DOUBLE MEANINGS. Chapter two of ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ is titled ‘Heads’ It has a double meaning. The first is ‘heads’ as in heads of cattle, and the last-ditch efforts to import as many ‘heads’ of the enslaved as possible before the provision on the US Constitution banning the overseas trade in slaves took effect. (It wasn’t always observed.)
The second meaning emerges at the end of the chapter, and refers to the beheading of slaves who had revolted in what is now Louisiana, and putting those severed heads on pikes staked along the roadways and slave plantations as warnings to others with a mind to rebel.
In between is a story of the geopolitics of slavery in a time of Napoleon and the war of 1812. One part you probably never considered before is the motive force behind the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the US. Spain, Britain, France and the US all contended for it, but what finally cinched the deal was the impact of the slave revolution in what is now Haiti. Former slaves in power weakened the will of the European powers, and it became a hot potato. Jefferson bought it for a song, with the idea that much of it would make room for the internal expansion of slavery to the Southwest. We all learned about the ‘Northwest Ordinance’ that forbade the expansion of slavery into the ‘Northwest Territories, from Ohio to Minnesota. But there was also a ‘Southwest Ordinance,’ the same in every way, but without any ban on slavery.
Haiti had an impact of the enslaved as well. (One point to like about this book is the frequent use of the active voice. Slave owners are called ‘enslavers’ and slaves, the ‘enslaved.’ This is not dry, dusty history.) The chapter tells the remarkable story of the ‘German Coast Uprising’ led by Charles Deslondes. He was brought to the ‘Orleans Territory’ by his master, along with thousands of others fleeing the Haitian Revolution. He brought the ideas of revolt with him, and led several hundred slaves in a revolt against plantations along the Mississippi. The second meaning of ‘heads’ comes from the suppression of this revolt.
Another you’ll learn about is the ‘Red Stick War’ and how the suppression of Native Americans was directed linked to the securing of this territory for the enslavers. It was a war against the Muscogee, inspired by Tecumseh, but won by Andrew Jackson, who then turned his forces to New Orleans, finally driving out the Brits. The way was then clear for the vast expansion of the economic force that fueled the growth of capitalism here and around the world. More to come.