Madison Washington was an enslaved man who led a slave rebellion in America on November 7, 1841, on board the brig Creole, which was transporting 134 other slaves from Virginia for sale in New Orleans, as part of the coastwise slave trade.
On the night of Nov. 7, 1841, Washington led 18 of his fellow slaves into rebellion, killing slave trader John R. Hewell and subduing the crew. Taking control of the Creole, they commanded that it be sailed to Nassau, which was a British colony. The United Kingdom had already abolished slavery in 1833 in the British Empire. Despite American protests, the British declared the slaves to be free persons under their law and refused American demands for their return.
The British authorities in Nassau took Washington and his 17 conspirators into custody under charges of mutiny. A special session of the Admiralty Court heard the case, but ruled in favor of the men and freed them in April 1842. The remaining 116 slaves had achieved freedom immediately in the preceding fall. Five had remained on the ship and chose to return to the United States and slavery. As 128 slaves gained freedom resulting from this revolt, it is considered the most successful in United States history.
Legacy among abolitionists
- The abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet praised Madison Washington in his 1843 "Address to the Slaves of the United States," calling Madison Washington a "bright star of freedom" who "took his station in the constellation of true heroism." This call for open rebellion was considered too radical for abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
- Frederick Douglass wrote a novella, The Heroic Slave (1853), whose lead character was inspired by and named Madison Washington. This short story is considered one of the first known pieces of African-American fictional literature.
- William Wells Brown included a chapter on Madison Washington in his book, The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements. New York: Thomas Hamilton; Boston: R.F. Wallcut, 1863.
- Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. (2006). "Madison Washington". Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 571–572. ISBN 0-313-33272-X. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
- Williams, Michael Paul (2002). "Brig Creole slaves". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond, VA. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
- Garnet, Henry Highland. (1843) Henry Highland Garnet, "An Address To The Slaves Of The Corrupted United States", full text.
- Douglass, Frederick. The Heroic Slave Archived 2010-01-18 at the Wayback Machine, full text with commentary.