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PenTales Story Contest

by dan on January 28, 2011

My good friend Stephanie Hodges runs a worldwide salon and education network that promotes the long lost art of storytelling. It’s an incredibly cool idea and a wonderful organization that’s having a real impact. PenTales is sponsoring a writing contest, that I will be judging, on the theme of revolt. If you’re a writer or want to share your stories, I hope you’ll contribute.

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Story on the Daily Beast website

by dan on January 11, 2011

I published a story on the Daily Beast website about the 1811 revolt today.  In my next post, details of my trip down to New Orleans…

Two hundred years ago today, three slaves gathered in a small rundown cabin on a plantation about thirty miles upriver from New Orleans.   Charles Deslondes was the son of an enslaved woman and a French planter; Harry Kenner an unassuming 25-year-old carpenter; and Quamana a warrior captured in the militant Asante kingdom and imported to Louisiana. 

On January 8, 1811 these three brave men, along with eight other slave leaders, launched the largest slave revolt in American history, rallying an army of near 500 slaves to fight and die for freedom.  No slave revolt – not Nat Turner, not John Brown – has rivaled the great New Orleans slave revolt of 1811 either in terms of the number of participants or the number of slaves slaughtered in the aftermath. 

The revolt was meticulously planned, politically sophisticated, and ethnically diverse – and a fundamental challenge to the system of plantation slavery.  Dressed in military uniforms and chanting “On to New Orleans,” they rallied a rugged army of around 500 slaves to attempt to conquer the city, kill all its white inhabitants, and establish a black republic on the shores of the Mississippi.

In a dramatic battle in the cane fields, the slave army faced off against the twin forces of the American military and a hastily-assembled planter milita.  “The blacks were not intimidated by this army and formed themselves in line and fired for as long as they had ammunition,” wrote one observer. But the slaves’ ammunition did not last long, and the battle was brief.  Soon the planter militia broke the slave line and the slaughter began. 

The planters, supported by the American military, captured Charles Deslondes, chopped off his hands, broke his thighs, and then roasted him on a pile of straw.  Over the next few days, they executed and beheaded over 100 slaves, putting their heads on poles and dangling their dismembered corpses from the gates of New Orleans.  “Their Heads, which decorate our Levee, all the way up the coast…  look like crows sitting on long poles,” wrote one traveler.  The rotting corpses were grim reminders of who owned who – and just exactly where power resided.

The American officials and French planters  then sought to cover up the true story of the revolt, to dismiss the bold actions of the slave army as irrelevant and trivial, and write this massive uprising out of the record books.  They succeeded.  And, in doing so, they laid the groundwork for one of the most remarkable moments of historical amnesia in our national memory

The revolutionaries of 1811 were heroes who deserve a place in our national memory.  Their actions are a testament to the strength of the ideals of freedom and equality – and every man’s equal claim to those basic rights.  Their acts are an inspiration to all people who strive for freedom.  Today, on the 200th anniversary of the start of this great revolt, we must listen to their voices and study their stories, for only through understanding the passions and beliefs that resonated through the slave quarters can we begin to comprehend the true history of Louisiana, and with it, the nation.

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Blog Reviews

by dan on January 6, 2011

American Uprising has been getting a lot of attention on various blogs, and I wanted to share a few of my favorite reviews:

““Rasmussen writes with a youthful enthusiasm and is very passionate about this material, and it shows. His detailed descriptions of life during that time, garnered from very thorough research, put the reader in the center of the action and it’s hard to put the book down…a riveting, empowering account of one of American history’s best kept secrets, told through the eye of a promising young historian whose desire set the record straight makes for a compelling and informative read.”
 –The Grio
“This riveting book will keep you glued to your chair from start to finish….  It is non-fiction but reads like a suspense novel”

Sunday Salon

American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, by Daniel Rasmussen is one of those books that once again brings into sharp relief just how much the stories we accept as history are crafted for the benefit of whomever is doing the telling, and that they have an intended audience.  History is not innocent, it is served up with a particular purpose in mind.  American Uprising focuses on a slave revolt planned by Akan warriors Kook and Quamana, and biracial slave driver Charles Deslondes which took place January 1811 just outside of New Orleans.  Despite the unprecedented magnitude of the revolt and evidence that the organizers intended for it to have far-reaching political consequences, the uprising was purposefully classed as run of the mill criminal activity, defanged and largely forgotten for two hundred years.  The much smaller, and in some ways less scary rebellions, of Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey and John Brown  are widely  known, their details widely studied and disseminated.”

Linus Blanket

“American Uprising is engaging and well-researched…  [American Uprising] offers a much-needed contribution to scholarship in this field. As Rasmussen notes in his concluding remarks, Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes are not names that people see on landmarks in and around New Orleans, nor are they names that people can easily find in history books. Because history is written by the victors, the revolt has been largely obscured until now. The publishing of American Uprising is a big step towards correcting this erasure.”


“ A highly readable 200 pages, American Uprising provides a solid general background on a shameful chapter on American history.  The details and documentation that would have provided the information necessary for a book length account of this slave revolt are lost to history, but Mr. Rasmussen has done a good job rescuing this story and bringing it to our attention.  I think it would make a fine addition to any tenth grade history class.”

Ready When You Are, C.B.

“Fortunately for those of us who want to know as much as we can about American history—good and bad—historian Daniel Rasmussen uses extensive original research and superb narrative skill to vividly recount what happened in American Uprising. Beyond the story of approximately 500 men who yearned to be free and were willing to put their lives on the line to achieve it, Rasmussen’s book is about the expansion of the United States and how greed and power worked to distort America’s highest ideals….  American Uprising is certainly difficult to read in places because of the grim nature of the subject, but anyone interested in slavery in the U.S. or in the history of our country will find it illuminating as we strive to better understand our past.”

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Op-Ed in the New Orleans Times-Picayune

by dan on January 4, 2011

I have an opinion piece in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Check it out:

Two hundred years ago this Saturday, the city of New Orleans faced one of the greatest crises in its history. “All were on alert,” wrote Commodore John Shaw. “General confusion and dismay … prevailed throughout the city.” The American governor of the territory wrote that all he could do was pray.

At the western gates, guards reported a stream of terrified refugees, describing a road “crowded with carriage and carts full of people, making their escape from the ravages of the banditti.” The men that threatened New Orleans were no mere bandits, however.

They were slave rebels. And they intended to conquer New Orleans and establish a black republic on the shores of the Mississippi.

In January 1811, a slave army, 500 strong, mounted the largest single act of slave resistance in American history; a revolt several times the magnitude of the uprisings led by Nat Turner or John Brown. Led by 11 men representing different ethnic groups, the army demonstrated not only an ability to organize in the face of severe oppression, but also a remarkable level of political sophistication. The rebels marched in military formation, dressed in military uniform, and came within 15 miles of conquering New Orleans.

Yet the story of these rebels is all but forgotten, even in the New Orleans area. While the names of the sugar planters who suppressed the revolt are enshrined throughout the region, a small plaque across from a fast-food joint in Norco is the only marker of this moment in American history.

The planter leaders of old New Orleans, men like Jean-Noel Destrehan and William Kenner, and the American government, led by William Claiborne, succeeded in crushing the revolt — and then in mostly writing it out of history.

The American military and a hastily assembled planter militia caught the rebels on a plantation on the site of Louis Armstrong International Airport. The rebels formed a firing line and discharged their muskets at the planter militia. But they soon ran out of ammunition, and the planters broke through their their line. What followed was a massacre.

The planter militias pursued the rebels into the cypress swamps, shooting them, hacking them up with axes, and then collecting their heads as trophies. They mounted between 40 and 60 rebels’ heads on poles that they posted on River Road north of New Orleans for 40 miles. Court trials would lead to the death of 29 more rebels, some of whose bodies were dangled from the gates of the city and exposed in what is now Jackson Square.

In letters and newspaper accounts, the white elite of New Orleans played down the massive uprising and its brutal suppression — claiming that it was nothing more than banditry. In doing so, they laid the groundwork for one of the most significant moments of collective amnesia in American popular consciousness.

It’s time that changed.

Private citizens have taken the first steps. Leon Waters leads tours along River Road, pointing out the sites of the 1811 revolt. The Destrehan Plantation has devoted a slave cabin to art and information about the uprising.

And on the 200th anniversary, the Historic New Orleans Collection and various other local societies are hosting talks and lectures on the revolt. But this is not enough.
Local governments and the National Park Service should work together to erect monuments and informational kiosks along River Road where the rebel army marched. Boston’s Freedom Trail, which links 16 historical sites from the American Revolution, serves as a perfect example for how a city can celebrate its past.

We should not shrink from the memory of the 1811 uprising. The slaves who fought and died in the cane fields represent the best of America – they fought and died for their rights to freedom and equality.

And the political sophistication and heroism they demonstrated serves as a testament to man’s love of liberty and resistance to oppression.

Daniel Rasmussen is the author of “American Uprising; The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt” (Harper, 2011). He lives in Boston. Contact him at

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American Uprising Debuts Today

by dan on January 4, 2011

Today is the publication date for American Uprising. I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally have the book on sale. You can buy it anywhere books are sold and through the links on this website.

I hope that this book will help change the way we think about American slavery by emphasizing the heroism, sophistication, and political organization of the men and women that resisted slavery. Despite tremendous brutality and oppression, the revolutionaries of 1811 fought and died for their freedom and left us with the legacy of their courageous battle. I hope that my book will make the story of the 1811 slave revolt a central one in the history of slave resistance, and that every history textbook and scholarly work on slavery will discuss and deal with Charles Deslondes, Kook, Quamana, and the many other rebel slaves of the German Coast.

I hope you will enjoy the book!

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