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Slavery's Exiles

Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons

Sylviane A. Diouf
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 403
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  • Book Info
    Slavery's Exiles
    Book Description:

    Over more than two centuries men, women, and children escaped from slavery to make the Southern wilderness their home. They hid in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina; they stayed in the neighborhood or paddled their way to secluded places; they buried themselves underground or built comfortable settlements. Known as maroons, they lived on their own or set up communities in swamps or other areas where they were not likely to be discovered.Although well-known, feared, celebrated or demonized at the time, the maroons whose stories are the subject of this book have been forgotten, overlooked by academic research that has focused on the Caribbean and Latin America. Who the American maroons were, what led them to choose this way of life over alternatives, what forms of marronage they created, what their individual and collective lives were like, how they organized themselves to survive, and how their particular story fits into the larger narrative of slave resistance are questions that this book seeks to answer. To survive, the American maroons reinvented themselves, defied slave society, enforced their own definition of freedom and dared create their own alternative to what the country had delineated as being black men and women's proper place. Audacious, self-confident, autonomous, sometimes self-sufficient, always self-governing; their very existence was a repudiation of the basic tenets of slavery.Sylviane A. Dioufis an award-winning historian specializing in the history of the African Diaspora, African Muslims, the slave trade and slavery. She is the author ofServants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas(NYU Press, 2013) andDreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America,and the editor ofFighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2449-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    “Lord, Lord! Yes indeed, plenty of slaves uster run away. Why dem woods was full o’ ’em chile,” recalled Arthur Greene of Virginia.¹ He knew that some stayed there for a few days only but he also knew that his friend Pattin and his family had lived in the woods for fifteen years until “Lee’s surrender.” Like them, over more than two centuries men, women, and children made the Southern wilderness their home. They hid in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina; they stayed in the neighborhood or paddled their way to secluded places; they...

    (pp. 17-38)

    Maroons made their entry early in the annals of Southern history. They appeared in all colonies where slavery was introduced and the struggle against them has been particularly well chronicled. Evidence of their activities can be found in treaties with Indian nations, official correspondence, petitions, and in innumerable statutes and Acts. Laws, of course, are not to be taken at face value; they are not an indication of what really transpires in any given society. Some anticipate potential situations while others are a response to actual events. The thousands of slave statutes enacted, revised, annulled, and extended from the early...

    (pp. 39-71)

    “Some niggers jus’ come from Africa and old Marse has to watch ‘em close, ‘cause they is de ones what mostly runs away to de woods.”¹ Although he was born in 1836, almost thirty years after the United States had abolished its international slave trade, Cinte Lewis knew what he was talking about. He had grown up in Brazoria, Texas, one of the epicenters of the illegal slave trade during which thousands of Africans were smuggled into the Deep South. Lewis’s observation about the propensity of newly arrived Africans to head for the woods finds an echo in Lula Coleman’s...

    (pp. 72-96)

    John Sally “runned away an’ didn’ never come back. Didn’ go no place either. Stayed right ’roun’ de plantation.”¹ Like Sally, most maroons did not look for freedom in remote locations; instead they settled in the borderlands of farms and plantations. If not caught by men and dogs, and depending on their health, survival skills, and their families’ and friends’ level of involvement, they could live there for years. These men and women have become the most invisible maroons although their (white and black) contemporaries were well aware of their existence. As is true for most maroons their lives have...

    (pp. 97-129)

    As they settled down at the margins of the slave world, borderland maroons embarked on a life that had little in common with the old one. Working under duress from “sun up to sun down” was over. Although they were now free to manage their own time and organize their own lives as they wished, their closeness to inhabited areas brought tremendous risks and imposed many restrictions on that independent existence. Coming and going in broad daylight, and making the noises that the most ordinary tasks generate, were prohibited. If self-determination was their guiding principle, self-sufficiency, in contrast, was never...

    (pp. 130-156)

    The farther reaches of the maroon landscape harbored secluded communities, large and small. The experience of their members was similar in some respects to that of the people who settled at the margins of plantations, but their design was different. Whereas borderland maroons relied heavily on the black and white plantation world for survival, hinterland maroons planned on generating some of their own resources in order to be more independent. By choosing an environment that hid and protected them much more efficiently than the borderlands, they enjoyed a degree of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and freedom of movement that only isolation could...

  10. 6 THE MAROONS OF BAS DU FLEUVE, LOUISIANA: From the Borderlands to the Hinterland
    (pp. 157-186)

    The most famous maroon community of Louisiana was formed, lived, and was destroyed in the early 1780s in St. Bernard Parish in the region called Bas du Fleuve, or Lower River, southeast of New Orleans. Its saga is well documented because the authorities charged to eliminate it left a voluminous correspondence and other documentation.¹ What make this story especially valuable, however, are the interrogation records of a number of maroons. Their first-hand accounts offer unique insights into the dynamics of their community. When pieced together, their testimonies draw an intimate portrait of a fluid group of men, women, Creoles, Africans,...

  11. The photographs
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 187-208)

    One of the most intriguing and long-lasting maroon communities established itself in the 1780s in the southern part of Georgia and South Carolina on both sides of the lower Savannah River. A number of scholars have briefly mentioned its existence but its story has not been told. Yet it is one of the best documented in the country, thanks to official correspondence, runaway and jail notices, newspaper articles, and the testimonies of three maroons.¹ Born during the Revolutionary War and expanding in its aftermath, this community was unique in its size, longevity, and the personal experiences and tribulations of some...

    (pp. 209-229)

    “One could imagine that there may be many negroes living still in the swamp, who have not yet heard that the war is over and that they are free.”¹ Such was the reputation for isolation of the Great Dismal Swamp maroons that two years after Emancipation, one could hypothesize that some of them still did not know they were legally free. For the longest time, the swamp and its elusive inhabitants loomed large in the popular imagination. Mysterious, wild, savage, primitive, dreary, gloomy, dismal, oppressive: negative terminology almost always followed any mention of the people and the place, a 2,000...

    (pp. 230-255)

    From the slave society’s perspective maroons were outlaws in more senses than one. Since they were someone else’s property, by absconding they committed theft. Additionally, they were considered to be rebelling against their enslavers, which was a crime, and by raiding plantations and farms they engaged in yet another level of “banditry.” In an effort to demean the men and women who had freed themselves and criminalize their aspirations the maroons’ adversaries conspicuously and liberally used the labels “bandits” and “banditti” to describe them all. The generalization was uncalled for but there were indeed some criminals among the maroons.


    (pp. 256-285)

    The Alleghenies “are the basis of my plan. God has given the strength of the hills to freedom, they were placed here for the emancipation of the negro race; they are full of natural forts, where one man for defense will be equal to a hundred for attack; they are full also of good hiding places, where large numbers of brave men could be concealed, and baffle and elude pursuit for a long time.” This was John Brown’s vision of guerillas as liberators of the enslaved, as he confided in a skeptical Frederick Douglass in 1847.¹ He believed he could...

    (pp. 286-304)

    Maroons may have envisioned a long life of freedom in the wilderness, but most did not achieve that dream. For many, what pushed them out of the woods prematurely were militia attacks, slave hunters’ assaults, sickness, and lack of prudence. The maroons who made it out alive emerged from the borderlands and the hinterlands profoundly changed both mentally and physically. The psychological repercussions of their reentry into the world of slavery were severe. Their anguish can only be guessed at, as they knew what to expect when they stepped back unto white-controlled territory and under the planters’ ruthless power.


    (pp. 305-312)

    When American marronage is mapped from the borderlands to the hinterland it becomes evident that it was more widespread and more multifaceted than previously thought. Maroons did not constitute a monolithic population: they made the decision to settle in the wilds for varied reasons, they established a range of social and economic strategies, maintained different degrees of relations with the plantation world, traded with and worked for enslaved as well as white men or cut off all their links with the outside world, and farmed in one place or moved about.

    Their very existence is a particularly strong indictment of...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 313-356)
    (pp. 357-374)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 375-392)
    (pp. 393-393)