The History of Enslaved Women Who Led Rebellion


Slavery, as we all know, is the worst event that ever happened in African history. It was a period of the Dark Age in the continent. Most enslaved Africans worked under very harsh conditions, and they were sad and mad about it. This frustration resulted in many African slaves to plan for rebellion or uprisings to destroy foreign dominance. According to history, males were the ones who led most of these slave rebellions. However, if we look more profound and keenly at history, we will realize that the females also led some revolutions. In our previous article about the Dahomey Amazons, we concluded that women are one of the strongest and most courageous people globally and ought to appreciate and respect their contributions. This article will discuss the enslaved women who led some of the most spectacular uprisings or rebellions.

The History of Slave Rebellions

A slave rebellion is an armed uprising that slaves organize as a way of fighting for their liberation. Slave uprisings have happened in almost all the societies that practiced slavery or have practiced slavery in the past. A desire for liberation and the dream of a successful uprising is the best object of art, song, and culture amongst the slaves. Slaveholders or slave masters often oppose and suppress most of the rebellious events. According to history, the most successful slave uprising was the 18th century Haitian Revolution which Toussaint Louverture led, and later the famous Jean-Jacques Dessalines. A Dahomey Amazon was part of the Haitian Revolution’s success as she was the one who trained Dessalines and prepared him for war.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines victoriously and successfully won the war against their French rulers. This led to the establishment of Haiti’s modern independent nation from the earlier French territory of St. Domingue. Spartacus, a Roman slave, is the one responsible for leading other popular historic slave uprisings. In the 9th century, Ali bin Muhammad, the poet-prophet, led imported EA or East African slaves in Iraq during the Zanj Rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate. Nanny of the Maroons was an 18th-century leader who resisted the British power in Jamaica. The Quilombo dos Palmares of Brazil prospered under Ganga Zumba. The 19th century (1811) German Coast Rebellion in the Territory of Orleans was the most significant uprising in the continental United States.

Ancient Sparta had a type of serf named helots whom people treated severely, leading them to resist. According to Herodotus, the father of history, helots were seven-time as many as the Spartans. According to Plutarch, the Spartan ephors would pro forma announce chaos or war on the helot population so that any Spartan could murder a helot without any fear of guilt to keep them in line.

In the Roman Empire, there was evidence of slave revolts, and the authorities severely punished them. The most popular slave uprising in the European region was Spartacus’s led in Roman Italy (the Third Servile War).

This war led to the authority crucifying more than 5000 of the remaining resistant slaves along the principal ways leading into Rome. This was the 3rd in a sequence of unrelated Servile Wars in which slaves combated against the Romans.

The English peasants’ Rebellion of the late 14th century (1381) resulted in calls for the change of feudalism in England and improved rights for serfs. Peasant’s Rebellion was one of the many famous uprisings in late medieval Europe. Richard the 2nd agreed to changes including fair charges and the removal of serfdom. Following the Rebellion’s decline, people canceled the king’s concessions, but the revolt is notable as it marked the start of the end of serfdom in medieval England.

In Russia, the slave handlers categorized or classified the slaves as Kholops. The master of a kholop had infinite power over his life. Slavery remained a central institution in the Russian land until the 18th century (1723) when Peter the Great transformed the house slaves into household serfs. People earlier transformed the Russian agricultural slaves into serfs in the late 17th century. During the 16th century and the 17th century, runaway kholops and serfs called Cossacks or outlaws established autonomous societies in the southern steppes. There were several uprisings against serfdom and the act of slavery, most often in unification with Cossack rebellions such as the rebellions of Ivan Bootnikov, Stenka Razin, Kondraty Bulavin, and Yemelyan Pugachev, often involving millions. Between the end of the Pugachev uprising and the start of the 19th century, there were over a hundred outbreaks across the Russian land.

Several African slave uprisings and insurrections occurred in N. America during the 17th century, 18th century, and the 19th century. There are pieces of evidence of more than 250 rebellions or attempted rebellions involving about ten or more enslaved people. Three of the most popular in the United States during the 19th century are the rebellions under Gabriel Prosser in Richmond in 1800, Denmark Vesey in Charleston in the early 19th century (1822), and Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831.


Who is Sanit Sizan Bele (Sanite Suzanne Belair)

Sanite Belair was a courageous woman, who along with Charles Belair, her husband, got involved in the fights the slaves of St. Domingue fought for their freedom. After the French colonial power apprehended Toussaint Louverture, a Haitian Revolution leader, Sanite, and her better half, who was Toussaint’s nephew, stirred up the L’Artibonite’s slaves to rebel against their masters. Sanite Belair had a group of soldiers under her command. She was fearless and brave. However, after a while, the commander of Verettes apprehended Sanite Suzanne Belair and her husband, Charles Belair. The authority sent them to Cap-Haitian. There, they killed Charles Belair. The murderers wanted to cover her eyes before they cut her head, but she resisted. Just like Charles Belair, she wanted to go in front of a firing squad. Sanite Belair died like a courageous woman warrior.

The 1878 St. Croix Labor Riot

The 1878 St. Croix Labor Riot is also called Fireburn. It was a labor riot on St. Croix, one of the Virgin Islands. The Rebellion began on October 1st, 1878, and the foreign authorities suppressed it after some days of stealing and burning.

Among the Rebellion leaders were women such as Queen Mary Thomas, Queen Mathilda McBean, and Queen Agnes Salomon.

Together, people recognize them as Queens of the Fireburn. Authorities sentenced the three brave women to jail and served their terms in the land of Denmark. However, the exact information concerning their fate is unclear.

Events Leading up to the 1878 Riot

In 1848, the slaves of the Danish West Indies staged a demonstration and gained their liberation. This liberation would be short as farm or plantation owners started inventing new rules. Law forced the now free workers to sign agreements that bound them and their loved ones to the farms they toiled. By allowing them to sign the agreements, the workers became slaves again.

The Contract Day

In the late 19th century, workers gathered in Frederiksted to demand better wages and better working conditions. Initially, it was a peaceful demonstration, but later on, the crowd became violent after rumors circulated, including a report that a worker was in the hospital after the police mistreated him and lost his life while in police custody. The crowd hurled stones, and the Danish soldiers fought back with gunfire. As the violence increased, the soldiers secured themselves in a fort. Unable to scale the gates to reach the fort, the crowd focused on the city and started stealing in the town, employing torches to burn many structures and farms.

On October 4th, the French, British, and American war vessels arrived and helped to stop the Rebellion. However, Governor Garde was confident that his men had the case under control and turned the war vessels away. The following day, the Governor commanded all workers to return to their farms or earn the label of a rebel. By the middle of October, the Rebellion cooled, and peace was returning to the region.

The Consequences of the Riot

The Rebellion destroyed property in the region. The crowd burned over 800 acres. According to estimates, the group damaged property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Rebellion casualties include the deaths of over 55 black workers and more than one soldier, and over ten women who died in a blast. Besides, the authority condemned 12 workers to death.


Two years ago, Jeannette Ehlers and La Vaughn Belle, both are artists, revealed a 7m tall statue of Mary Thomas seated on a throne with a torch and a knife.

1733 Slave Insurrection on St. John

The 1733 St. John insurrection in the Danish West Indies began on November 23rd, 1733, when more than 100 African slaves rebelled against the island’s farm owners. Lasting for several months into 1734, the slave insurrection was one of the earliest slave rebellions in the Caribbean.

The Akwamu slaves seized the fort in Coral Bay and wrested control of most of the region. They intended to continue crop production under their power and use Africans of other ethnic groups as slave labor.

Planters regained control the following year after the French and Swiss soldiers from Martinique defeated the Akwamu. Colony armed forces continued to pursue maroons and announced the revolt at an end in August 1734.

The unique thing about this slave rebellion is that a woman called Breffu (an Akwamu) was the 1733 slave rebellion leader. She killed herself with more than 20 other rebels to prevent capture as the Rebellion weakened in 1734.




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