HISTORY: Charles Deslondes and the American Uprising of 1811 > United Black America

Charles Deslondes and the

American Uprising of 1811


Charles Deslondes. A name that has been lost to history.

But of all the figures in Black History, his name alone was responsible for the largest slave action in American history prior to the Civil War. The successes and sacrifices of Charles Deslondes would go on to influence the revolts and rebellions of men like Telemaque (Denmark Vesey), Nat Turner, and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. For his valor, leadership, and martyrdom, the name of Charles Deslondes should live on among those of our other well-known heroes.

Slave Rebellions, Revolts, and Insurrections

Charles Deslondes inspired and led one of many slave campaigns of resistance. Before the Civil War, there were no less than 250 slave actions in the Americas that fell into the categories of slave rebellions, revolts, and insurrections.

Before we continue, its important to distinguish between slave rebellions, revolts, and insurrections. Doing so puts these actions into context, and prevents us as students of African history from giving more credit than  is due to certain events, while giving more of our attention to events that have done more to shape state of affairs.

For example, history would be wrong to look back on our time and call Occupy Wall Street a revolt, but would correctly classify it as a protest. Likewise, the Civil Rights movement as led by men like Martin Luther King JR would be more correctly called a peaceful rebellion against Jim Crow, where the definition of a rebellion is the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention.


A rebellion is any plan developed to overthrow a system and establish a new state in place of the old regime. Rebellions are revolutionary acts whereby members of rebellions become insurgents within the borders of the country that they rebel against. In terms of slave actions, a rebellion is meant to dispose of a white government and replace it with a Black one.


A revolt  is any attempt to put an end to the authority of a person or body.  In his book, American Negro Slave Revolts, Herbert Aptheker describes a revolt as being “…of less size than a rebellion, and magnitude of action is the difference between a rebellion and a revolt.”  He further defines a slave revolt as “a minimum of ten slaves involved; freedom is the apparent aim of the disaffected slaves…”

Revolts are usually unsystematic or vandalistic, where the objective is merely to destroy the slaveholder and his immediate property. The action had no end other than destruction, and no long-range plan for further action. See: Nat Turner‘s revolt


An insurrection is a violent uprising against an authority or government: “opposition to the new regime led to armed insurrection” James G. Randall writes ”An insurrection is an organized armed uprising which seriously threatens the stability of government and endangers social order.


An Insurrection is different from a rebellion in that it is less extensive and its political and military organization is less highly developed. The term insurrection would be appropriate for a movement directed against the enforcement of particular laws while the word rebellion denotes an attempt to overthrow the government itself.”

The Rise of Charles Deslondes

After a bloody struggle against the forces of Toussaint Loverture, Napoleon Bonaparte realized that his dreams of a global empire were futile. Toussaint Loverture and Janjak Desalin had beaten back French forces and by 1802 had established the free Black Republic of Haiti.  In frustration, Napoleon negotiated the sale of French territories in the United States in what would be known as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and left the West alone for good.

As a child, Charles Deslondes heard whispers of the French Revolution, and concepts that were strange to the ears of slaves: liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Deslondes, a mixed-race mulatto, was afforded privileges above other slaves, and rose to become a “slave driver” on the plantation of a Col. Manuel André, who had a total of 86 slaves.

Slave drivers held a privileged position: they were given fine clothes and shoes, travelling passes, nice cabins, and ate the same food their masters ate. They were classic house negroes with one difference – they were charged with disciplining, driving, and hunting down other Black slaves. Slave drivers were treated more like employees and consultants than slaves, and so Deslondes had it good.

Deslondes was feared by slaves and trusted by white plantation owners. But as news of the success of the Haitian Revolution spread, and a consciousness grew in Deslondes, he realized that the institution of slavery – and his role in that system – must come to an end. Deslondes became a sleeper cell; he used his position of privilege to prepare for what would become the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history.

Although he occupied a position as one of the most hated figures on the plantation, he influenced them to join his ranks and take up arms against their master. Deslondes and two other slaves seized the mansion, killed the son of the plantation owner, and critically wounded the plantation master who escaped and warned other plantation owners of the coming storm.

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This was not a random act of violence. Charles Deslondes and his conspirators had planned the attack with perfect timing.

The date was January 8 – Mardi Grad. Plantation owners surrounding New Orleans left their plantations to go into the city for a wild night of revelry. The military units guarding the city had been deployed to Baton Rouge 80 miles away to fight the Spanish, and the rains during January made it impossible to efficiently deploy artillery. Without artillery and regular troops, New Orleans was practically defenseless save for 68 ragged American troops.

The liberated slaves gathered up horses and raided  mansions, taking muskets, knives, and militia uniforms that had been stockpiled. Charles organized the slaves who would join him, and begun to march from plantation to plantation gathering strength in numbers from slaves ready to strike blows for their freedom.

The rag-tag group of slaves, formerly armed with farm tools, were now an organized, uniformed, military force with a very specific purpose: to conquer New Orleans and establish a Black Republic. Records are unspecific, but as many as 500 slaves marched in in cadence and came within 15 miles of conquering New Orleans.

An excerpt from the book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt Charles Deslondes and the American Uprising of 1811 by Daniel Rasmussen captured the spirit of that night:

“Amid the rainstorm, Charles shouted orders to his fellow slaves. They assembled in the clover field in front of Andry’s plantation, falling into line behind Charles, who was now mounted on horseback. They were familiar with military discipline: their work on Andry’s sugar plantation had taught them to follow orders with alacrity. But now they were motivated not by fear of the lash, but by the hope of freedom. They were forty-one miles from the gates of New Orleans, which they hoped to conquer in two days’ time. Asked later why he had left the Andry plantation that night, the rebel Jupiter replied that he wanted to go to the city to kill whites.

Charles and his men began to march. Charles shouted, “On to New Orleans!” and the newly formed rebel army shouted it right back. The revolt had begun.”

The March on New Orleans

map of slave revolt Charles Deslondes and the American Uprising of 1811

As Charles and his entourage marched on New Orleans, they attempted to bolster their numbers with slaves from other plantations. On the two-day, twenty mile march to New Orleans, as many as 500 slaves joined their ranks. The slaves had come from all over the world; the Congo, Cuba, Kentucky, the Asante kingdom, and Senegambia. Many of these men had been warriors in African civil wars with extensive combat experience.

Unfortunately, many more slaves betrayed the uprising by either voluntarily alerting their masters, or negotiating their individual freedom in exchange for intelligence. Plantation owners rode to New Orleans to alert forces there, while assembling a militia and preparing their defenses.

Upon hearing of the coming Black army,  William C.C. Claiborne (Governor of the Louisiana Territory) locked the city down and  gathered two companies of volunteer militia and thirty regular troops under Commodore John Shaw. Many feared a repeat of what happened in Haiti, when white troops came against the military mastermind of Toussaint Loverture.

Knowing that he couldn’t possibly take the city, Charles Deslondes employed a classic strategy from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: Hold out baits to entice the enemy. 

Charles army reversed their advance on the city within eyesight of white forces to a nearby plantation. The bait worked, and drew them out of the city. The force rode on the plantation with blood lust, only to find the property abandoned. Like ghosts, the force disappeared and reappeared behind the American force, still headed for New Orleans!

White Retaliation

William C. C. Claiborne realized he was dealing with a force to be reckoned with, and called for the help of General Wade Hampton I, a local plantation owner and militia leader. A second brigade from Baton Rouge, under the command of Major Homer Virgil Milton, was also roused to combat the slaves. On January 11, the slave army and the militia crossed swords. The slaves fought valiantly and with discipline, holding their own for two days before being outgunned.

At the end of the battle, sixty-six insurgents were killed and the leaders of the uprising were arrested to stand trial before a military tribunal. According to U.S. History Scene,


“Beginning on 13 January 1811, a two-day tribunal was held at the Destrehan Plantation under the jurisdiction of St. Charles Parish judge Pierre Bauchet St. Martin to determine what should be done with the remaining slaves. As the slave rebels were not equipped with firearms, the militia had killed at least sixty of them, and wounded many more. The tribunal sentenced sixteen of the rebellion leaders for execution. The tribunal also decapitated them and displayed their heads along the river.”

Most of the other insurgents were killed as well, and their body parts were hung outside the gates of the city. New Orleans plantation owners became substantially more brutal, and killed any slave suspected of disloyalty with brutality and swiftness.

Death and Legacy

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Charles Deslondes was executed on January 15. His hands were chopped off while he was still alive, but cauterised to keep him alive.  He was tortured for the better part of a day, shot in both legs, and then burned alive. His body was dismembered and displayed within the city as a lesson to all those who would follow his example.

The revolt took the entire military might of the Orleans Territory to suppress and was the greatest threat to American sovereignty in the history of slave actions.

The legacy that we are left with is one of personal sacrifice in the name of higher ideals. Charles Deslondes had it good. He was a house negro. His was a life of comfort and privilege. He gave it all up in the name of freedom for his people. He was willing to take on an entire empire to establish a nation for himself and those who would join him.

We do not remember the names of those who fought against Charles Deslondes. We do not remember the names of the men who prosecuted him or tortured him. But we remember his name. And because of that fact, the legacy of Charles Deslondes will live forever.







Depicts the 1811 German Coast Uprising. Learn more »

The first major sugar-producing zone in the United States was the site of the largest slave insurrection in U.S. history, one year before Louisiana’s statehood. During a ferocious downpour on a cold, windy late Tuesday evening, January 8, 1811, in the Territory of Orleans, slaves on a sugar plantation owned by Manuel Andry rose in rebellion. Andry owned more than eighty slaves, more than any other slaveholder in St. John the Baptist Parish. The slaves attacked the big house and assaulted Andry. Although severely wounded, he managed to escape his assailants and in desperate search of succor, crossed to the west bank of the Mississippi River. Gilbert Thomassin Andry, Manuel’s youngest son, fell, to the rebels, “ferociously murdered” in the words of his father.

After looting Andry’s estate, the insurgents moved southward rapidly along the east bank levee, following the serpentine contours of the Mississippi River. The east bank alluvium on the German Coast (St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes), with sugar plantation clusters along the riverfront like beads on a string, contained the highest density of slaves in the territory. The rebels soon crossed into St. Charles Parish and headed for New Orleans, little more than thirty miles away. The slaves marched noisily, according to eyewitnesses, in military-style formation. They beat drums, waved flags, and carried a variety of weapons, including firearms. Slaves from other plantations joined the rebels, who recruited on the fly, using force and intimidation in some cases to swell their ranks. The number of rebels fluctuated during the course of the insurrection; eyewitness estimates range from 150 to 500. In plundering several other estates, the slaves tarried long enough in St. Charles Parish to dispatch Jean François Trépagnier, who had attempted to defend the family manor house, standing on the veranda with a shotgun.

Panicked whites, warned of the movement, scrambled for safety down the river road into New Orleans. William C. C. Claiborne, the territorial governor, called out the militia, ordered a lockdown of shops and cabarets, and imposed a curfew. General Wade Hampton, commander of regular troops stationed in the area to guard the territorial frontier, had arrived in New Orleans two days before the revolt. He took command of a hastily mustered force of regular troops, militia, and volunteers who headed northward on January 9 to confront the rebels. Hampton’s mobilization represents the first time in U.S. history that federal troops were mobilized to suppress a slave insurrection. Hoping to crush the rebels in a vise, Hampton dispatched orders for Major Homer Virgil Milton in Baton Rouge to descend the river with another body of regulars. Unknown to Milton and Hampton, Manuel Andry, despite his wounds, had managed to rally a sizeable militia force on the west bank of the river.

The revolt climaxed on the morning of the second day, January 10, as these three forces converged for the kill. A unit of Hampton’s forces under the command of Major John Darrington made first contact shortly after the rebels had crossed into Orleans Parish. The main body of rebels had ensconced themselves at night on a sugar plantation owned by Jacques Fortier, about eighteen miles from the city. Hampton planned to envelope the rebels after dawn with a coordinated, multipronged attack. Once on the offensive, however, Hampton discovered to his astonishment that the reportedly drunk and disorderly rebels had abandoned Fortier’s estate in the dead of night with a disciplined retreat northward. Repositioned on Bernard Bernoudi’s sugar plantation in St. Charles Parish, the rebels were caught off guard by Andry’s militia after it had quietly crossed over from the Mississippi’s west bank. Lines of charging mounted militiamen, includingfree persons of color, broke the rebels’ ranks; the battle quickly turned into a rout. The wounded Andry, an eyewitness, reported to Governor Claiborne that it was “un grand carnage” (“a great slaughter.”)

Slaveholding judges assembled in St. John the Baptist Parish, St. Charles Parish, and New Orleans to try captured slaves. Sketchy records from two of the courts (St. Charles Parish and New Orleans) survive. The busiest tribunal, comprising five elite slaveholders, convened on the Destrehan Plantation in St. Charles Parish. Outraged whites removed from captivity Charles Deslondes, the alleged ringleader, and proceeded to shoot, burn, and mutilate him. The presence in and around New Orleans of thousands of recently arrived white refugees from the Haitian Revolution intensified emotions and framed perceptions of the insurrection. To deter future slave rebelliousness, whites gathered the heads from multiple black corpses and placed them atop poles at regular intervals along the east-bank levee for more than thirty miles from Andry’s plantation to the gates of New Orleans.

Although historians have largely overlooked the event, no slave insurrection in U.S. history left more black bodies on the battlefield. Close to one hundred slaves died either in combat or by execution soon afterwards. Unlike the 1739 Stono rebellion in colonial South Carolina or the 1791 Pointe Coupée conspiracy in Spanish Louisiana, in which a single African ethnic group predominated, the 1811 insurrection combined African and Creole slaves, men and women, field hands and more privileged slaves, and mulattos and blacks. Misinformation about the origin and status of Charles Deslondes abounds. Neither a free person of color nor of Haitian origin, Charles Deslondes was a mulatto slave driver, most likely born in Spanish Louisiana, who had been working for Manuel Andry, although he was owned by Andry’s neighbor, the widow Marguerite Deslondes.

Surviving evidence permits no firm conclusion as to what caused the insurrection or the goals of the rebels. An intensifying, coercive labor regimen associated with sugar culture undoubtedly preconditioned the movement. Interrogatories of captured slaves indicate the predominance of young, skilled male slaves in the insurrection, whose planning was facilitated by the mobility of the slave drivers like Charles Deslondes. Shifting troop movements related to the U.S. annexation of West Florida in December 1810 may have helped kindle the revolt. Wade Hampton accused Spanish agents of stirring up the slaves. No evidence has yet surfaced to support his claim. To be sure, some slaves had particular grievances regarding treatment by their masters. One Congo slave, when asked why he was headed to New Orleans, replied succinctly, “to kill whites.” The rapid movement of a disciplined force of slaves who covered dozens of miles in little more than twenty-four hours suggests not only a conscious assault on New Orleans, but also a mass slave breakout from the territory, possibly to Haiti.

In the aftermath of the revolt’s suppression, citizens of the territory effected police and militia reforms and demanded an increased presence of federal troops.

Written By Robert L. Paquette, Hamilton College

Published » April 08, 2010 | Last Updated » January 10, 2011

Cite This Entry

Chicago Manual of Style

Paquette, Robert L. "Slave Insurrection of 1811." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published January 10, 2011. http://www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=756.

MLA Style

Paquette, Robert L. "Slave Insurrection of 1811." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

Suggested Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?

Carter, Clarence Edwin, ed. The Territory of Orleans. Vol. 9 of The Territorial Papers of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940.

Claiborne, W. C. C. Official Letter Books of W. C. C. Claiborne, 1801–1816. Edited by Dunbar Rowland. 6 vols. Jackson, MS: State Department of Archives and History, 1917.

Dorman, James H. “The Persistent Specter: Slave Rebellion in Territorial Louisiana.” Louisiana History 18 (Fall 1977): 389–404.

Kastor, Peter J. The Nation’s Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

Letter, Charles Perret to M. Fontaine. Moniteur de la Louisiane, January 17, 1811.

New Orleans, City Court Records, cases #184–189, 191–195. City Archives and Special Collections, Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library.

Paquette, Robert L. “‘A Horde of Brigands?’: The Great Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811 Reconsidered.”Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques 35 (Spring 2009): 72–96.

___. “Revolutionary Saint Domingue in the Making of Territorial Louisiana.” In A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean, edited by David Barry Gasper and David Patrick Geggus, 204–25. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Saint Charles Parish Original Acts, Book 14, 1811, No. 2. Saint Charles Parish Courthouse, Hahnville, LA.