Secret history: the warrior women who fought their enslavers

Historian Rebecca Hall works with a graphic artist in her new book to reclaim the stories of the female rebels on ships and plantations

The work of graphic artist Hugo Martínez in Rebecca Hall’s book, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. Photograph: Simon & Schuster

Guardian: Growing up in New York in the 1970s Rebecca Hall craved heroes she could relate to – powerful women who could take care of themselves and protect others. But pickings were slim. The famed feminists of the time, Charlie’s Angels and The Bionic Woman, didn’t cut it for her.

But every night when she went to sleep, her father would recount stories of her grandmother’s life. Harriet Thorpe was born into slavery 100 years earlier, in 1860, and was the “property”, she was told, of one Squire Sweeney in Howard County, Missouri.

Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall. Photograph: Cat Palmer

“He told me about her struggles and how she still thrived in the face of them – she became a role model for me,” says Hall. “I wished I could go back in time and meet her.”

She couldn’t, but Hall was so inspired by Thorpe’s bravery that years later she found herself delving back in time, determined to uncover the untold stories of enslaved African women, just like Harriet, who fought their oppressors on slave ships, in plantations and across the Americas. The women warriors, she calls them, who had been written out of history. What began as a personal research project has culminated in a book, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts, which is published next month unusually in the form of a graphic memoir.

Harriet Thorpe - top left - with her sisters
Rebecca Hall’s grandmother, Harriet Thorpe, back row, left, with her sisters. She was born into slavery in 1860.

“It’s not like dumbing down. You look at the picture, the art, and you can see what’s happening,” Hall says.  read more…

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