Rethinking Conspiracy: Curaçao’s Fugitive Slaves and the 1795 Uprising in Coro, Venezuela

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:30 AM
Columbia Hall 11 (Washington Hilton)
Linda M. Rupert, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
The largest slave insurrection in Venezuela’s history occurred in May 1795 when approximately 400 slaves and free people of color attacked landholdings in the southwestern mountains before descending on the town of Coro. Coro has been relatively understudied in the extensive literature on slave revolts during the so-called Age of Revolutions. Nevertheless, there was vigorous debate, both among contemporaries and in the subsequent Venezuelan historiography, as to the relative weight of local and external factors in causing the rebellion. One contentious point has been the role of immigrants of African descent from the nearby Dutch island of Curaçao. This allegedly occurred at three levels: 1) planning and leading the rural contingent; 2) organizing the aborted urban participation; 3) conspiring across the imperial divide with slaves in Curaçao, who rose up just three months later. This paper examines the incomplete and contradictory evidence for such participation, drawing on archival documents from the Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, and Curaçao. Whether or not there was a full-blown conspiracy remains open to debate, and it may never be resolved with irrefutable evidence, given the limitations of the archives. There is no doubt, however, that the participants were connected at a much deeper level: people of African descent were part of well-established communications and exchange circuits which had linked the areas for well over one hundred years. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although the island and the nearby mainland belonged to separate imperial spheres (the Dutch and the Spanish, respectively) hundreds of denizens of African descent, enslaved and free, forged inter-colonial networks via contraband trade and marronage. This paper situates the failed Coro rebellion in this wider context, critically evaluates the evidence for inter-colonial collusion and conspiracy, and considers the broader implications for studying slave uprisings throughout the circum-Caribbean.
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