Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Joseph G. Tregle, Jr.

Second Advisor

William Savage

Third Advisor

Thomas Hammond


On November 7, 1841, the slaves on board the American brig Creole bound from Richmond, Virginia, to New Orleans, rose in revolt and forced the crew to sail the vessel to the British port of Nassau in the Bahamas. There the authorities imprisoned 19 of those involved in the mutiny but freed the remaining blacks. Later, after receiving instructions from London, the 19 mutineers were also liberated despite the angry protests of southerners in the United States.

The Creole incident became the subject of acrimonious debate in both houses of Congress and resulted in the breaking of the "gag" rule: the self imposed regulation by which the House of Representatives attempted to avoid the time-consuming and disruptive debates which inevitably accompanied the introduction of the topic of slavery. Additionally the Creole case threatened to jeopardize the attempt of Lord Ashburton, the British special envoy, to solve many of the problems which were sources of tension between Great Britain and the United States.

As a result of the Creole mutiny, several insurance suits were filed. During the trials, held in New Orleans, Judah P. Benjamin wrote a rather remarkable brief in which he argued on behalf of the "municipal" theory of slavery before the bar of a southern court. Most of the owners of the Creole slaves were blocked at the local level in their attempts to recover damages for the loss of their property. They were forced to turn to the federal government for aid and were eventually reimbursed when their claims. were accepted according to the terms of the Anglo-American Claims Convention of 1853.

The Creole mutiny was the largest and perhaps the only successful revolt among United States blacks, yet, despite the recent burgeoning of black history and literature, the Creole case has received little attention. Most volumes concerned with slavery and slave revolts scarcely mention the Creole case and its dramatic qualities and historical importance remain virtually ignored.


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