Artist: Kiazer Sylve
Storyteller: Malik Rahim
In the last years of the 18th century, enslavers feared that the practice of enslavement would soon end. It could have, if not for the advent of the cotton gin, which created immense demand for enslaved labor. America purchased Louisiana, the plantations cultivated cotton and the enslaved knew their bondage would not end. Their desire for freedom brought about Deslondes’ 1811 Revolt.
In 1812 America declared war on the British. They saw the British as too focused on France to fight in America, and thought they would win easily. They were wrong. The Battle of New Orleans took place in February 1815, at the end of this war.
In battle, it is an effective move to come at your enemy from two sides, like pincers. In New Orleans there were two prongs, one on the west bank and one on the east bank of the Mississippi River. That’s why there were two battles, the Battle of Chalmette [which everyone knows about, because Jackson won] and the Battle of Algiers, which is less known. In each battle the maroons [Africans who had escaped enslavement to live in the swamps] played a crucial role. To induce the maroons to fight on the American side, Jackson promised the enslaved their freedom. He did not keep his promise.
The Battle of Algiers was fought in the vicinity of Whitney Avenue and L.B. Landry Avenue, around the Verret Canal which led from the Barataria Bay to the Mississippi River. The British lost the Eastbank battle to the Americans, but they won on the Westbank, with the help of maroons and enslaved men.
Enslaved men played a crucial role in the fortification of Chalmette. Jackson would not have been able to win without their construction of the fortifications. In Algiers the maroons and the enslaved fought with the British, who promised them their freedom. Unlike the Americans, they kept their promise. When the British were forced to retreat, these free men and women went with them, to Mobile, where the British had defeated the Americans. When the British lost Mobile, these free men and women went with them to Nova Scotia, Canada, and then to Sierra Leone, also a British colony.
Sierra Leone’s history reflects this heritage. The nation’s capital is called Freetown, the same as the maroon settlement of upper Algiers [also called McDonoghville]. The people who made this journey developed a language, which is today called Krio - Creole - which shares roots with the language of Afro-Louisianans.