1811 slave revolt will be turned into movie

July 21, 2011 at 10:48 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A filmmaker from New York will soon begin shooting a movie about a little-known slave revolt that took place in St. Charles Parish 200 years ago and will need at least 100 extras from the community.

The slave revolt, which occurred in 1811, was the largest organized rebellion of enslaved people on American soil. The Louisiana uprising began on Jan. 8, 1811 at Col. Manuel Andry’s plantation in present-day LaPlace. There, more than 200 slaves, led by Charles Deslondes on horseback, marched down river for two days and covered 22 miles before finally reaching Jacques Fortier’s plantation near present-day River Town in Kenner.

The rebellion was inspired by events in Haiti, where the enslaved population took over the island nation and abolished slavery. Though the Louisiana rebels were poorly armed, they marched with flags, banners and drums hoping to inspire a similar revolution in their state.

According to most accounts of the revolt, the rebels got into two separate battles - one with the Army and one with a group of local planter militia. Both battles were bloody with the rebels taking most of the casualties.

After the second battle, the rebels scattered into the woods and some tried to slip unnoticed back to their home plantation.

Most were caught and sent to trial.

Writer/director Anthony Hampton, 26, said that he hopes to publicize the heroics of the revolt, which is rarely covered in history courses.

“Few people know of this event though you would think it would be learned in our high school history textbooks. It’s not, and that is a tragedy,” Hampton said. “So, we hope to do the event justice through the film medium.”

Earlier this year, author Dan Rasmussen wrote a book on the uprising that was based upon his Harvard thesis, which won three separate awards and caught the attention of scholars across the country. The book, “American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt,” is now a New York Times bestseller.

Hampton said that Rasmussen has agreed to serve as historical adviser for the movie.

“I was originally drawn to the story of the 1811 slave revolt because anytime a group of people rise up in defense of their freedom, whether it’s with what’s recently occurred in Egypt, the American Revolution, or with the events here that comprised the largest slave revolt in American history…I think it’s so incredibly important that we pay respects to those people and tell their stories,” Hampton said.

Hampton said that the revolt is a fascinating story because the rebels united in a bid to create their own republic.

“The revolt was not as simple as a small group of slaves deciding to run off into the woods or even to head north,” he said. “They were headed south to New Orleans with the express intent of creating a free black republic, much like what occurred only a few years prior in Haiti where slaves fought for and gained their freedom.”

Hampton said that the sheer number of participants was also astounding.

“Anywhere from 150-500 organized into a military fashion by the leader, Charles Deslondes,” he said. “They marched, beat drums and waved banners proclaiming freedom. It wasn’t your ‘average slave revolt.’”

Two days after the slaves were forced to surrender, 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.

The rebel’s leader, Deslondes, ran back north after the second battle but was caught in the swampy marshland not far from his home plantation. He was killed on the spot.

Hampton hopes to begin shooting the film in October in both St. Charles and St. John parishes and will pull at least 100 extras from the community.

“Many of the area are undoubtedly descendants of the rebels,” he said.

He is currently auditioning actors for the lead roles in New York and securing financing.

“Regardless of final budget, a quality film will be produced, but quite naturally, the more resources we have the better,” Hampton said.

Aside from locals getting the chance to appear in the movie, Hampton also intends to give a portion of the film’s profit back to the communities of St. Charles and St. John parishes.

“That money would be used in order to further education and awareness on this little known, yet monumental, historical event,” he said.

This will be Hampton’s first full-length film. He has already shot an experimental short film called “Sillage” that won second place at the Queens World Film Festival in New York.

View other articles written Jonathan Menard

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