Story at a glance

  • Historians at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (DSI) at the City College of New York published a monograph on the Santo Domingo Slave Revolt of 1521.
  • The paper details how many enslaved Africans had resisted their enslavement since it began in the early years of the sixteenth century.
  • Enslaved workers of Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, began discussing how to organize and rise up against their oppressors.

December marks the month when enslaved people revolted against colonial powers for the very first time, exactly 500 years ago. 

Called the Santo Domingo Slave Revolt of 1521, enslaved African Black workers at a sugar-making plantation began to march across the colony of La Española in an effort to reach other enslaved workers seeking freedom. La Española was governed by Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, and is considered our present day Dominican Republic.

The CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (DSI) at the City College of New York published a monograph on the revolt and it explained that many enslaved Africans had been resisting their enslavement in La Española since it began in the early years of the sixteenth century.

They tried fleeing their masters and going into the wilderness of the colony, but by Christmas time in 1521 some of the slaves who had enough were ready to launch a major challenge to the local colonial status quo. 


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Many slaves worked at the sugar plantation of Columbus, and began discussing how to organize and rise up against their masters and free themselves from oppression. According to the monograph, the slaves finally launched a violent rebellion. They chose to conduct the uprising during Christmas because they knew Spaniards would be distracted and deep in prayer.

“This was so well planned, which is also very interesting to me as a sociologist, that they came from different places in Africa. So they spoke different languages yet they found ways of putting together an insurrection,” said Ramona Hernandez, director of CUNY DSI and a professor of sociology at City College, to NBC News 

However, colonial authorities of La Española responded quickly, including Columbus himself, and used military force to stop the uprising. According to the monograph, authorities applied harsh punishments which included the execution of a number of the rebels. By January 1522, a set of repressive laws were implemented that targeted, “Blacks and slaves.”  

The new laws were inteded to prevent future uprisings by imposing strict physical mobility restrictions, limited access to weapons and harsh punishments in the form of torture and executions. The were also new ordiances that increased the number of Black women in an effort to encourage male slaves to, “engage in procreation and family formation,” according to the monograph.

The historians at the CUNY DSI team hoped that publishing their monograph would provide new, unique primary sources of key historical events, like the Santo Domingo Slave Revot of 1521. 

“We wish that this monograph may contribute to disseminating this new explanation as much as disseminating overall knowledge of the first anti-slavery rebellion of the Americas in modern times,” stated researchers in the monograph.


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Published on Dec 03, 2021