SLAVE REBELLION IN AMERICA: Product of an Unconquerable Soul

Talking Drum: At Peace...Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.”   (From “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, 1875) 

This English poet’s passionate framing of the poem, “Invictus” (Latin for undefeated, unconquered, etc.), probably had more to do with his personal affliction with tuberculosis than the fight for freedom by black slaves in the Colonial United States, South America and the Caribbean islands.  Yet, his poetry paints an image of the resolve and soul of black freedom fighters in the Americas and the Caribbean, during the cruel chapters of history, in the Western Hemisphere. 

Our particular nation, the United States of America, remains cursed today, from the failed attempts of yesteryear to properly understand man’s innate thirst for freedom.  Colossal failures abound, neglecting to appreciate the future implications of collective resistance by black captives within the European “triangular trade” routes of commodities and black flesh.  Setting out from Europe, these routes snaked the shores of West Africa to Latin-and-Colonial America, back to Europe and West Africa, again.  Ruthless activities along the way, and following arrivals, seeded the scourge of racism that flourishes today, exacerbated by the dribble of ignorant verbalism, and disingenuous cultural courtships, which America unwittingly bequeaths to her children.  And, our sickening drip of race-baiting, partisan politics further rips the already nasty tear on our nation’s patchy fabric.

 ”In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.”  (From “Invictus,” stanza 2) 

Sprouting from the seeds of human cruelty, the Virginia “slave rebellions” of Gabriel Prosser, in Richmond, and Nat Turner in South Hampton County, during the 1800s, sparked a fear in the hearts of many white Americans, similar to the mindless anxiety found within the so-called “Tea Party” movements, today.  In my opinion, their bogeyman attempts to resell the myth of an “angry black man,” incredulously targeting our nation’s kindly president, as well as bogus black racism in others.  It is rooted deep within the guilt-trip dynamics associated with the so-called slave conspiracies, rebellion and resistance of the past.  That’s when pea-brained, white-robed supremacists and black-cloaked politicians scrambled to paint the public outrage against racial injustice as insignificant and unworthy of a response.  It’s similar to some of the noise from the vocal right-wing, political-minority crowd, today.  But, reason and logic seems to prevail more from the left. 

Before the Civil War, which side of liberty you were on likely depended on the degree of visibility of your skin.  Untold numbers of black folk, curiously labeled runaway slaves, often slipped into the night and nearby swamps, later surfacing as warriors and guerilla fighters within Maroon Societies (runaway slave communities) and various Indian tribes, on the fringes of plantation life, in North America and Brazil. Nervous whites beefed up existing legislation, forming “Fugitive Slave Laws,” to re-capture those fleeing from slavery and further extend their control over those still in mental and physical bondage.  Yet, decent thinking whites counter-punched, spearheading Abolitionism movements, in Britain and the United States, aimed at ending the slave trade and setting slaves free.  But, the institution of slavery was important to the economic survival of our nation.  And, the fight within was on.  

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.”   (From “Invictus,” stanza 3

The “missing pages” of American history books further document an extensive, long-term inter-relationship among African-Americans and Native Americans.  A widely held view is the belief that this relationship began, during the 1700s and 1800s, primarily with five “civilized” tribes:  Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw.  In addition to African and West Indian roots within our own family, like many African-Americans, we trace some ancestry to Cherokee and Creek, as well as white Scotch-Irish clans.  Such is the mongrelized face of America- not some twisted conjecture of purity, often fostered or insinuated by the fractured Tea-Party leadership’s inference to “real Americans.” 

Further footnoting these “missing pages” are evidentiary findings which reveal additional cultural and mutual warfare ties, in the early 1500s, when arriving African slaves in the Caribbean’s Hispaniola (Spanish “La Espanola,” consisting of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, between Cuba and Puerto Rico) escaped Spanish and Portuguese owners and joined other indigenous groups.  Some, according to various historians, already skilled warriors and farmers from their homelands, remained on their own, banding together to form armed military camps and Maroon communities.  They were to never know the brutality of slavery as it existed in the Americas.  These resistance and/or freedom fighters waged effective skirmishes and military battles in North, South and Central America, as well as the state of Florida.  This included Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Puerto Rico, as well the southeastern coast of the United States.  

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”   (From “Invictus,” stanza 4) 

Perhaps, some of the more famous Maroon or rebel slave community leaders, including Cudgo and Macandal (later believed by whites and blacks to be the reincarnate of Haiti’s famed Toussaint L’Ouverture), were found in the Caribbean.  But, some of the most violent fights for freedom were waged in Brazil, especially in the “Republic of Palmares,” in the early 1600s. Here, according to historical archives, some 20,000 black inhabitants successfully fought off Dutch and Portuguese armies, for nearly 70 years, until the fierce, doomsday-like battle, respectfully dubbed “Black Troy,” in 1697. 

That’s when Portuguese soldiers finally destroyed this mountainous militarized metropolis.  Yet, they never surrendered.  Many committed suicide, tossing themselves over jagged cliffs, rather than succumbing to the life of a slave.  Thus, they remained masters of their own fate, captains of their unconquerable souls- bloodied, surely, but heads unbowed- buried deep within the bowels of our smothered history.

Such is the mongrelized face of Africans in the Americas, not the romanticized docile “darkies” and “Sambos” envisioned by the wistful minds and writings of an Antebellum South.  Not the bogus black racists and “angry black men” fantasized in certain corners of the so-called “Tea Party” movement.  And, certainly not the babble of their fake television journalists and jacked up race-relations “experts.” 

It’s laughable to me that a people fighting for their God-given right to be free can be labeled rebellious or insurrectionist- even criminals! But, by whose laws?  Certainly, not God’s.   For me, the subjective terms “rebellion,” “freedom-” and/ or “resistance-fighter” simply depends on which side of liberty you choose to be. 

No war is pretty.  And, freedom is never free! 

But, in my humble opinion, it’s your state of mind and the color of your heart- not the complexion of your skin- which ultimately pilots an unconquerable soul.  

Backstreet Djeli”  (w.d.s.)


Reprint of original posting by Backstreet Djeli at  on 07/23/2010

About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.