Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba

La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844

By Aisha K. Finch

316 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 5 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2234-7
    Published: June 2015
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2235-4
    Published: May 2015

Envisioning Cuba

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Awards & distinctions

2016 Harriet Tubman Prize, Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery

Finalist, 2016 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

Envisioning La Escalera--an underground rebel movement largely composed of Africans living on farms and plantations in rural western Cuba--in the larger context of the long emancipation struggle in Cuba, Aisha Finch demonstrates how organized slave resistance became critical to the unraveling not only of slavery but also of colonial systems of power during the nineteenth century.

While the discovery of La Escalera unleashed a reign of terror by the Spanish colonial powers in which hundreds of enslaved people were tortured, tried, and executed, Finch revises historiographical conceptions of the movement as a fiction conveniently invented by the Spanish government in order to target anticolonial activities. Connecting the political agitation stirred up by free people of color in the urban centers to the slave rebellions that rocked the countryside, Finch shows how the rural plantation was connected to a much larger conspiratorial world outside the agrarian sector. While acknowledging the role of foreign abolitionists and white creoles in the broader history of emancipation, Finch teases apart the organization, leadership, and effectiveness of the black insurgents in midcentury dissident mobilizations that emerged across western Cuba, presenting compelling evidence that black women played a particularly critical role.

About the Author

Aisha K. Finch is associate professor of gender studies and African American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
For more information about Aisha K. Finch, visit the Author Page.


“Innovative in its discussion of historiography and rebel representation, and in its disclosure of the roles of women and of the rural-urban networks coordinating with the insurgency.”--Choice

“A detailed and revealing study of rural western Cuba’s social and political landscapes. . . . An important study for scholars and students interested in gaining fresh insights into the making of slave insurgency in Cuba, the Caribbean, and the Americas.”--American Historical Review

“Challenges some of the hitherto dominant interpretations and offers some new and provocative possibilities based on her own research. . . . Finch has written an important study, pointing the way to more inclusive examinations of slave rebellions in Cuba and elsewhere.”--The Historian

"An innovative and pioneering study of Cuban slave rebellions in the 1840s written with passion and insight. Aisha Finch makes important contributions to nineteenth-century Cuban historiography yet at the same time allows the historical actors themselves to take center stage and tell their story in a dramatic fashion. Finch's groundbreaking analysis of the neglected and crucial role of women in the rebellion has wide-reaching implications for reframing the study of slave revolts throughout the Atlantic World."--Matt D. Childs, University of South Carolina

"Intellectually ambitious and impressively executed, this study offers compelling reading that simultaneously navigates the complex terrain of historiography and historical reconceptualization. By gendering slavery, Finch offers a major corrective to our understanding of insurgencies: scholars of La Escalera can never again imagine nor narrate that story without acknowledging the role of women and centrality of gender."--Herman Bennett, The Graduate Center, CUNY