Are Slave Rebellions Part of the Story of American Freedom?
The Georgia Historical Society is in the process of installing new historical markers that expand our understanding of how the war impacted society beyond the battlefield. One of the markers focuses on a failed slave revolt in the town of Quitman, Georgia, near the Florida border. In 1864 three slaves and their white ringleader named John Vickery were hanged in Brooks County. The reporter notes that, “The story highlights how three and a half years into war, many Georgians – especially poor, non-slaveholders — were hungry for food, war-weary and disillusioned with the Confederate cause.” And according to Todd Groce, the President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, the story “has a great relevance because it tells the African American people that they too are a part of the Civil War.”
In August 1864, during the American Civil War, four men were executed in Brooks County, Georgia, for conspiring to plot a slave insurrection. The conspirators–led by a local white man, John Vickery, and three slaves named Nelson, George, and Sam–planned to seize weapons and take control of the town of Quitman, securing it for the U.S. Army in nearby Florida. Local authorities discovered the plot before it could be carried out. All four conspirators were convicted of insurrection and executed on August 22, 1864. Anti-Confederate activity such as this, along with food riots, draft evasion, and labor unrest, increased during the final year of the war.
The choice of words is interesting. Like most historical markers the basic outline of the event is presented, but there is little attempt to frame around a broader theme and that’s probably a good thing. I assume that the “anti-Confederate” activity implied here is the slave insurrection itself, though it isn’t so clear.
I’ve asked this question before, but it is worth returning to given the placement of this marker: Is this event simply an example of anti-Confederate activity or is it part of a broader story of American freedom that we can all identify with?
[Note: I took the photo from one of the two article cited here because of the text that accompanied it: “A new plaque commemorates a failed slave revolt in Quitman. This image depicts a successful uprising by Nat Turner in Virginia.” It goes without saying that Turner’s rebellion was not successful.]