Lewis County, Missouri 1850: Slave Uprising

Posted by 1877 on 2015/04/28

Late one night, members of the McCutchan Family awoke to the sound of passing wagons and oxen. John McCutchan went to his window and saw the wagons parking in a field next to his house. Shortly afterward, he heard the hushed voices of his slaves in their nearby room. Suspecting trouble, John woke his family, at which point his wife recalled a few days earlier overhearing the slaves talking. One of the slaves, Lin, had said that her grandson, Henry, had had a dream where he went to heaven and saw all put one of the McCutchans there.

According to John McCutchan’s grandson, Lin was the slave cook at his grandfather’s farm. She had a root cellar she’d built herself, and the family suspected that she practiced some form of magic. Days later, the McCutchans learned that their slaves had indeed taken Henry’s dream as an omen and a sign for them to rise up and kill their masters. The McCutchans’ three slaves (Lin, Henry and Dave) plotted with the five slaves of S. H. McKim and the 18 slaves of James Miller. The slaves planned to kill the McCutchan Family (minus a five year old girl who they were going to take with them), the Miller Family, and the McKim Family, and then set out as a group towards Illinois. On the way gathering any slaves they could and killing any slave owners they encountered. For the past few days, a suspicious boat had been tied along the Missouri side of the Mississippi nearby at Gregory’s Landing. Later, slave owners speculated that this boat may have belonged to abolitionists in Illinois and been brought their as part of the plot.

Soon after the McCutchans had gathered themselves together, a slave named John (owned by the McCutchans’ neighbor, James Miller) burst into John McCutchan’s bedroom demanding guns. The family called to their slaves who did nothing to help them. They then ran for their lives to Miller’s farm where a general alarm was put out. By morning, the slave owners had put together a force of 30 men.

When the slave owners returned to the McCutchans’, they found that the wagons had circled themselves and at least 25 slaves—big and small, young and old—had barricaded themselves inside. They were armed with corn knives, clubs, a few guns and boiling water. They’d emboldened themselves by drinking magical tea and coffee made from herbs and gunpowder prepared by Lin.

John McCutchan and a Capt. Blair approached the barricades and demanded that the slaves surrender. Lin came outside the barricades armed with a pot of boiling water followed by John brandishing a corn knife with a 14-inch blade. Lin’s role as one of the driving forces behind the insurrection, her use of magic and this boiling pot are all reminiscent of Jamaican maroon, insurgent and spiritual leader, Queen Nanny. Over the course of 30 years, Nanny lead raids on Jamaican plantations and helped free over 800 slaves. After decades of fighting, the British government was forced to sign a truce with the Windward maroon community. If only Lin and these two dozen slaves had been as successful!

John and Lin began threatening Capt. Blair and McCutchan. At some point while talking to Blair, John was shot. Wielding his knife—shot and dazed, but not dead—John charged at Blair, but was gunned down before he could reach him. Lin threw her pot and ran back behind the barricades. Sometime afterwards, the insurgents surrendered—under what conditions is unknown.

The only account that mentions the slaves’ punishment says they were all sold south. It seems unlike that not even one or two were executed (the usually number following Missouri slave conspiracies), but it’s possible that only John was killed.

A disobedient slave would be sold for a lot less if their rebellious nature was known. One wonders, were these slaves sold without telling the buyers what they had done? If so, what was the fate of their unsuspecting new masters? What stories of this uprising did they tell in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama? Who heard these stories and was inspired to act?

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