Herman Bennett, “Slave Insurgents and the Political Impact of Free Blacks in a Revolutionary Age: The Revolt of 1795 in Coro, Venezuela“
co-sponsored by the Slavery & Freedom Working Group
What happens to our understanding of the Age of Revolution if we acknowledge the existence of substantial clusters of free blacks in the Atlantic world? Animated by this question, I intend to describe one of the largest yet neglected slave and free black revolts in the history of the Americas—the 1795 Revolt in Coro, Venezuela. The free black majority in Coro represented a significant source of tension which, I argue, pressed on the local social order in the province as did other clusters of free blacks in the Americas. The accumulated proceedings—mined in Archivo de la Indies, Seville—underscore the threat the 1795 revolt posed to the local social order because of the range of alliances, the movement’s scope and objectives along with the timing of events in the contours of the revolutionary Atlantic. In the context of a colonial slave social formation, such demands and the presence of a free black majority offered a revolutionary challenge. But at its core, this paper asks us to think about the free black majority in Venezuela through an implicit connection to an earlier and concurrent genealogy of freedom cultures among African descendant peoples in the New World who by the late 18th century were experiencing a deep and sustained process of what we generally identify as creolization but which in fact was a cultural and social phenomenon far more layered than the dynamic associated with classic formulations of creolization.
Herman Bennett is Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His publications include Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico (Indiana University Press, 2009) and Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570–1640 (Indiana University Press, 2003).