What are some examples of slaves resisting their masters?

1 Answer
Feb 7, 2018

Enslaved peoples found lots of ways to resist. The resisted culturally, politically, and with force.


Slave resistance is a topic that is often studied in graduate school, but rarely at the high school level or younger. Enslaved peoples found many ways to resist. The most obvious ways were through open rebellion (very rare), running away, and killing masters for specific abuses or in self defense (rare but it happened).

Escaped slaves like Frederick Douglas resisted slavery by publicizing it's actual conditions. Douglas refused to allow his friends to buy his freedom, arguing that it would lend legal cover to a fundamentally illegal institution but was forced to change his mind after the Fugitive Slave Act passed as part of the Compromise of 1850.

Most enslaved peoples found more subtle ways to resist. Just surviving and keeping one's family and community intact were the types of everyday triumphs that built slave resistance. To do so, enslaved peoples highlighted the contradictions of slavery to their masters by insisting that they be "good fathers to their families black and white." They set overseers and masters against each other, or appealed to white neighbors to intervene on their behalf.

They worshiped in their own ways via Christian churches, held weddings despite the fact that they could not legally marry, and preached often on the book of Exodus when white folks were around to hear. Away from white eyes, Islam persisted as a religion and Voodoo developed in the Caribbean and later in New Orleans. In the earliest years of slavery in the colonies, conversion to Christianity was often enough to free a slave although those laws changed pretty quickly.

Economically, slaves tried to spend as much time on feeding themselves and earning money for themselves as possible. This might involve switching out new tools for old (which led to the myth of slaves breaking tools, when in fact they were taking the newer tools for food production by switching the handles and such), loafing on the job when possible, All of these actions were designed to benefit slaves and count as resistance.