Monday, November 14, 2016


On the night of November 7, 1841, Madison Washington a 22 year old enslaved African man seized control of the slave ship “Creole” which was transporting him and 134 other enslaved Africans from Virginia to be sold in New Orleans. Washington led a group of 18 other enslaved Africans in seizing control from the White captain and crew of the “Creole.” Washington first demanded that they sail to Liberia then changed that plan to Nassau, Bahamas.
The British had colonized the Bahamas in 1649 and made it a British Crown colony in 1718. Following the successful American rebellion against British rule (1765-1783) some of the British Loyalists had fled to the Bahamas taking the Africans they had enslaved in the USA. Britain abolished slavery on August 1, 1838 after a four year “apprenticeship” for the Africans from August 1, 1834. On November 7, 1841 when the Africans on board the “Creole” seized control of the vessel they first demanded to be taken to Liberia in West Africa. Liberia had been developed as a colony in 1821 by the American Colonization Society to settle formerly enslaved Africans. The American Colonization Society was a group of White people who did not want to share space with Africans who were not enslaved. They felt that all freed Africans should leave the USA and be taken to Africa even though they were born in America as were their ancestors for several generations. Liberia, West Africa was the first choice of resettlement for Madison Washington after seizing control of the “Creole.” Some of the other Africans on board wanted to try for the Bahamas which was much closer. They had heard about the slave ship “Hermosa” which had been shipwrecked in the Bahamas in 1840 and that the enslaved Africans onboard had been set free. On October 22, 1840 the American slave ship “Hermosa” was towed to Nassau, Bahamas with 38 enslaved Africans on board. The Africans were freed once they landed in Nassau because slavery had been abolished by the British six years before.
When the “Creole” landed in Nassau, Washington and his 18 co-conspirators were jailed because they were accused of killing a White man during their bid for freedom on the “Creole.” Inexplicably, of the 135 enslaved Africans on the “Creole” three women, a boy and a girl choose to remain onboard to return to slavery in New Orleans. Several of the people from the “Creole” who escaped slavery choose resettlement in Jamaica. Washington and the 18 people he led during the uprising on the “Creole” were tried and found not guilty. The Admiralty Court of Nassau held a special session in April 1842 to consider the charges. The Court ruled that the men had been illegally held in slavery and had the right to use force to gain their freedom. They were released on April 16, 1842 and disappeared into history. Madison Washington is said to have escaped slavery two years before the “Creole” incident but was recaptured when he returned to the USA to rescue his wife. It has also been said that Washington was reunited with his wife, who according to legend was on the “Creole.” Perhaps Washington and his wife settled in the Bahamas after he was released because there was a substantial free African community in the Bahamas. This free African community had grown after the British abolished the international slave trade in 1807. Thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the British Royal Navy were resettled in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco, Inagua and other islands in the Bahamas.
The incident of enslaved Africans who rose up and seized their freedom on the “Creole” is regarded as one of the most successful “slave revolts” in American history. Enslaved Africans resisted their enslavement by any means necessary wherever they were enslaved. Africans were enslaved by Europeans in every country in the Americas (Central, North and South) and on the Caribbean islands. Their resistance included sabotage, such as breaking tools or setting fire to buildings and/or crops. They sometimes pretended to be too sick to work, worked as slowly as they could or pretended not to understand instructions. Some enslaved Africans poisoned their enslavers. There were some cases of enslaved Africans accused of poisoning their owners, who were tried and executed. In 1755, a group of enslaved Africans were accused of killing their owner. Phillis an enslaved African woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts was accused of poisoning her owner and executed by being “burned at the stake.” Mark an enslaved African man who was accused of conspiring with Phillis was hanged and his body gibbeted (left on display.) An article published in the September 25, 1755 issue of the “Boston News-Letter” described their execution: "Thursday last were executed at Cambridge, pursuant to their sentences, Mark and Phillis, two Negro Servants belonging to the late Captain John Codman of Charlestown, for poysoning their said Master: They were both drawn from the Prison to the Place of Execution, attended by the greatest Number of Spectators ever known on such an Occasion; where the former was hanged by the Neck until dead, after which the body was Gibbeted; and the latter was burned to Death." In 1681, an enslaved African woman named Maria tried to kill her owner by setting his house on fire. She was convicted of arson and burned at the stake in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts. An enslaved African man named Jack, convicted in a separate arson case, was hanged at a nearby gallows and his body was thrown in the fire with Maria’s body as she was burned at the stake.
Slavery in Canada was abolished on August 1, 1834 as elsewhere in British colonized countries at the time. There was no “apprenticeship” period to be served by the emancipated Africans in Canada unlike in the Caribbean. Slavery in the USA was abolished 31 years later in 1865. The history of enslaved Africans is rife with examples of African resistance which led to the end of the practice of enslaving Africans by Europeans. There are many stories naming White abolitionists and hardly is credit given to the Africans who resisted in various ways including armed struggle like the Africans on the “Creole.” The African struggle to end their enslavement is often ignored, underestimated or forgotten. African resistance was documented by Europeans only when there was substantial damage to European interests such as uprisings on slave ships and arson.
The African resistance movement included fleeing plantations and establishing maroon communities (Brazil, Jamaica, Suriname etc.,) from where war was often waged against the Europeans. In Europe, African abolitionists launched or participated in civic movements to end enslavement of Africans. They delivered speeches, provided information, wrote newspaper articles and books. Using various means Africans in Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe were consistently involved in the struggle to end the slave trade and slavery. The abolition of slavery was very much the result of African resistance and incidents such as the uprising on the “Creole” hastened the end of slavery.
The descendants of those enslaved Africans continue to struggle against the White supremacist cultures in the Americas and Europe. Racial profiling exists in workplaces, educational institutions, housing, policing etc. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has recognized that: “As racial stereotyping and discrimination exists in society, it also exists in institutions such as law enforcement agencies, the education system, the criminal justice system etc., which are a microcosm of broader society.” Madison Washington and the other freedom fighters from the “Creole” are lost in history, seldom remembered. There are names of our freedom fighters (including Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, Sherona Hall) that must not be lost, who we must never forget as we continue the struggle.

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