African-American slaves found many ways to resist the oppression of slavery. The most dramatic of these was armed rebellion.

There were some 250 documented slave revolts, and recent research shows that there were at least another 250 documented aboard slave ships. Evidence of the number of slaves who liberated themselves by escaping the South is more difficult to verify because running away had to be a highly secret enterprise.

One estimate is that 1,000 slaves a year freed themselves, but this probably does not take account of the little known Underground Railroad into Mexico.

These numbers for both revolts and escapes are conservative because accurate records were not kept. The white South down-played rebellion of all varieties and slaves often had to protect themselves and their families with silence.

Some of the most important and interesting resistance was never reported, however, because it was hidden from slave masters who never realized it was taking place. This day-to-day resistance was the most common because everyone could participate in it. Plantation workers found limitless ways to sabotage work; tools would inexplicably break, supplies were wasted, lost or stolen; young plants were destroyed by hoes; gates were left open and horses and cows ran away; work would slow down whenever an overseer was not present, workers would pretend not to understand their orders and do the wrong thing.

On another level, slaves would feign illness, barns and houses would catch on fire and members of the masters families would unexpectedly die from poison secrectly put in thier food.

The saddest form of resistance was the harm slaves did to themselves. Some mutilated themselves by cutting off limbs so they could not work. Some committed suicide, especially new slaves from Africa who saw the torturous life to which they were condemned and chose death. Most severe were the cases where mothers killed their own children to save them from the horrors of a life of hopeless and unending slavery.

The best known case was that of Margaret Garner who escaped with her family only to be recaptured in Ohio by slave catchers. In desperation she redeems her children by killing them. Garner’s story is the historical basis for Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.” As she was being taken back south, Garner committed suicide by drowning. Her husband said, “she has escaped at last.”

How did African-Americans resist slavery?

By any means necessary.