Madison Washington was an enslaved cook who escaped from slavery not once, but twice. He led the Creole slave revolt in which 18 black slaves overtook the slave ship, the Creole in November 1841. The uprising resulted in freedom for 128 slaves.
The exact date of Washington’s birth is not documented. Nevertheless, it is known that he was born in Virginia.
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Eventually, Washington escaped slavery and headed to Canada to keep his freedom intact.
While in Canada, Washington worked for a farmer called Mr. Dickson.
Nonetheless, Washington couldn’t enjoy his freedom because his wife, Susan was still being held captive in Virginia. His original plan for them both escaping failed.
Yet Washington was determined to be reunited with his wife, even if it meant the loss of his freedom.
In the book, Clotel and Other Writings by William Wells Brown, Washington was documented as saying:
“At last it was agreed between my wife and me that I should escape to Canada, get employment, save my money, and with it purchase her freedom. With the hope of attaining this end I came into your service. I am now satisfied that, with the wages I can command here, it will take me not less than five years to obtain by my labor the amount sufficient to purchase the liberty of my dear Susan. Five years will be too long for me to wait, for she may die or be sold away ere I can raise the money.”
Dickson tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Washington from traveling back to the South to free his wife.
Washington left Canada with the money he earned, saws and other inconspicuous weapons hidden in the lining of his coat to help him free himself should he need to.
Washington hid in the bushes near where he was previously held and Susan was still a slave.
During a corn shucking – an event where slaves would peel large amounts of corn and then be awarded a feast with whiskey included, he discovered that Susan was still at the farm that housed them both.
Washington entered the vicinity of the farm and was caught by the overseer. He was eventually taken and put aboard The Creole, a slave ship bound for New Orleans.
He contained his composure all the while gathering members for an uprising and planning a revolt.
Nine days into the trip, some of the slaves were sick and not properly monitored which gave Washington and his men the footing to overtake the ship.
According to accounts, after killing the slave traders and wounding the captain, the slaves gathered up all weapons on the ship and other documents related to their enslavement and took charge of the ship.
In the process, one slave was badly wounded and later died. Other crew members were also badly injured.
The slaves initially demanded to be sailed towards Nassau, the Bahamas as it was the only place they knew former slaves could get their freedom.
When they landed in the Bahamas, they were considered free as slavery was illegal in the British colonies.
Madison and the others who had been involved in overtaking the ship and killing a slave trader were, however, detained and charged with mutiny.
Interestingly, three women, a girl and a boy decided to stay aboard the Creole and sailed with the ship to New Orleans, returning to slavery.
Other accounts, however, indicated that they had stayed in hiding on board.
When the Creole arrived in New Orleans on December 2, 1841, five slaves were still aboard, angering the white slave owners who were told that the remaining slaves had been freed by British authorities.
Although they demanded that the slaves be returned to them, it became impossible since slavery had been outlawed and there were no extradition treaties between Britain and America.
On April 16, 1842, the Admiralty Court in Nassau ordered the mutineers, including Washington to be released and freed.
Washington has since been described as a hero, especially by abolitionists for championing a revolt that enabled as much as 128 enslaved people to gain their freedom.
Unbeknownst to Washington, Susan was aboard The Creole during the mutiny. They were reunited and granted freedom.
His revolt, however, led to a diplomatic tension between the United Kingdom and the United States as Southerners were irritated to have lost property in another instance of British colonists freeing slaves from American ships that had gone into their ports in the Caribbean.