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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1820-60: Cotton Is Crowned

1820-60: A period of capital accumulation and growth of the cotton industry boosts the need for labor and an increase in the internal slave trade. Building off of the early colonial patrol systems, poor whites are employed to capture runaway slaves and free blacks as early law enforcement.

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1811: In the largest slave revolt in the history of the United States, 400 to 500 slaves gather near New Orleans, wound their overseer, kill his son and lead a march between plantations that grows their numbers. 
  • 1831: Nat Turner, a preacher who experiences visions, leads a violent revolt resulting in the death of 55 white people. In response, it is estimated that 200 black people are killed, including Turner, who gave his confession in court.
  • 1848: Sandy Cornish purchases his freedom and is about to leave Florida with his free wife. He is captured by slave speculators, beaten and locked in jail in order to take him to the New Orleans slave market. He escapes, runs into the town center and draws the town's attention before cutting his Achilles tendons, slicing a hole into his hip and mutilating his left hand with a hatchet. Useless to the speculators, he and his wife go on to found a church and become respected citizens of Key West.*
  • 1849: Harriet Tubman runs away from a plantation. She goes on to escort 300 slaves to freedom by organizing the Underground Railroad.   
  • 1850: Black Seminoles and Seminole Indians form free settlements in northern Mexico, attracting U.S. runaway slaves.
  • 1859: John Brown is convicted of treason and hanged for his attempt to lead an armed slave revolt. He is captured by Robert E. Lee, who goes on to be the leader of the Southern Confederate Army during the Civil War.
  • 2010: Bradley Manning is kept in solitary confinement after leaking information, including a video of U.S. soldiers killing unarmed Iraqi civilians.  He is charged with aiding the enemy.
Discussion Questions:
  • After watching John Brown's speech, discuss his statement that he "denies everything." What would have been his conviction if his action had taken place during the Civil War?
  • Compare and contrast the actions of Turner, Tubman and Brown. How do they relate to Bradley Manning?
  • It is easy to say we disagree with slavery. Consider you are someone in 1840 in the United States who believes that slavery is wrong. What do you do? (See below for related activity.)
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