Happy Juneteenth from all of us at Arms and Armor. Today we take a look at a civil war sword recently acquired by the Oakeshott Institute, and explore the history of swords in connection to the struggle against slavery. Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the final emancipation of African Americans in Texas, where slavery had persisted until the end of the civil war. We also discuss the role of a sword allegedly given to George Washington by Frederick the Great of Prussia that was later used by John Brown in his abolitionist uprising at Harper's Ferry.
Swords have often been symbols of justice and righteous resistance to oppression, and this is certainly the case in the history of Black struggles for freedom during the period of slavery.
Above is a martial portrait of Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution in which enslaved Africans rose up and threw off the French regime. In his hand is a cuttoe or cutlass, similar in design to that below, which belonged to an American officer in the Revolutionary War. If you want to learn more about the Haitian Revolution read The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James.
Of course, swords were not the only bladed weapons used in the struggle against slavery. Below is a picture of one of 1000 pikes John Brown commissioned in preparation for his raid on Harper's Ferry and with which he hoped to equip an army of former enslaved Africans in the hope of spurring an uprising across the South.
Finally, here is a link to a previous blog on early American arms including pics of several custom pieces we've made from before the Revolutionary War. Check out the video below!
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985