Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood

Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood : Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823

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On the night of August 17, 1823, the distinctly African sounds of blaring shell-horns and beating drums signalled the start of one of the most massive slave rebellions in the history of the Western Hemisphere, the uprising in the British colony of Demerara (now Guyana). That evening, nine to twelve thousand slaves surrounded the main houses of about sixty plantations, armed with cutlasses, knives fastened on poles, and guns. They broke down doors, smashed windows, commandeered arms and ammunition, and put their masters and overseers in the stocks. Intent on avoiding a blood bath (over three days of fighting, colonial forces took the lives of more than 255 slaves, while only two or three white men were killed), the rebels spoke of "rights," and planned to present their grievances to the governor. For a few days, the slaves succeeded in turning the world upside down, treating masters the way masters had always treated slaves. Retaliation from colonial officials would be swift, bloody, and brutal. In Crowns of Glory, Emilia Viotti da Costa tells the riveting story of a pivotal moment in the history of slavery. Studying the complaints brought by slaves to the office of the Protector of Slaves, she reconstructs the experience of slavery through the eyes of the Demerara slaves themselves. Da Costa also draws on eyewitness accounts, official records, and private journals (most notably the diary of John Smith, one of four ministers sent by the London Missionary Society to convert Demerara's "heathen"), to paint a vivid portrait of a society in transition, shaken to its foundations by the recent revolutions in America, France, and Haiti. Smith and his wife, Jane, the planters and colonial politicians, and the leaders of the rebellion emerge as flesh-and-blood individuals, players trapped in a complex political game none of them could fully understand. Unravelling the complex web of events leading up to the climactic rebellion, Da Costa explains how Smith, a dedicated but inexperienced minister who arrived at the Le Resouvenir plantation confident that all faithful missionaries would win "a crown of glory that fadeth not away," could seven years later find himself convicted by court martial of fostering rebellion amongst the slaves, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. She details the colonials' orgy of repression following the rebellion--scores of slaves were sentenced more or less at random to grisly public executions and ritualistic floggings, and Smith died in his cell before news arrived that the Crown had granted him mercy--and shows how it fueled the anti-slavery movement in Britain, leading to the abolishment of slavery in the colonies ten years later. Casting new light on the nuances of racial relations in the colonies, the inevitable clash between the missionaries' message of Christian brotherhood and a social order based on masters and slaves, and the larger historical forces that were profoundly eroding the institution of slavery itself, Crowns of Glory is an original and unforgettable more

Product details

  • Hardback | 397 pages
  • 165.1 x 241.3 x 36.07mm | 793.78g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones, line figures
  • 0195082982
  • 9780195082982

Review Text

An engrossing history of an obscure incident: the 1823 mass uprising of slaves in the South American British colony of Demerara (present-day Guyana). Da Costa (History/Yale) draws on ample primary sources - diaries, plantation records, letters, and records of legal proceedings, including complaints of the slaves themselves - to draw a riveting picture of the Demerara colony: Approximately 5,000 free people, half white and half black, lived among 77,000 slaves who worked the colony's 60 plantations. On August 17, 1823, 9,000-12,000 slaves, inspired by the recent French, American, and Haitian revolutions, surrounded plantation houses throughout the colony, smashing windows, menacing masters and overseers, and seizing weapons. The uprising provoked a savage reaction from colonial authorities: In over three days of fighting, more than 255 slaves were killed, while during the few days the slaves held power only three whites were slain. Da Costa views the crisis from multiple viewpoints (of course, accounts by whites dominate the record): Planters who defended the colony's inhumane economic system blamed English missionaries for fueling the rebellion, while the missionaries, who decried the slave system, condemned the oppressiveness of the masters. Da Costa describes the career and political trial of John Smith, a missionary who defended and identified with the slaves: Smith was condemned to death for inciting the rebellion, then died in prison while his appeal for clemency was pending. In the end, while Parliament declined to censure the Demerara authorities, the rebellion and the excesses of the planters "gave a boost to the abolitionist movement" and hastened the end of slavery in Demerara and elsewhere in the empire. A first-rate account of a little-known episode that had large consequences for Britain and for the world: careful, professional scholarship married to a well-told story. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Emilia Viotti Da Costa

About the Author: A native of Brazil, Emilia Viotti da Costa is Professor of History at Yale University, and the author of The Brazilian Empire: Myths and more

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20 ratings
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3 15% (3)
2 15% (3)
1 0% (0)
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