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Although slavery was not the primary reason for secession, it would ultimately play a major role in the conflict which followed. Slavery was used to fuel the agrarian economy of the South with cheap labor and to help control the costs of its products.

However, the abolition of slavery was not initially the goal of the United States government or the primary concern of most of the American people before the outbreak of war. In fact, Lincoln and the vast majority of Republicans sought only to limit the expansion of slavery to the west so that they could offer cheap land to white settlers without the competition from slave labor. Lincoln said on numerous instances, including his first inaugural address, that he was not pursuing war to interfere “directly or indirectly with the institution of slavery” but rather spoke about his intent “to collect the (Morrill) tariff” and to “preserve the union.”

Lincoln knew that slavery was a deep-rooted cause for the secession of southern states to form the Confederacy. The institution of slavery was well documented in the Confederate Constitution, the writings of Southern newspapers and its own people. To many Southerners, the North was an abolitionist government trying to force them to live as the colored race, “enslaved“ under federal tariffs. This mistrust, along with the belief by many that federal troops were invading their home land, inspired Southern men to volunteer for the Confederate army.



It was not until after two years of war that slavery was brought to both the political and military forefront. In 1863 Lincoln used his Emancipation Proclamation (freeing slaves in Confederate territories) to turn the war from one of states‘ rights to a “religious” war to free the slaves.

Slavery Timeline

1712      There are only 10 Africans in all of Louisiana

1719      The first 2 slave ships arrive in Louisiana from the west coast of Africa

1722      Nearly 170 indigenous people are enslaved on Louisiana’s plantations

1724      Louisiana’s Code Noir was introduced and remained in force until the United States took possession of Louisiana in 1803.  No code has such a complicated history as Louisiana’s Black Code. The Code noir was introduced in Louisiana in 1724, based on earlier codes developed in French Caribbean colonies. The French laws about slavery  gave greater rights to enslaved persons than their British and Dutch counterparts. Owners of enslaved persons  were required to baptize them in the Catholic faith and to give them Sundays off for worship. They were forbidden from severe mistreatment. enslaved persons were allowed to marry, and separation of families was not permitted.

1795      There are 19,926 enslaved Africans and 16,304 free people of color in Louisiana

1763 – 1803   Plantation owners grow wealthy from indigo crops, which produce a brilliant blue dye important to the textile trade.

1795     Etienne DeBore’s sugar plantation successfully granulates a crop of sugar cane

1803     Sugar production soars after the Louisiana Purchase, and a large influx of enslaved people arrive in the territory,    including thousands form Saint Domingue (Haiti)

1807     The United States outlaws the Atlantic slave trade; thousands of slaves are smuggled in through illegal slave trade, and through domestic slave trade.

1822      Steam powered mills effectuate the continuing growth of the sugar cane industry.  Sugar production gravely affects slave women’s capacity to bear children. Sugar production is a dangerous process that involves the handling of  boiling liquids. Sugar cane juice is heated in a series of open kettles and pans. The slaves pour juice from boiler to boiler with long handled ladles.  This dangerous method of sugar production did not end until around 1840.

1840      Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894), an African American born from a French farmer and a free woman of color, invents a sugar processing evaporator composed of multiple pans stacked inside a vacuum chamber.  This machine, called multiple-effect evaporation is patented in 1843.  It improves the sugar refining process, saves time and money in the making of sugar, and protects lives.

1860      There are 331,726 enslaved people, and 18,647 free people of color in Louisiana

1862      Union forces capture New Orleans

1862      Congress passed the Militia Act, which allowed black men to serve in the U.S. armed forces as laborers, and the Confiscation Act, which mandated that slaves seized from Confederate supporters would be declared forever free.

1863      President Abraham Lincoln issues The Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all U.S. slaves in states that had seceded from the Union, except for those in Confederate areas already controlled by the Union army (in Louisiana,  the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary,  St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans, already under control of Union forces, and already free people.)

1864      Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 does not apply to Union-held territory.  Thus, slavery continued in  the thirteen Louisiana parishes under Union control. After much debate, delegates to the constitutional convention  agreed to abolish slavery without compensation for masters but not to give the vote to black men. The new constitution, however, authorized the state legislature to extend voting rights to black men who fought for the Union, owned property, or were literate.

1865      Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to outlaw slavery: “Neither slavery nor involuntary    servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

1865 – 1920    Following the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of African Americans are re-enslaved in an abusive manipulation of the legal system called “peonage.” Across the Deep South, African American men and women are falsely arrested and convicted of crimes, then “leased” to coal and iron mines, brick factories, plantations,  and other dangerous workplaces.

1877      The end of Reconstruction.

1811 Slave Uprising

Charles Deslondes, a Haitian slave overseer led a failed 1811 uprising beginning at Woodland Plantation.

In 1811, the largest organized rebellion of the enslaved on American soil took place in Louisiana. Beginning on Jan. 8, 1811 at Col. Manuel Andry’s plantation in present-day LaPlace, over 200 enslaved African Americans led by Charles Deslondes marched down the river for two days, finally reaching Jacques Fortier’s plantation near present-day River Town in Kenner, a distance of over 22 miles.

Inspired by events in Haiti, where the enslaved population took over the island nation and abolished slavery, these poorly armed freedom fighters marched with flags, banners and drums hoping to inspire a similar revolution in Louisiana. They were surprised by a detachment of troops in the morning of Jan. 19, 1811 and were forced to turn back upriver. There they encountered a group of local militia and were surrounded, giving up the march. In all, about 20 African Americans were killed in the fighting; three white men were also killed, and five buildings along the route burned.

Two days later on Jan. 13, 1811, a tribunal was convened at Destrehan Plantation to ascertain the guilt of those who either surrendered or were captured, and to determine punishment. After three days of hearings, 45 men were either sentenced to death or sent on to New Orleans for further trials. Those sentenced to death were taken by troops to their master’s plantation, executed by firing squad and beheaded. Their heads were displayed on poles at that plantation.

This revolt made the newspapers nationwide and brought about more restrictive laws for both enslaved and free blacks, not only in Louisiana, but also throughout the South.  (overview from st. charles parish history.)

During their two-day, twenty-mile march, the slaves burned five plantation houses (three completely), several sugarhouses, and crops. They were armed mostly with hand tools.

On January 11, a planter militia led by Col. Manuel André attacked the main body of insurgents at Destrehan Plantation west of New Orleans. The militia killed about forty slaves in their immediate confrontation. Fourteen slaves were killed in other skirmishes. Numerous slaves were captured. After interrogation, eighteen were tried and executed at the Destrehan plantation. Eleven slaves were tried and executed in New Orleans. A total of ninety-five insurgents were killed in the aftermath of rebellion. As for Deslondes, upon capture the militia did not hold him for trial or interrogation.

Samuel Hambleton described Deslonde’s fate: “Charles [Deslondes] had his Hands chopped off then shot in one thigh & then the other, until they were both broken — then shot in the Body and before he had expired was put into a bundle of straw and roasted!”

Some slaves involved in the revolt escaped to Orleans Parish, where they were captured and tried. Jailed in the Cabildo in New Orleans, the slaves’ cases were heard in the City Court, January 15-18 and again on February 2. As was the custom, they were tried by a tribunal consisting of a judge or two justices of the peace and three to five white landowners or “freeholders.”

Slave owners who served on the tribunals included Louis Leblanc, J.E. Boré, Daniel Clark, Peter Colsson, Stephen Henderson, Chas Jumonville, Thomas Porée, P. Dennis LaRonde, Jacque Villére, and J.B. Labatut.

case files from the 1811 insurrection include:

* Territory v. Negro Jerry, slave of James Fortier City Court case #185

* Territory v. Negro Etienne (Neptune), slave of James Fortier City Court case #186

* Territory v. Negro Jean, the slave of Madame Christiene City Court case #187

* Territory v. Garret, Daniel, the slave of Mr. Butler and Mr. McCutcheon City Court case #188

* Criminal case file no. 189, Territory of Orleans v. Hector, the slave of I.E. Trask, 1811

* Territory v. Louis, the slave of Israel E. Trask City Court case #190

* Territory v. Jessamin, the slave of Noel Destrehan City Court case #191

* Territory v. Theodore, the slave of Judge Truard City Court case #192

* Territory v. Gilbert, the slave of Mr. Andry City Court case #193

* Territory v. Caesar, the slave of Israel E. Trask City Court case #194

* Territory v. Jaco [Jacob], the slave of the late Mr. Mueillon City Court case #195

As a result of the 1811 revolt, the Louisiana legislature and those in several other slaveholding states and territories, passed new and tougher slave control laws.

Excerpted Data from “The Louisiana Purchase: A Heritage Explored”,

LSU Special Libraries Collection.