Image: The Statue of the Unknown Maroon is situated before the presidential palace on the boulevard Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Also known as “Neg Mawon” in Haitian Kreyòl and “La Negre Marron” in French, this statue was commissioned by the Duvalier government in 1968-1969 to commemorate the slaves who founded the nation. It was created by the Haitian sculptor and architect Albert Mangones.

Summary Paragraph: (cont’d in full post)

Secondary scholarship about maroon communities and the phenomenon of marronage in the New World is vast, interdisciplinary, and extends back at least to the 1920s. Marronage is a widespread phenomenon that cannot be rooted in a single location or bracketed within a single period of time; marronage took place all over the New World during the early-modern era, and many ancestors of the maroons still exist today. As a result of this extraordinary diversity, much of the literature regarding maroon communities is particularistic, and much of it is written in languages other than English, namely Spanish, Dutch, and French. Overall, the challenge in making a significant contribution to the literature of maroon societies rests in synthesizing many historiographical traditions while remaining sensitive about well recognized distinctions between different groups of maroons. Similarly, the task of linking marronage to the phenomenon of piracy is challenged by the degree to which scholars of African and African-American history desire to protect marronage as a separate phenomenon of resistance to slavery.

Etymology and Meaning of Marronage

According to J. H. Parry and P.M. Sherlock, the English and French terms maroon and marron derive from the Spanish term cimarrón, which “originally referred to domestic cattle that had taken to the hills in Hispaniola.”[1] Ostensibly, this word itself was derived from an Arawakan root of the Taino, indigenous people. Literally, the word has been translated to mean bighorn, runaway, fugitive, feral animal, summit, or ‘living on the mountaintop.’ Scholars generally agree that the word cimarrón had come to refer exclusively to African runaways in the New World by the 1530s. Other contemporary words for maroon communities include “palenques, rancherias, ladeiras, mambises, quilombos, mocambos, magotes, cumbes, maniels and so on.”[2] According to Richard Price, these “societies ranged from tiny bands that survived less than a year to powerful states encompassing thousands of members and surviving for generations and even centuries.”[3]

Where Was Marronage?  

Carlos Guillot states that the first Afro-American maroon was an anonymous slave who “escapade to the Indians” after arriving in the New World in 1502, onboard the fleet of Governor Ovando of Hispaniola.[4] The first maroons in the present-day borders of the United States likely dated to the first European settlement on the North American continent, which was also the first European use of black slaves in North America and the first documented instance of an African slave rebellion on the continent of North American. This settlement was called San Miguel de Gualdape; it was founded by the Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón  in 1526; it lasted about three months; and it was likely located on the Pedee River in present-day South Carolina. In other words, African Maroons were present during the first decades of European colonization, and they played an integral role in New World History since this date. Although their presence has been identified in many parts of the New World, the largest maroon colonies are generally considered to be Palmares in Brazil (11,000 inhabitants),[5] the Windward and Leewards in Jamaica, the Saramakas and Ndjukas in Suriname, and Le Maniel on the border between present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In the United States, the most famous case of marronage has been the Seminole Indians of Florida or the people of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina.[6] In fact, the name Seminole also derives from the Spanish word cimarrón; it was applied to bands of Creek and Mikosuki Indians who migrated southward into Florida during the eighteenth century. Aside from these famous cases of marronage, there were also maroon settlements in present-day Novia, Scotia (relocated from Jamaica), Texas, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Puerto Rica, and other former colonial territories. If there is one thing to observe about the locations of maroon societies, it is that they were remarkably widespread throughout the early-modern world.

When Was Marronage?  

While scholars like Guillot have dated the beginning of marronage in the New World to 1502, it is much harder to date its endpoint. “Few maroon communities outlived their turbulent wartime years;”[7] but many of those that did signed treaties with their respective colonial powers and received acceptance as autonomous societies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries;[8] as such, the modern-day ancestors of these groups are often still called maroon peoples today; some of them even conduct research on maroon heritage. For an opposing view, Patrick J. Carroll has argued that, once maroons signed treaties with the authoritarian states around their territories, they should be considered “former maroons.”[9]

The question of persistence might be illustrated by the Garifuna people of present-day Central America. This particular group has origins in the Black Caribs, a maroon population that was driven out of  the islands of St. Vincent and Dominica during the Second Carib War, 1795-1796.[10] Like other Caribbean and Latin American cultures, the Garifuna continue to celebrate their maroon heritage. Other maroon ancestors, such as those in present-day Suriname and Jamaica, also trace their origins to the early modern world. For this reason, it is quite problematic to put an official end date on the phenomenon of marronage, even though scholars can date the end of slavery in the respective colonial territories. In other words, maroons were remarkably persistent; many of their ancestors still exist today, and the idea of marronage survives today as a cultural identity that is largely distinct from the historic meaning.

Early Histories of Maroon History (late 1700s – 1920)

Of course, primary sources on maroon societies are going to vary widely depending upon the region of interest. Within the United States, many of the textual sources that are cited are also typical of slave historiography. For this reason, the secondary works of historians like Kenneth Stampe, Stanley Elkins, Philip Curtin, John Blassingame, Eugene Genovese, and Fogel and Engermann regularly appear on maroon bibliographies. These histories often cite newspaper ads, runaway slave advertisements, plantation records, court records, theft reports, slave narratives (such as that of Solomon Northrup, who mentioned maroons in the swamps of Louisiana) and even the WPA slave narratives from 1936. To these, scholars can add early secondary sources, such as The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (1857) by William Blake. Perhaps the most prolific American scholar to chronicle primary sources that mention the presence of maroons in the United States was Herbert Aptheker. In his 1943 doctoral dissertation, American Negro Slave Revolts, Aptheker cited many first-hand sources—from private correspondence to newspaper articles—that discussed the existence of maroon communities in the borders of various American states, particularly in the decades spanning the 1840s and the 1860s.

In the Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies, most of the primary sources on maroon societies include colonial and government mandates found in the archives. The earliest histories to address the maroon societies were colonial histories, as well as more-specific accounts that depicted colonial wars against the maroons. Almost all of these were written at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Reading the early accounts allows us to observe maroon societies from the romantic, colonial gaze. Writing in the 1790s, English speaking authors like Edwards, Dallas, and Stedman all seemed to understand that maroon societies were a visible and embarrassing consequence of the institution of slavery in the New World. These authors understood the existence of maroon communities as the bane of plantation society, and they also understood the extreme methods of terror with which authorities were willing to engage in order to subdue them. For example, a significant portion of The History of Maroons, by the Jamaican planter Robert Dallas, describes the transport of vicious hunting dogs from Cuba to Jamaica in hopes of catching the maroons. On another note, these colonial authors were writing during the broader context of Atlantic abolition campaigns; and we can see in their works a tendency to romanticize the connection that maroons had with nature. While the swamps, jungles, and mountains were formidable enemies to the colonial armies, the maroons are depicted as existing effortlessly within them. Richard Price challenges these notions in his introduction to Maroon Societies. Finally, in the English colonial histories, authors occasionally used the maroons as an opportunity to reflect upon the nature of mainstream society and law, as well as popular ideas of right, wrong, and differing perspectives. In this sense, consider the famous quote by Robert Dallas:

The Maroons…were, like most uncivilized people, and not unlike some civilized nations, hurried by unruly passions to acts of barbarity, [but] depredation, devastation, and massacre, disgrace the wars not only of savages, but of Christians, or nations so called. What are the horrors of the Maroon war in comparison with those we can trace throughout the French Revolution?[11]

In this quote, Dallas introduces the concept of relativity and almost gives his readers an updated version of the pirate’s famous line to the ancient ruler Alexander the Great. According to St. Augustine in City of God, When Alexander said to the pirate, “How dare you molest the whole world,” the pirate replied, “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” Dallas questioned the line between “Christians” and maroon “savages,” while also deprecating the French in his reference to the Revolution.

For early sources on Suriname, consider translations of Essai historique sur la colonie de Suriname by David de Isaac Cohen Nassy, written in 1788. Also consider Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname by John Gabriel Stedman, in 1796. The twentieth-century scholar Richard Price became the foremost authority on the Suriname maroons, and his texts are guaranteed to excerpt a lot of important primary sources. Consider his monograph To Slay the Hydra: Dutch Colonial Perspectives on the Saramaka Wars, from 1983.

For early sources on Jamaica, consider Edward Long’s History of Jamaica in three volumes, from 1774. Also read the previously mentioned Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons, from 1803. Also, Bryan Edwards, “Observations on the disposition, character, manners, and habits of life, of the Maroon Negroes of the island of Jamaica,” from 1796. Finally, there is the work of J. Stewart: A View of the Past and Present State of the Island of Jamaica, from 1823. For the Black Carib maroons of the lesser antilles, see Sir William Young, An Account of the Black Charaids in the Island of St. Vincent’s,” from 1795. For Brazil, see The History of Brazil by Robert Southey, from 1817-1822. For Barbados, see A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes by the iconic planter Richard Lignon, 1657, as well as Notes on the West Indies, by George Pinckard in 1806. For Haiti, see the work of Marcus Rainsford: An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti, circa 1805.

The Modern Origins of Marronage Historiography (1920s and 1930s)

Maroon communities began to attract attention from anthropologists in the 1920s; the historic viewpoint of these scholars is sometimes referred to as “essentialist,” because the authors were primarily concerned with obtaining an understanding of what was still often called “the Negro problem” in the New World. As such, these authors were interested in topics like slave resistance, African legacies, folklore, creolization, and the nature of knowledge among illiterate peoples. But they were also interested in studying the maroons to make broader claims about what it meant to be African or “Negro.” The most notable among these early scholars were Melville Herskovitz and his wife Francis Herskovits; together, these two performed fieldwork among the Saramacca maroon culture of Suriname in 1928 and 1929. Afterward, they published their findings as Rebel Destiny: Among the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana.[12]

For Jamaica, see the work of the anthropologist and Jesuit priest Joseph Williams. Williams published regularly on Jamaican cultures after first visiting the island in the year 1907; his 1938 text, The Maroons of Jamaica, might be considered the first twentieth-century source on the cultures of the Jamaican maroons, though it is largely overlooked by modern-day scholars of Jamaican marronage.

For maroon societies within the boundaries of the United States, see the work of Herbert Aptheker, the American Marxist historian and scholar of the African-American experience. Aptheker published the article “Maroons within the Present Limits of the United States” in the Journal of Negro History in 1939; he then followed up this study with “Additional Data on American Maroons” in the same journal eight years later. According to the historian Sylviane Diouf, “Aptheker established the existence of [United States] maroons,” but did not sufficiently describe or analyze their experience. Regardless, his work set the foundation for the study of maroons within the United States, framing many of the questions and topics that would still be explored today. Among these topics is the collaboration between Native American socieities and African maroons, such as the Comanche Natives in Texas and Colorado territory combining with black runaways and the Seminole Indians of Florida taking in slaves that became known as the Black Seminoles. Aptheker also introduced the topic of collaboration between black maroons and enslaved field hands in the organization of slave revolts. [13]

Regardless, the phenomenon of marronage continued to remain overlooked by scholars in the field of history for many years. In 1897, the French scholar Lucien Peytraud had called maroon societies “the chronic plague” of plantation society.”[14] Despite this observation, decades later, the colonial historian Alan Burns confined maroons to the “trash bins of history.”[15] He stated that British Caribbean history “is mainly the story of the white conquerors and settlers, as the much larger Negro population, during the centuries of slavery, had little to do, save indirectly with the shaping of events.”[16] Michael Mullin and Eugene Genovese are just two examples of classic American historians who continued to downplay the existence of maroon societies within the United States, even after Aptheker had published his embryonic works.

Marronage Research Continued (1940s and 1950s)

During these two decades (with a few exceptions), maroon research seemed to languish among American and British scholars; however, marronage was still a topic of great interest among scholars of Latin America. In 1946, Edison Carneiro published Guerras de los Palmares; and, in 1951, Octaviano Corro published los cimarrones en Veracruz. Finally, in 1957, Norman Francis Martin published his Los vagabundos en la Neuva Espana. During this time, the Florida historians Wilson Krogman and Kenneth Porter were also doing groundbreaking, early work on the Seminole maroons and their flight to Andros island in the Bahamas; Krogman published “The Racial Composition of the Seminole Indians.” Porter published “Florida Slaves and Free Negroes and Indians within the Present Limits of the United States” as well as “Negroes and the Seminole War, 1835-1842.” Eric Hobsbawm, who would later contribute directly to the discussion of maroons, published his theoretical work Primitive Rebels, which would supply an important concept to the study of marronage in the future. Maroons could now be interpreted according to his concept of “social banditry,” as a rogue group of people who were idolized by slaves because they lived outside the reach of mainstream colonial authority.

The Conceptual Turn in Marronage (1960s)

As far as the study of maroon communities is concerned, the 1960s was largely a decade of reconceptualization. During these years, historians began to draw upon the wealth of new texts that were produced about slavery, colonialism, and the African experience in both the continent and the New World. Particularly, works of African History, such as The African Past (1966), Kingdoms of the Savannah (1966), Dohomey and Its Neighbors 1708-1818 (1967), West African Under Colonial Rule (1967), Benin and the Europeans 1485-1897 (1969), West Africa (1969), and Revolution and Power Politics in Yorubaland 1840-1893 (1971) provided useful precolonial and colonial contexts through which to revisit the study of maroon societies; most importantly, these texts reminded scholars that marronage was not simply a New World phenomenon, but that it had important precursors in the African world.

Meanwhile, the 1960s and early 1970s were also becoming a golden age for Caribbean scholars. Orlando Patterson, Eric Williams, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, and Walter Rodney were all producing conceptual works about the global African experience, adding important psychological and cultural dimensions to the marronage experience. These works also coincided with a renewed interest in the African-American experience, particularly the nature and legacy of both armed and “day-to-day” resistance, brought on by the American Civil Rights Movement.[17]

Perhaps the most influential work on maroon communities to emerge from this decade was an article written by Gabriel Debian entitled “Le marronage aux Antilles francaises au XVIIIe siècle.” In this work, as well as a preceding article on the maroons of Saint-Domonique, Debian popularized the binary concepts of “petit” and “grand” marronage. He defined grand marronage as flight from the plantation with the intent of creating a permanent society and never returning; conversely, he defined petit marronage as short absences or truancies of a few days or weeks. Since these terms were first established, scholars have amended them to explore such concepts as guerrilla activity and physical resistance, variant numbers of runaways, variant distances of flight, and tensions between the individual maroon and the larger social community. In fact, this binary is still employed as an historiographical foil to this day, most recently by the American historian Sylviane Diouf in Slavery’s Exiles.

Before Debian’s groundbreaking work, many scholars had romanticized the phenomenon of marronage by emphasizing its singular definition as ultimate flight from the institution of slavery and the plantation complex. Now, the idea of petit marronage helped scholars view running away not only as a final solution for ultimate freedom, as it was with the Underground Railroad, for example, but as a method of negotiation with the paternalistic dimensions of slavery. In other words, a slave could exercise their influence upon a planter, and express their opinion of a planter or overseer’s behavior, by temporarily depriving that person of their labor. Debian’s work suggested that a slave’s absence from a plantation was not necessarily intended to be permanent, though in many cases it was. Many slaves became petit (or temporary) maroons be leaving the plantation in order to enter the city for the weekend, hire or rent out their own labor for money, or visit relatives and friends on nearby plantations.

The Codification of the Particularistic Literature (1970s)

The conceptual, scholastic revolution of the 1960s demanded a new comprehensive text on the phenomenon of marronage in the New World. The task of producing this text was taken up by the anthropologist Richard Price, who, like Herskovits before him, had spent several years with the ancestors of the Saramaka bush people of Suriname; Price would go on to become the most prolific scholar of marronage for the next several decades.

The text that Price collected was called Maroon Societies: rebel slave communities in the Americas; the work was an edited volume, organized by chapters according to both region and colonial influence. The first two parts of the book were labeled, “The Spanish Americas” and “The French Caribbean.” The third part was a reprint of the work of Herbert Aptheker in order to address maroons within the boundaries of the United States, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth parts included both secondary and primary sources that addressed what are generally considered the most popular cases of marronage in the history of the early modern world: the three cases of Brazil, Jamaica, and Suriname.[18]

Maroon Societies became, without a doubt, the most important and comprehensive text on the phenomenon of marronage in the New World. In the introduction, Price acknowledged that marronage had been neglected by “North American scholars…because so much of the relevant data are in languages other than English.”[19] Maroon Societies intended to correct this problem by synthesizing research on maroon communities and publishing it in once place. It also intended to prove “that maroon societies form a class or type that can yield unique insights about the Afro-American experience.” In this sense, the scholarship of the 1960s was still clinging to residual elements of the decades-old, scholastic emphasis on “the Negro Problem.” In other words, the belief still existed that studying black maroons equated, as least in part, to studying what it meant to be a black person in the world.[20]

Maroon Societies was concerned with identifying marronage as a common phenomenon that was explicitly separate from the rest of colonial society and resistance to colonial society. Meanwhile, Price was also trying to strike a balance against the work of Roger Bastide, who presaged Diasporic History by defining maroon communities as “mosaic cultures” with African cores that were both predominant and nostalgic.[21] In contrast, Price argued for an interpretation that is more diverse and sui generis, yet based in transferable experiences from plantation society.[22] In other words, maroon societies were not “African states” as R. Kent suggested in 1965; instead, they were something else entirely. They borrowed heavily from previous African traditions, but they were also fundamentally creole (or new) cultures.

After editing Maroon Societies, Price went on to publish several books on the maroons of Suriname; his works are still considered some of the most influential in this field. Overall, work on Suriname continued to dominate the scholarship throughout this decade. Some articles, such as “War and Peace with the Maroons, 1730-1739,” addressed the broader concept of marronage. More often, marronage appeared in a larger work about the slave experience; in this sense, it was generally represented as a form of social or political banditry, following the model of Eric Hobsbawm’s earlier work Primitive Rebels. This period also featured the publication of an important interdisciplinary work on the Jamaican maroons, entitled “The Incomplete Polities: An Ethnohistorical Account of the Jamaican Maroons.”

During the decade of the 1970s, various New World societies marked the era of global post-colonialism by memorializing the maroons through art installations. These art projects were a significant departure from more-traditional installations, which had emphasized single, political figures like presidents and explorers. For example, consider the cover image of this post. This is an image of the iconic statue of Le Negre Maroon (literally, “the black maroon”) in the capital square of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 1970. This imagine represents a growing trend of cultures that embraced both their revolutionary heritage of marronage as well as the idea that unknown and anonymous slaves were, in fact, the true heroes of history.

The Decade After Maroon Societies (1980s)

As Price acknowledges, marronage [had] received little attention from American scholars “because so much of the relevant data are in languages other than English but also because publications…have so often been couched in what Curtin has called ‘the parochial tradition of ethnocentric national history.”[23] After the publication of Maroon Societies, much of this changed. A particularistic topic that was generally considered the realm of Latin American scholars had become an important point of inquiry for anyone wishing to deal with the early-modern world. This trend of acceptance can be seen with the work of Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance and Marronage in Africa and the New World (1986). This edited volume drew heavily upon the work of Richard Price and Sidney Mintz, who specialized in the maroon society of Puerto Rico, but it also expanded the discussion of maroon communities beyond the subjects of Maroon Societies.

Out of the House added chapters on places that had been either underplayed or ignored in Maroon Societies. There were sections on the African continent, South Carolina, Columbia, Barbados, Haiti, and even more work on Jamaica. The work on Barbados reflected the origins of the publication, which “grew out of a [panel] session at the Association of Caribbean Historians’ Conference held in Barbados in 1984.”[24] This work used runaway newspaper advertisements, plantation records, private correspondence, and slave inventories to discuss the wider topic of slave runaways, of which comparative marronage was only one significant part.

Another important work on ethnogenesis in eastern Jamaica appeared in the year 1984, by Kenneth Bilby; also, during this decade, the historian Mavis Christine Campbell established herself as the foremost authority on the Jamaican maroons. In 1988, she published The Maroons of Jamaica. This work expanded the discussion of Jamaican maroons 56 years beyond what Orlando Patterson had described in his chapter contribution to Maroon Societies. Unlike her predecessors of Patterson and Kopytoff, Campbell was less concerned with the causes that led to maroon communities; instead, she was concerned with studying “the sociological characteristics, the demographic and ethnic patterns, and certain ecological factors.”[25] Like Patterson, Campbell emphasized the fact that maroons who signed treaties with colonial powers betrayed other plantation slaves by agreeing to capture and return them to their legal slave owners. Both of these scholars interpreted marronage from the lens of Pan-Africanism, which was now replacing the condescendingly named “Negro Problem” or “Negro Question.” In summarizing the end of this historical lens, James Loeweon, in Lies my Teacher Told Me, wrote “the Negro problem” was inappropriate because the problem was not with what to do with recently freed black people. The problem was about what to do with white people who harbored deep racial antipathy and resentment towards black people and, thus, were unwilling to support their equality.

During the 1980s, several Latin American scholars continued to produce great works on marronage. Notably, what appears to be the first comprehensive survey work on the maroons of Panama—who in the early 1570s had helped the famous privateers (or pirates, depending on your perspective) Sir Francis Drake and John Oxenham rob the overland, Spanish mule trains—was written by Luis Diez Castillo in the year 1981. The scholar Chapeaux Deschamps published Los cimarrones urbanos in 1983, and Jesús García wrote his influential Contra el cepo: Barlovento tiempo de cimarrones (1989). Finally, F.  Guerra Cedeño published Escalvos negros, cimarrones y cumbes de Barlovento (1984).

The Archeological and Cultural Explosion of Marronage (1990s)

The study of maroon societies “was given a boost in 1992, in the quincentennial year of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas.” At this time, “the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., sponsored two important events: an assembly of people, including the descendants of several maroon communities, at a Festival of American Folklife, and an exhibition under the theme Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas”[26] During this decade, various political and cultural institutions across the Americas also continued to memorialize the historical plight of maroon communities with films, plays, statues, place names, holidays, national landmarks, personal commemorations, parades and festivals, et cetera. Thompson provides a sample of these memorials in his book Flight to Freedom.[27]

The 1990s also saw the publication of important archaeological work, such as that by Kofi Agorsah in Jamaica, Charles Orser in Brazil, Elizabeth Reitz in Florida, Gabino La Rosa Corzo in Cuba, and the generalized work of Terry Weik. Many of these archaeological works found expression in an edited volume entitled Maroon Heritage: Archaeological Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives, edited by Agorsah. This interdisciplinary volume began as a collection of conference papers, presented at the University of the West Indies in 1991. The papers addressed new ethno-historical, ethno-musical, literary, journalistic, oral, linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological evidence regarding maroon communities. Two modern-day Jamaican maroon chiefs, Colonel Harris from Moore Town and Colonel Wright from Accompong, actually participated in the conference as speakers. Overall, the conference and its publication were designed to mobilize cultural analysis to tell the story of the maroons from the perspective of the oppressed, rather than the oppressor.

Many more particularistic surveys were produced during the 1990s. Among them was the latest work on the Seminole maroons of Florida by Kevin Mulroy, entitled Freedom on the Border. This topic was enhanced by several texts from Jane Landers, then an emerging scholar of black, Floridian history. The ethno-historian Werner Zips published the latest book on maroon resistance in Jamaica, entitled Black Rebels. Latin American scholars continued to publish works on the maroons; most notable among these was Africans, esclavas y cimarronas by Jesús García. This decade saw the latest work on the maroons of Jamaica, a book called The Maroon Story by Bev. Carey. This ambitious text expanded beyond the work of Patterson and Campbell to address the history of maroon people in Jamaica from 1490 to 1880. Robert Neslon Anderson produced the latest work on the quilombo of Palmares, and Suriname continued to exercise its position of privilege as the most studied site of maroon action in the New World.

Finally, the 1990s saw the acceptance of Atlantic History as an historical sub-field, and John Thornton and Paul Gilroy emerged as perhaps the leading scholars of The Black Atlantic experience. Thornton’s text Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World dealt with maroons under the general heading of runaways. His discussion of grand marronage, reveals the sustained prominence of the binary concepts that Debian popularized in 1966.[28]

Where Marronage Scholarship is Today (2000s)

The extensive scholarship of the 1990s decade demanded a new comprehensive text on marronage that could harmonize theoretical work from Maroon Societies with the archaeological and ethno-historical work of Maroon Heritage. The result of this effort remains the dominant text of our day: Flight to Freedom, by Alvin Thompson. In many ways, Thompson was the best candidate to write the latest synthesis of maroon history. Thompson studied at the University of the West Indies and the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Afterward, he taught the history of colonialism, slavery, and Guyana for 40 years, first at the University of Guyana and then at the University of the West Indies Cave-Hill Campus in Barbados. He was also editor of the Journal of Caribbean History for thirteen years.

As a black scholar from the West Indies, Thompson was especially sensitive to both the cultural experience of Caribbean societies and  the historiographical traditions of marronage. As a bilingual scholar, he possessed the necessary skills to synthesize the vast literature from both Spanish and English traditions; it is noteworthy that the original Spanish version of Flight to Freedom actually won the Prize of Caribbean Thought. Thompson not only surveys theoretical approaches to marronage in the introduction of Flight to Freedom, but his parenthetical citations keep historiographical contributions at the forefront of his study. For scholars wishing to grasp the phenomenon of maroon communities in the New World,  this is where to begin.[29]

For those wishing to read a modern history of maroon communities within the borders of the present-day United States, they should turn to Slavery’s Exiles by Sylviane Diouf. Although substantial maroon societies existed within the present-day boundaries of such states as Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, West Virginia, and Virginia, Diouf has acknowledged that only the maroons of Florida, “who lived in large communities and fought in the Seminole Wars,”[30] have received adequate attention from scholars of the United States.

Slavery’s Exiles redefines the binary of Debian to “borderland” and “hinterland” maroon communities; and it places a strong emphasis on “the maroon landscape.” This vast network of divergent geographies, connected by such places as waterways, gardens, granaries, storehouses, secret pathways, meeting places, discrete trails, and plantations, is compared to what Rhys Isaac has called the “alternative terrestrial system.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of hinterland maroon communities is that they depended upon both isolation from, and proximity to, mainstream colonial societies. As Diouf states, these places “had to be hard to reach, but they also had to provide easy access to the plantations and towns where some items continued to be traded or stolen.” In this sense, Diouf provided an interpretation of the continuing relationship between maroons and greater colonial society, instead of representing the flight to freedom as a final and complete break from mainstream society.[i]

The Main Questions Concerning Marronage Today

One of the main questions regarding the study of maroon societies today concerns the relationship between maroon communities and the larger settlements around them, as well as the distinction between runaways and maroons. Kevin Mulroy has argued that “the inability, because of various needs, to disengage…fully from the enemy proved to be “the Achilles heel of maroon societies throughout the Americas.”[31] Meanwhile, scholars like Richard Price and Sylviane Diouf have argued that the very formation and persistence of maroon societies actually depended upon proximity with mainstream societies and governments; thus, to blame that proximity for the downfall of maroon societies is both ahistoric and, essentially, a counter-factual. As mentioned before, the pan-African scholars have often interpreted negotiation with mainstream societies as a form of disservice and betrayal to the maroon ethos.

For reasons stated above, the most radical scholars like Patterson and García have called marronage “the African’s reconquest of their freedom” and complete removal from the dominant “slave culture.” Patterson calls maroons “not slaves,”[32] while Jean Fouchard calls them “de facto free persons.”[33] As an antithesis to this, Fuentes invokes the phrase “phantasm of freedom”[34] to remind us that, while “maroon communities emerged where those who fled from slavery finally stopped running,”[35] complete freedom in mainstream society remained unobtainable until the institution of slavery was formally abolished.

Possible Connections between Marronage and Atlantic Piracy

The connection between maroon societies and pirates was explicitly vocalized in The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. As they state, “Indeed, pirate ships themselves might be considered multiracial maroon communities, in which rebels used the high seas as others used the mountains and the jungles.”[36] Rediker reaffirmed this direct connection between the buccaneers and maroon communities in Villains of All Nations. As evidence, he noted that “the ship of the pirate captain Thomas Cocklyn was called the Maroon, and pirates frequently called themselves marooners;”[37] Also, as previously mentioned, there are a few cases of maroons and pirates finding cause for mutual, if temporary, collaboration. However, because Linebaugh and Rediker were not specialists in the field of marronage, this reference was more of a call for subsequent scholarship than a detailed exploration of connections. Regardless, a comprehensive work that links the two traditions has yet to be produced.[38]

Despite the existence of a comprehensive survey on piracy and marronage, several works have highlighted instances in which maroons collaborated with pirates. Perhaps the two most famous examples are when Sir Francis Drake worked with the maroons of Panama in the 1570s, and when Jean Lafitte worked with the maroons of the American South in the 1820s. Richard Price has called these “alliances of convenience,” and he acknowledges that they took place “for three centuries, beginning in the 1500s.” As he states, during various times, “maroons fought alongside pirates in their naval battles, guided them in their raids on major cities, and participated with them in widespread, illicit international trade.”[39]

The prospect of an historical work that compares pirate and maroon communities more closely is promising. García writes about “the danger of freedom,” which scholars might consider as shared between the two groups. This was the attempt to recapture the beauty of the human form and the human experience, both of which have been robbed by the machines of early-modern slavery and capitalism. As has been argued elsewhere, García states that slavery created a disjunction between the inner self and the outer self (perhaps comparable to Patterson’s idea of “Slavery as Social Death”); in this sense, marronage was an attempt to recapture one’s true identity and potential as a human being. Similarly, Lauren Derby notes how the “Caribbean plantation system spawned a frontier society of [diverse] runaways,” of which maroons were only one component.[40] Future scholars might consider pirates as another part of, for lack of a better term, what Rediker has called the “hydrarchy.”

The oft-alleged democratic makeup of pirate communities makes fruitful theoretical ground for a comparison with maroon societies. According to Katia Mattoso, for “maroons it was not a question of living on the fringes of society, but rather of creating a new kind of society, where political, social and other distinctions were not based on ascriptive race and colour criteria.”[41] Elsewhere, it has been argued that pirates with experiences in merchant, privateering, and naval service wanted to create new kinds of societies as well. As such, both maroons and pirates developed unique social organizations, hierarchies, and rules of authority.

Lastly, the multiethnic quality of pirate groups makes fruitful ground for a comparison with maroon communities. On this topic, consider the following lengthy quote by Thompson: “Maroon communities included Indians, Africans, Europeans and Creoles; young, middle-aged and elderly people; enslaved and free people; field workers, domestics, drivers, artisans, messengers and soldiers; adherents to African traditional religions, Christianity and Islam. The enslaved people fled from all jurisdictions, regardless of the economic or social circumstances. They fled from the highly developed plantation societies of Brazil, Jamaica, Suriname, Haiti, the United States and Mexico, and from less developed plantation or trading economies such as Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, the Bahamas, St. Eustatius and Bermuda.”[42]

A Circum-Atlantic Case of Marronage

I will end this introductory guide to maroon research with an article case-study of how maroon cultures might be more fluidly interwoven into the sub-field of Atlantic History. The example is called “Blackened Beyond Our Native Hue” and it was written by Jeffrey Fortin from the University of New Hampshire. The article chronicles the plight of Jamaican maroons who were exiled to Novia Scotia and then relocated to the West African territory of Sierra Leone. These 550 Trelawney maroons traveled the Atlantic world in a way that many other maroon communities did not.[43] Unlike other maroon colonies in Jamaica who succeeded in achieving their freedom from colonial authorities, these maroons did not stay on the island. Instead, their history cannot be understood outside the paradigm of the greater Atlantic world.

[1] J.H. Parry and P.M. Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies (London: Macmillan, 1965), 14.

[2]Alvin O. Thompson, Flight to Freedom: African runaways and maroons in the Americas (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2006), 7.

[3]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies: rebel slave communities in the Americas (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1973), 1.

[4]Carlos Federico Guillot, Negros rebeldes y negros cimarrones (perfil afro-americano en la historia del Nuevo Mundo durante el siglo XV1) (Montevideo: Farina Editores, 1961), 77.

[5]Stuart Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994): 121. For more on the maroons of Palmares, see Edison Caneiro, Guerras de los Palmares (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1946), Kent, R. K. “Palmares: An African State in Brazil,” The Journal of African History 6, no. 2 (1965): 161-175, Stuart Schwartz, “Rethinking Palmares: Slave Resistance in Colonial Brazil,” in Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1992). João José Reis & Flávio dos Santos Gomes, “Quilombo: Brazilian Maroons during slavery,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 25.4 (2002).’

[6]These maroons were famously depicted in Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1856).

[7]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies, 21.

[8]Maroon treaties developed in Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Hispaniola, Dominica, Suriname, and Jamaica. Keep in mind that the treaties can be misleading; they did not always lead to a definitive or immediate cessation of conflict, and not all maroon societies were recognized with formal treaties.

[9]Patrick J. Carroll, “Madinga: The Evolution of a Mexican Runaway Slave Community, 1735-1827,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 19 (1977):  499.

[10]For more on the Black Carib maroons, see James L. Sweeney, “Caribs, Maroons, Jacobins, Brigands, and Sugar Barons: The Last Stand of the Black Caribs on St. Vincent”African Diaspora Archaeology Network, (2007),, accessed April 16, 2014.

[11]Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons (London: A. Strahan: 1803), 14-15.

[12]Melville Herskovits and Francis Herskovits, Rebel Destiny: Among the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana. (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1934). The entirety of this text is available in digital form at the non-profit Internet Archive:

[13]Sylviane A. Diouf, Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 3.

[14]Lucien Peytraud, L’esclavage aux Antilles francaises avant 1789 (Paris: Hachette, 1879), 373.

[15]Alvin O. Thompson, Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Americas (Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2006), 12. The entire text of this book is available at WordPress as a pdf file; use the URL

[16]Alan Burns, History of the British West Indies (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954), 5.

[17]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies, 2.

[18]Price concludes Maroon Societies with a brief, bibliographic note on source material, 399-403.

[19]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies, 2.

[20]Ibid, 4.

[21]Roger Bastide, African Civilizations in the New World (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 46-71.

[22]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies, 26.

[23]Ibid, 2.

[24]Gad Heuman, (ed.), Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance and Marronage in Africa and the New World (London: Frank Cass and Company Limited: 1986), acknowledgements.

[25]Mavis Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica 1655-1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990), 260.

[26]Alvin O. Thompson, Flight to Freedom, 2.

[27]Ibid, 2-7. Alvin Thompson does not discuss films that were created about maroon societies; several of the most prominent are Daughters of the Dust. Directed by Julia Dash. 1991. New York, New York: Warner Music Group, 1991. DVD; Ganga Zumba. Directed by Carlos Diegues. 1963. Gávea, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil: Copacabana Filmes, 1963. DVD; and Quilombo. Directed by Carlos Diegues. 1984. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Embrafilme, 1984. DVD.

[28]John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 281-300.

[29]As mentioned in an earlier note, the entire text of this book is available at WordPress as a pdf file; use the URL

[30]Sylviane A. Diouf, Slavery’s Exiles, 4.

[31]Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border: The Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuila, and Texas (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993) 2.

[32]Orlando Patterson, Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, Vol. 1 (New York: Basic Books 1991), 10.

Jesús García, Contra el cepo: Barlovento tiemo de cimarrones (San José  de Barlovento: Editorial Lucac y Trina, 1989), 62.

[33]Jean Fouchard, Les marrons de la liberté (Paris: Editions de l’École, 1973), 339.

[34]J. Fuentes, El Cimmaron,1845 (San Juan de Puerto Rico: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña , 1979), 11.

[35]Thomas Flory, “Fugitive Slaves and Free Society: The Case of Brazil,” Journal of Negro History 64 (1979): 117.

[36]Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker Rediker, The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 167.

[37]Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 56.

For more on the connection between maroon societies and pirates, see Kris E. Lane, Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 41-51.

[38]Ibid, 63.

The scholar Paul Lokken has written about how seventeenth-century pirate attacks, mostly from English freebooters, on the Central American Isthmus inspired unlikely alliances between maroon communities and Spanish, colonial militias; but, he has not argued that pirates and maroons allied themselves together against colonial authorities. See, Paul Lokken “Useful Enemies: Seventeenth-Century Piracy and the Rise of Pardo Militias in Spanish Central America,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5, no. 2 (2004).

[39]Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies, 14.

[40]Lauren Derby, “National Identity and the Idea of Value in the Dominican Republic,” in Blacks, Coloureds and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Latin America, ed. Nancy Priscilla Naro, 5-37. (London: Institute of Latin American Studies 2003), 11.

[41]Kátia de Queirós Mattoso,  To Be a Slave in Brazil, 1550-1888 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1979), 139.

[42]Alvin O. Thompson, Flight to Freedom, 13.

[43]Jeffrey A. Fortin, “‘Blackened Beyond Our Native Hue’: Removal, Identity and the Trelawney Maroons on the Margins of the Atlantic World, 1796-1800,” Citizenship Studies 10, No. 1, (2006): 5-34.