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The spirit of revolution, the spirit of insurrection, is a spirit radically opposed to liberty… Francois Guizot

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Tumult and silence at Second Creek : an inquiry into a Civil War slave conspiracy  Winthrop D. Jordan  Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 1993  Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. xvii, 391 p. : maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 359-367) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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In the spring and summer of 1861, a group of slaves in Adams County, Mississippi, conspired to overthrow and murder their owners. The conspiracy was discovered, the plotters were arrested and tried, and  hanged. By November the affair was over.

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In 1971, Winthrop D. Jordan came upon a document upon which this book is based – a record of the testimony of some of the accused slaves as they were interrogated by a committee of planters determined to ferret out what was going on. This discovery led him on a twenty-year search for additional information about the aborted rebellion. Because no official report or even newspaper account existed, the search for evidence became a feat of historical detection.

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Jordan gathered information from every possible source – the private letters and diaries of members of the families involved and of people who recorded the rumors that swept the Natchez area in the unsettled months following the beginning of the war; letters from Confederate soldiers concerned about the events back home; the journal of a Union officer who heard of the plot; records of the postwar Southern Claims Commission; census documents; plantation papers; even gravestones.

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What has emerged from this odyssey of research is a re-creation of what Winthrop conjectures may have happened in one of the last slave rebellions in the United States. It is a twisted portrait of the Natchez region at the very beginning of the Civil War, when Adams County was one of the wealthiest communities in the nation and a few powerful families interconnected by marriage and business controlled most of it – something that Jordan finds unacceptable.

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In piecing together the fragments of extant information about the conspiracy, Jordan has produced a picture of the what be believes the plantation slave community in southwestern Mississippi in 1861 was like – its composition and distribution; the degree of mobility permitted slaves; the ways information was passed around slave quarters and from plantation to plantation; the possibilities for communication with town slaves, free blacks, and white abolitionists. Jordan also explores the treatment of blacks by their owners, the kinds of resentments the slaves harbored, the sacrifices they were willing to make to protect or avenge abused family members, and the various ways in which they viewed freedom. There are of course no real primary sources that can be considered evidence in the strictest sense so what you have is something on the order of Gone With The Wind edited by Mother Jones.

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Tumult and Silence at Second Creek is proclaimed a major work by one of the most distinguished scholars of slavery and race relations. His exhausting conjectures and resourceful creation of documentation from both dubious and spurious sources is compounded by his analysis of it all make the facts fit the story in this extended essay on the nature of historical evidence and inference. His other book – White Over Black – has been acclaimed by the same people for the same reasons and the only informative thing about either work is that at least White Over Black is honest in revealing, through its title, his predispositions and biases.

A large, elaborate allegory predicting the triumph of the Union over the dark forces of the Confederacy and "King Cotton." A published key accompanying the print describes the secession of the South in heavily moralistic terms, as the workings of an insidious "Hydra of human discord," spawner of treachery and rebellion. The composition is divided into a lower and upper half. Below are the forces of darkness, ruled over by King Cotton, an alligator-headed monarch whose body is a sack of cotton. As the key describes, he "roars through the south the reeking monster--It reviles and tears asunder the bonds of a free and united humanity, and raises with the power of arms the banner of secession. The bowie-knife and dagger, the revolver, the lash and a bloodhound, are the titles to his rights to the golden crown and ermine, which a benighted people yet honours as a sacred symbol. Sighing under the feet of the tyrant the imploring looks of the slave turn heavenward." The monster sits on a throne, before a burning column with the words "Lecompton" (the controversial proslavery Kansas constitution passed in 1857), "Fugitive Slave [Law]," and "Missouri Compromise." He has pistols and daggers in his belt. One of King Cotton's paws is placed on a manacled slave, who looks upward toward a "sublime apparition" which appears in an aureole of clouds. Here Freedom, wearing an Indian bonnet and holding a liberty cap, appears with a large American flag amid a crowd of deities and historical figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Freedom is attended by Christianity (left) and Justice (right). Immediately in front of her is "Humanitas," borne by an eagle and holding an infant and reaching down toward the supplicant slave below. The eagle fiercely clutches the hem of King Cotton's ermine cloak and wields several lightning bolts, which have ignited the terrified monarch's throne. Equally terrorized by the vision are the hideous Hydra of Discord and her followers, who appear in the shadowy background below. The Hydra, accompanied by a hound "Fugitive Slave Law," crowds of overseers or planters, and a Spaniard, who drops a package marked "Cuba $50,000,000," are driven into the sea. Near the shore appears a dinghy holding several slaves. A moored ship is visible in the distance. Entwined in the decorative lower border of the illustration is a dead rattlesnake. Below, in the margin, are eighteen lines of verse from Lord Byron's 1813 poem "The Giaour."

A large, elaborate allegory predicting the triumph of the Union over the dark forces of the Confederacy and “King Cotton.” A published key accompanying the print describes the secession of the South in heavily moralistic terms, as the workings of an insidious “Hydra of human discord,” spawner of treachery and rebellion. The composition is divided into a lower and upper half. Below are the forces of darkness, ruled over by King Cotton, an alligator-headed monarch whose body is a sack of cotton. As the key describes, he “roars through the south the reeking monster–It reviles and tears asunder the bonds of a free and united humanity, and raises with the power of arms the banner of secession. The bowie-knife and dagger, the revolver, the lash and a bloodhound, are the titles to his rights to the golden crown and ermine, which a benighted people yet honours as a sacred symbol. Sighing under the feet of the tyrant the imploring looks of the slave turn heavenward.” The monster sits on a throne, before a burning column with the words “Lecompton” (the controversial proslavery Kansas constitution passed in 1857), “Fugitive Slave [Law],” and “Missouri Compromise.” He has pistols and daggers in his belt. One of King Cotton’s paws is placed on a manacled slave, who looks upward toward a “sublime apparition” which appears in an aureole of clouds. Here Freedom, wearing an Indian bonnet and holding a liberty cap, appears with a large American flag amid a crowd of deities and historical figures, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Freedom is attended by Christianity (left) and Justice (right). Immediately in front of her is “Humanitas,” borne by an eagle and holding an infant and reaching down toward the supplicant slave below. The eagle fiercely clutches the hem of King Cotton’s ermine cloak and wields several lightning bolts, which have ignited the terrified monarch’s throne. Equally terrorized by the vision are the hideous Hydra of Discord and her followers, who appear in the shadowy background below. The Hydra, accompanied by a hound “Fugitive Slave Law,” crowds of overseers or planters, and a Spaniard, who drops a package marked “Cuba $50,000,000,” are driven into the sea. Near the shore appears a dinghy holding several slaves. A moored ship is visible in the distance. Entwined in the decorative lower border of the illustration is a dead rattlesnake. Below, in the margin, are eighteen lines of verse from Lord Byron’s 1813 poem “The Giaour.”

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