Rebels and Runaways

Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida
Author: Larry Eugene Rivers
A comprehensive investigation of slave escape in antebellum Florida
Cloth – $110
Paper – $30
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 08/01/2013
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About the Book

This gripping study examines slave resistance and protest in antebellum Florida and its local and national impact from 1821 to 1865. Using a variety of sources such as slaveholders' wills and probate records, ledgers, account books, court records, oral histories, and numerous newspaper accounts, Larry Eugene Rivers discusses the historical significance of Florida as a runaway slave haven dating back to the seventeenth century and explains Florida's unique history of slave resistance and protest. In moving detail, Rivers illustrates what life was like for enslaved blacks whose families were pulled asunder as they relocated from the Upper South to the Lower South to an untamed place such as Florida, and how they fought back any way they could to control small parts of their own lives.

Against a smoldering backdrop of violence, this study analyzes the various degrees of slave resistance--from the perspectives of both slave and master--and how they differed in various regions of antebellum Florida. In particular, Rivers demonstrates how the Atlantic world view of some enslaved blacks successfully aided their escape to freedom, a path that did not always lead North but sometimes farther South to the Bahama Islands and Caribbean. Identifying more commonly known slave rebellions such as the Stono, Louisiana, Denmark (Telemaque) Vesey, Gabriel, and the Nat Turner insurrections, Rivers argues persuasively that the size, scope, and intensity of black resistance in the Second Seminole War makes it the largest sustained slave insurrection ever to occur in American history.

Meticulously researched, Rebels and Runaways offers a detailed account of resistance, protest, and violence as enslaved blacks fought for freedom.

About the Author

Larry Eugene Rivers is president of Fort Valley State University in central Georgia and the author of Slavery in Florida: Territorial Days to Emancipation.


"Offered new insightful research on Florida's unique role in slave resistance. . . . Recommended."--Choice"A satisfying and significant study, a model for other state-centered studies of runaway slaves."--American Historical Review

"Rebels and Runaways: Slaves Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida provides a detailed account of three levels of slave defiance--typically nonviolent 'day-to-day' resistance, running away, and violent resistance. . . . Rebels and Runaways adds to the overwhelming evidence that slaves were not passive and continued to resist and run away despite the efforts of their owners to ensure that the slaves remained docile and at home."--The Journal of Southern History

"Rivers's often insightful investigation of evolving forms and patterns of slave resistance underscores the gross imbalance of forces that slaves, individually and collectively, confronted in trying to acquire the space necessary to even think freedom a remote possibility."--Civil War History

"Rivers' prose is clear yet passionate and wonderfully free of jargon. His research, both primary and secondary, is impressive, and his many comparisons with other sections of the Old South make this book indispensable for those who wish to understand the larger patterns of flight, resistance, and rebellion in the antebellum decades."--Florida Historical Quarterly

"While discussing the nature of slave resistance in antebellum Florida, Rivers offers a convincing argument for unique conditions for rebellion in Florida. A fine analysis of slavery and resistance in Florida."--Journal of Social History


"A valuable--indeed indispensable--account that profoundly alters our understanding of slave protests and rebellion. Rivers offers perspectives that reach beyond Florida to embrace a regional and global context for a new understanding of freedom and unfreedom. Steeped in remarkable research, this is a must read book for anyone who studies slavery."--Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln

"Most studies of antebellum slavery have either ignored or forgotten the bold actions of hundreds of enslaved Africans in Florida. Rivers's poignant study makes a strong case that this thrilling human drama--played out over many generations--constitutes perhaps the largest slave rebellion in American history. After reading this splendid book, historians and others interested in America's history will never look at slave resistance in the same way again."--James M. Denham, author of A Rogue's Paradise: Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida, 1821–1861

"A masterful, comprehensive, and captivating analysis of resistance and absconding in Florida. Rivers fluidly and movingly examines the complex and highly differentiated experiences of the enslaved in Florida, and their variable reactions to that condition. A must read for those interested in their sweeping and compelling story."--Michael A. Gomez, author of Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora

"A sweepingly impressive and admirably provocative study, Rebels and Runaways illuminates changes and meanings of slave resistance and armed rebellion. This important contribution offers a significantly sophisticated understanding of the complexities of resistance and rebellion to the tyranny of slavery."--Darlene Clark Hine, coeditor of Black Europe and the African Diaspora and The Black Chicago Renaissance

"Rebels and Runaways: Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida is a marvelous history of the complex ways enslaved blacks resisted slavery and how their determined efforts impacted the larger American experience. Rivers is to be commended for telling the complicated and compelling story of the fight enslaved blacks faced against terrorism over their bodies, minds, and souls in America."--Martin Luther King, III, President and Chief Executive Officer, The King Center, Atlanta, Georgia

"In this masterful undertaking, Larry E. Rivers fulfills a promise to illuminate the humanity of enslaved Floridians and argues convincingly that the Second Seminole War was 'a Negro, not an Indian War.' Rebels and Runaways makes it impossible for scholars to ignore the level of discontent among slaves in Florida."--Wilma King, Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professor of History, University of Missouri, Columbia

"Rebels and Runaways is the most important study of African American slave rebellions since the publication of Herbert Aptheker's Negro Slave Revolts. Larry E. Rivers does for the history of slave resistance in the United States what C. L. R. James's Black Jacobins did for the Haitian Revolution. Rivers faithfully portrays the aspirations of enslaved Africans in Florida with sensitivity, and he opens a new chapter on the history of slave revolution and race war in the Americas. This book will have a profound impact on the field for generations to come."--Paul Ortiz, associate professor of history, University of Florida

"Rebels and Runaways is groundbreaking because, unlike other similar studies to date, it analytically addresses the Atlantic worldview held by some rebels and runaways and their impact on the multi-level patterns of slave resistance that developed over time in Florida. It focuses also on what these various levels of slave resistance meant to the overall expansion and development of the country as a whole. This is a solid and engaging study."--Freddie L. Parker, professor and chair of history, North Carolina Central University


• Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Award, Florida Historical Society, 2013
• Bronze Medal, Florida Book Awards Nonfiction Category, 2013