Review: ‘Slavery’s Exiles; The story of the American Maroons’ by Sylviane A Diouf

New York University Press
11th February 2014

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http://www.sylvianediouf.com

Written by a scholar of the African diaspora, Slavery’s Exiles discusses the existence or otherwise of marronage among North American slaves. The maroons of Jamaica and Suriname have been extensively studied while evidence for maroons in the US (and the North American colonies before the War of Independence) is limited. This book looks at the evidence provided not only by former slaves interviewed in the early twentieth century, but at newspaper reports, court reports and legislation from the seventeenth century onwards.

I have to admit I’d never heard of maroons before reading this book; you learn something new every day. The brief accounts of the lives of various brave souls who made the decision to escape slavery and live on their own terms was fascinating. Maroons are often conflated with run-aways who escaped to northern states in the US to live free or truants who went to visit relatives enslaved on other plantations. The author seeks to show that the maroons of north America were a distinct if fluctuating group from these. This book emphasises the fluidity of maroons lives as they moved between plantation, forest and swamp, as well as the various reasons for becoming maroons, and sometimes returning to servitude if they survived the weather, lack of food, slave hunters and dogs.

The support and logistical assistance provided by slaves, freed men and women, poor white people, small traders etc to maroons was essential for the survival, if not success, of almost all maroons. Many maroons were only ‘free’ for a few months, although some managed to survive for years, either deep in the swamps or in the hills, or on the periphery of society.

Well researched, with a wealth of information, and an extensive bibliography, this book is suitable for the interested amateur and the serious student. An interesting introduction to the subject. There were only one or two small niggles – there are no maps, which I feel would be helpful for those unfamiliar with the areas mentioned, and also I think a glossary of relevant terms would help as well.

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