Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

Page from Wake by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez (all images courtesy Hugo Martinez).

Page from Wake by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez (all images courtesy Hugo Martinez).

In 1712, New York City witnessed a dramatic uprising when over 20 black slaves, fighting against their unjust conditions, set fire to several houses of white slaveowners and fatally shot nine. Known today as the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, the insurgence resulted in the conviction and public execution of 21 slaves, as well as more severe slave codes. While sources often state that these rebels were all men, the historian Dr. Rebecca Hall has identified four women who were captured during the clashing and were tried. Their names were Amba, Lilly, Sarah, and Abigail.

Erased from history books, their stories will now be told in vivid form by Hall, who has devoted much of her career to unearthing the roles of women in slave revolts. Hall is currently working on her first graphic novel, which will highlight female rebels in various 18th-century uprisings, from three in New York to those that broke out on slave ships. Titled Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, the 150-page work emerges out of Hall’s 2004 dissertation on the same topic. She is now collaborating with independent comic artist Hugo Martinez to produce the storyboards and, through Friday, May 4, is raising $5,900 on Kickstarter to realize it for submission to publishers.

“The way the history of slave resistance has been written, this very gendered narrative developed about how manly and masculine enslaved men actually were, which served to elide the role that women played,” Hall told Hyperallergic. “I was going against everything being taught in women’s roles in slave resistance by insisting that, if I looked, I bet I would find these women.” She recalled how her dissertation advisor had told her that she wouldn’t find any sources to realize her chosen topic; how one archive claimed that it had no related material.

This is a fascinating, and I think, a necessary work. You can read and see much more at Hyperallergic, as well as on the kickstarter page, where there’s also a video. They are close to their goal, but could use a bit more help, so if you can’t donate, you can help to spread the word!


  1. says

    I must say that any reading about slavery makes me despair. How humans can treat other humans in such way is beyond my comprehension.

  2. says

    You and me both, Charly. It’s an all too common activity in humans; here in the states, we are still so very close to it, and it affects all of us, whether we realize it or not.

  3. Nightjar says

    “I was going against everything being taught in women’s roles in slave resistance by insisting that, if I looked, I bet I would find these women.”

    I bet this applies to every historical event one can think of, and it is also very common in the history of science for example. Women have always been everywhere doing everything, it is just that no one has bothered to look and no one has bothered to tell their stories. This is a wonderful work indeed, I am glad someone unearthed the names of those erased heroines: Amba, Lilly, Sarah, and Abigail.

  4. says

    Nightjar, I was thinking the same thing, reading the article. Women are not a part of most histories; part of it, yes, but worthy of recording even a name? Not often. I read those names out loud. I wish that they could somehow know.

  5. says

    I agree.

    I was listening to one episode of the Backstory podcast and they mentioned about how slave revolts were the secret nightmare of the south, and how some people thought the civil war was necessary because someone was going to eventually do something like an emancipation proclamation, and there would be gigantic slave uprisings and hell to pay. That has to be taken in the context of John Brown’s attempted rebellion (which was not very effective but scared the living shit out of the south) And there was always the memory of Haiti, lurking in the back of their minds.

    The mind-set of a slaveowner is one I cannot get inside, but I imagine that there was a constant fear that they would suddenly and violently suffer for their sins against their fellow man. How could they even sleep at night, let alone comfortably or well?

    When I think about that, I also think about white southern America’s love of firearms. It doesn’t take a ruler to draw a line between fear of retaliation, and all the bullshit rhetoric of today: “defend my home.” Ridiculous. What are they defending from? The ghosts of the crimes of the south. But, as Howard Zinn pointed out, we should not just lay this stuff at the feet of the south. The north was and remains pretty awful, too. It was just a little better than the south, which is a shithole. Speaking of which, why isn’t the rest of the US worried about trying to keep people from migrating from Alabama and Mississippi into the rest of the country? Those are some messed up bad hombres down there.

  6. rq says

    Every time another ‘discovery’ like this is made (I mean, you can’t really say that someone bringing to light the stories of participating women is a discovery -- more like a recovery -- because you have to be seriously ignorant of people and women especially to really believe that they never, ever, ever, took an active role at any time in history…), I think of that wonderful article about llamas and fighting.
    I hope they succeed in their project, and I hope the word gets out far and wide. I want to read this.

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