Liberty, Not Malice, Was Their Motivation

Written by admin   // November 17, 2011   // 0 Comments

by Stephanie Robinson, Special to

Most of us know about the legendary revolutionary from Virginia named Nat Turner who was hanged to death 180 years ago this week for his forcible rebellion against American slavery.

And many of us are also aware of the victorious rebellion of enslaved Africans on board the Spanish schooner, Amistad, in 1839, that Hollywood memorialized a few years ago.

Well, guys, there’s a less publicized revolt that also happened this week in 1841 — two years after the Amistad incident and a decade after Nat Turner’s uprising — that played a crucial role in challenging the moral and legal grounds of American slavery.

In early November, a ship named Creole was transporting 135 slaves between Virginia and Louisiana when 19 male slaves on board the ship revolted, killing a white slave trader and resulting in the loss of one rebel before the crew was overwhelmed.

Led by Madison Washington, the rebels ordered the ship to sail to the British colony of Nassau in the Bahamas because slavery had been banned there as it had been in all British territories two years before.

On Nov. 9, 1841, the Creole arrived at Nassau where it was boarded by local Bahamian authorities, who told the rebels that, under Bahamian colonial law, they were now free.

Happy ending, right? Well, not so fast.

Once the death of the slaver was recognized and because the ship was an American vessel originally travelling between two American ports, the American Consul pressured the governor of the Bahamas to keep the rebels on the ship to prevent their escape.

The American Consul, fearing British law would free the rebels, then attempted to organize a recapture of the ship and sail her out of British jurisdiction using American sailors on the island.

But this effort by the Americans was thwarted by a local man who found out about the recapture plans and warned the Bahamian guard aboard the Creole, who then threatened to fire at any approaching Americans.

The next day, Bahamian authorities declared the 19 rebels to be under arrest pending further investigation and freed all of the remaining enslaved Africans, many of whom left on a boat for Jamaica.

Court proceedings took place over the next year, and,in April of 1842, the rebels were released for good by British authorities. The Creole Case, as it was called, caused considerable outrage among the Southern states and created diplomatic tensions between America and Britain.

This significant case is one that we, especially as African-Americans, should celebrate and know more about.

The names of rebel leader Madison Washington and the Creole ship should be right up there with Cinque and the Amistad and other freedom-fighters like Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey.

And speaking of freedom fighters, one named Frederick Douglass later wrote a novel loosely based on the Creole Case called “The Heroic Slave,” which depicted a conversation between the deposed slave captain on the deck of the Creole and Madison Washington, now standing at its helm.

Douglass draws attention to the similarities between the American colonists rebelling against the British for their freedom during the revolutionary war and the rebels on the Creole, as he has Madison Washington say the following words to the downed captain:

“God is my witness that Liberty, not Malice, is my motivation for this night’s work … We have struck for freedom, and if a true man’s heart be in you, you will honor us for the deed. We have done that which you applaud your forefathers for doing.”


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