUNT VERNON – Dr. Robert Paquette, one of the leading scholars on slavery in the world, was the guest speaker for Brewton-Parker College’s Albert Sidney Johnson spring lecture Jan. 23 in Saliba Chapel on the Mount Vernon campus.
|Dr. Robert Paquette answers questions from the audience after his lecture, “Slavery, Political Correctness, and the Search for Truth.” More than 300 Brewton-Parker College students, faculty, staff and community members attended the second lecture of the Albert Sidney Johnson lecture series, Jan. 23 in Saliba Chapel on the Mount Vernon campus.
Paquette has published the book “Sugar is Made with Blood: The Conspiracy of La Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba”, which earned the 1992 Elsa Goveia Prize from the Association of Caribbean Historians. His topic for the evening lecture, “Slavery, Political Correctness, and the Search for Truth”, outlined the history and research of his current project: a book about the largest slave rebellion in the United States, which will be published by Yale University Press.
“It was one of the largest slave insurrections in U.S. history yet it’s only given a few obligatory paragraphs under slave revolts in the primers on U.S. history today,” Dr. Paquette said.
The revolt occurred almost 200 years ago on the east bank of the Mississippi River on a sugar cane plantation owned by one of the largest slave holders in Louisiana, he said. Possibly as many as 500 slaves were involved in the 1811 rebellion, which reportedly “plundered” the plantation before moving into St. Charles Parrish, marching in a militia-like parade towards New Orleans. A triumvirate operation from three opposing directions, including federal forces led by Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina and volunteer cavalry, which included a contingent of voluntary freed slaves, converged on the marching “rebels” and squelched the insurrection. It is known that many slaves were killed during “une grande carnage” or “a great massacre”, as one account puts it. In contrast, only two white men were reported killed.
“Scores of slaves died,” he said, “and three courts condemned dozens of the surviving slaves to death.”
Dr. Paquette believes “longstanding inaccuracies” and “romanticized versions” have added to its mystery. The oral history of the event is passed down through the Parrish’s generations, often as “bedtime stories” told in both white and black families with differing morality lessons, details and outcomes. As he found in La Place Library in St. Charles Parrish during a 1992 speaking engagement about the history of the insurrection, these oral histories are “not forgotten” nor are they “discussed openly and frankly” among blacks and whites.
“I believe this explained why more than 180 years later I was speaking to a divided room,” he said.
Dr. Paquette hopes his book will write a chapter in history from all parties while trying to piece together what really happened during this bloody, brutal time in U.S. and Louisiana history.
Dr. Paquette is the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. The Albert Sidney Johnson Lecture Series began during the Fall 2006 semester and “is devoted to honoring Professor Johnson, as well as celebrating the integral role assumed by the social and behavioral sciences in Christian and human learning.”
Johnson, a native of Ailey, taught at Brewton-Parker in the mid-1920s to mid-1930s. He also served two terms as a representative in Georgia’s state legislature. His son, Dr. Albert Sidney Johnson, is a professor of political science and vice president emeritus at the college. Dr. Johnson’s wife, Claire, is BPC’s director of annual fund and grants.