- Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons by Sylviane A. Diouf
sylviane a. diouf
New York: New York University Press, 2014
Slavery's Exiles examines the understudied subject of marronage in the territories that would form the United States of America. While Herbert Aptheker set out the project of documenting maroon activities decades ago in his "Maroons within the Present Limits of the United States" (1939), detailing and analyzing runaway activities gained greater momentum among scholars of Latin America and the Caribbean. While some notable studies of North American marooning have emerged, scholarly neglect has left ample space for Diouf to create a work of wide breadth and notable detail.
One reason that marronage north of the Rio Grande has received less emphasis in both the study of enslaved peoples in the Americas and in the history of the Black Atlantic is that it has most often been viewed as petit runaway activity. That is, it was typified more by temporary absences and individual action than grand marronage, which resulted in the formation of larger communities (sometimes into the hundreds or even thousands) that could resist colonial aggressions and, in some cases, legitimize their communities through treaties with colonial authorities. Diouf's study does not negate the petit aspects of North American marooning. However, she makes four important arguments that change how we might view and think about North American marronage. First, she demonstrates that marronage was extensive and pervasive: from the seventeenth century to the end of the Civil War (and later) enslaved Africans ran away to establish independent residence and maintain their freedom. Additionally, Diouf concludes that African-born slaves made up the majority of runaways. Third, Diouf shows that for maroons to succeed in North America, marronage had to be relegated to individuals and families: small numbers could and did succeed at maintaining their freedom. Finally, and notwithstanding an absence of large, long-standing communities, the landscape of maroon activities in North America was typified by a staggering array of marooning strategies and situations. In taking this approach, Diouf effectively formulates a new way to think of maroons, one that is neither solely individual (though at times it could be) nor necessarily temporary. In making these [End Page 227] claims, Slavery's Exiles adds complexity to a field often confined to a relatively narrow structural framework.
Early on Diouf alerts us that North American maroons do not fit well with the existing categories of petit and grand marronage. And she suggests that the physical landscape provides a better means to categorize maroon activities. In an important shift, she proposes that, for North America, borderlands and hinterlands better define the range of marooning. These geographic categories point to the ways in which maroons survived in relation to the land and people around them. Borderland maroons lived within a reasonable distance of plantations and settlements. They used their connections to family and friends to maintain a precarious place of freedom, and often depended on assistance from plantation slaves for food, tools, and emotional support. Hinterland slaves, further removed from the plantations, tended to have more permanent settlements and mixed economies that might include their own fields and livestock. They used their distance from plantations as a buffer against planter retributions and the predations of bounty hunters. With these categories in mind, Diouf explores a number of key themes relevant to maroon life and activities that largely hinge on the terms of maroon survival and the varieties of their experiences.
Slavery's Exiles is arranged in eleven chapters in addition to an introduction and conclusion. It combines chapters examining the general contours of marooning in North America with more specific thematic chapters on borderland and hinterland marronage. The first chapter broadly examines marooning in the southern United States and proposes a periodization for maroon activities that distinguishes between pre–eighteenth century, eighteenth century, and nineteenth century. These periods are marked by the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade with its itinerant rise of plantation societies and the transformation from colony to republic that brought with it greater control of the land...