In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Slave Resistance in the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • Biographies/Autobiographies
  • Special Journal Editions
  • Online Resources and Documentaries
  • Resistance to Enslavement in Africa and on the Slave Ships
  • Women in Slave Resistance
  • Religious and Cultural Resistance in the Atlantic World

Atlantic History Slave Resistance in the Atlantic World
Amy Marie Johnson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0310


Enslaved peoples have employed a variety of techniques to negotiate and overthrow their enslavement in the Atlantic world. The concept of “slave resistance” is quite vast and intricately intertwined with analysis of “slavery,” “freedom,” and, more recently, the scholarship of “unfreedom.” The forms of resistance enslaved people employed varied widely from collective insurrections and running away to individual acts of murder, flight, and negotiation. The range from violence to acceptance has made it challenging to pinpoint “resistance.” Moreover, the method or methods slaves used often overlapped and their choices reflected the age, gender, skill sets, and skin color of the enslaved person as well as the geographical region and time period in which they were enslaved. Since the late 20th century, scholars of slave resistance have explicitly rejected the notion that enslaved peoples were faced with dichotomous choices: resist or submit; act individually or collectively; use violence or avoidance. Consequently, we have a greater understanding of slave resistance and the contradictory qualities of enslaved peoples. The Atlantic world is also expansive—geographically, temporally, and conceptually. It encompasses the eastern regions of North America and South America, the Caribbean, western Africa, and western Europe. These regions can first be thought of as the “Atlantic world” beginning with their sustained contact in the 15th century and it continues to form a conceptual framework in scholarly studies today. In recent years, more scholarly attention has been paid to Dutch-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-speaking regions, providing a more complete picture of the Atlantic world and bringing new scholars into discussions as well as stimulating new conversations. Though much of the current scholarship is still written in European languages—English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese—researchers are increasingly analyzing non-European source material in their studies. The result has been a notable increase in quantity and quality of Atlantic world studies. In light of the scope of the topics “slave resistance” and “Atlantic world,” this article is based on two guiding decisions. First, the article is organized based on categories of slave resistance, paying special attention to the type of resistance and geographic region. Second, the article includes only scholarship that has been written in English.

General Overviews of Slave Resistance

The earliest studies of slave resistance in the Atlantic world often focused on large-scale, violent revolts, which usually took place in Latin America and the Caribbean. These scholars sought to understand the motives for collective slave insurrections. Beginning with Genovese 1979 (cited under Examination of Broad Impact in the Atlantic World) three types of general overviews of slave resistance can be identified. One group focuses on a specific geographic location and include analysis of multiple forms of resistance, while the other explores a type of resistance as it plays out in multiple locations. The third type highlights the impact of slave resistance across various regions of the Atlantic world.

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