Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chapter 14: To rise or not to rise.

The opportunities for a large-scale slave revolt.

A casual observer of the 18th century Surinam slavery system might have predicted a development akin to that in Saint-Domingue. All the conditions for a large-scale rebellion by the black population seemed to be present in optima forma. Eugene Genovese has outlined the circumstances leading to a higher probability of slave revolt:
(1) The master-slave relationship had developed in the context of absenteeism and depersonalization as well as greater cultural estrangement of whites and blacks;
(2) economic distress and famine occurred;
(3) slaveholding units approached the average size of one hundred to two hundred slaves, as in the sugar colonies, rather than twenty or so, as in the Old South;
(4) the ruling class frequently split either in warfare between slaveholding countries or in bitter struggles within the slaveholding country;
(5) blacks heavily outnumbered whites;
(6) African born slaves outnumbered those born into American slavery (Creoles);
(7) the social structure of the slaveholding regime permitted the emergence of autonomous black leadership;
(8) the geographical, social and political environment provided terrain and opportunity for the formation of colonies of runaway slaves strong enough to threaten the plantation regime.”
It seems at first sight that the situation in Surinam fitted this model rather well.

Absenteism and cultural estrangement.

Absenteeism was rampant in Surinam. Apart from the earliest period, few Surinam planters lived on their estates. They preferred to reside in Paramaribo and in many instances, it took them days to reach their plantations by boat. Consequently, they were only dimly aware what went on there most of the time. The majority did not seem to be very interested anyway. They were driven by an animus revertendi, a desire to return to their homeland with their fortune made. In many instances, their eagerness for maximum profit overrode any humanitarian concerns they might have had. As the saying goes in Holland: what one does not know does not hurt. The Surinam plantation owners preferred not to know. After the Amsterdam stock-exchange crisis of 1773, the situation worsened. Many of the new plantation owners were Dutch investors, who had little knowledge of agriculture and who only tried to recoup their losses as much as possible. They gave free reign to callous administrators and directors. The latter, in the 17th and 18th centuries especially, were mostly recruited from the lower rungs of white society, in particular from the ranks of former soldiers and sailors. Accustomed to harsh discipline themselves and obliged to deliver a maximum crop by their patrons, they were not unduly bothered by altruistic feelings either. So, Surinam exhibited the classic features of too much absenteeism.

Just as important was the fact that masters and slaves had totally different cultures, with only limited influence on each other. This was partly the result of the fact that the bondsmen formed a large numerical majority and spent most of their time with little or no white supervision. However, it was also partly the result of a deliberate policy of the whites. Being such a tiny minority, they were in danger to be swallowed up by their subjects: biologically through miscegenation and culturally through ‘negroization’. Therefore, they strove to keep people of color apart from white society and to keep some cultural accomplishments exclusively their own, in particular those with a ‘boundary defining character’ (like language and religion). The whites jealously guarded these: they did not want their slaves to speak Dutch, or to become Christian. In later times, they relented a bit and saw some advantage in converting slaves to Christianity, but by then it did not matter anymore.

Economic distress.

Surinam has shown the characteristics of a volksplanting only for a very limited period. By the time slavery became entrenched, it was already clear that Surinam would be an exploitation colony par excellence, geared to produce commodities for the world market and largely oblivious to the needs of its own population. One result of this attitude was the fact that production for the home market was often neglected. This was the case with timber, for example: Surinam had an abundance of high quality wood, but people were often forced to import timber from the United States to build their houses. It was even more apparent in the production of food. All through the slavery era, there were plantations that specialized in the cultivation of victuals, but most of their products went to Paramaribo and they never produced sufficient quantities anyway. Especially during the early period, the lowland planters preferred to put all their energy into the cultivation of cash crops, hoping that they would be able to buy the foodstuffs they needed for their slaves at home or abroad. Often this was indeed possible, but when droughts, floods, or other calamities resulted in a particularly meager crop, the slaves went hungry. Some planters were even forced to let them fend for themselves in the forest. In the 18th century, the situation improved somewhat because the coffee grounds often produced more plantains than they had use for, but even then, many planters could buy only a minimal amount of food –just enough to keep their slaves from running away or being unable to work. The ‘frugality’ of the planters was even more visible in the distributions of ‘luxuries’ as meat, fish, salt, tobacco and clothes. These always had to be imported, which drove up the prices, and they were often unavailable when the trade routes were cut off during one of the many wars that plagued the Caribbean during this period. However, it was not only stinginess that withheld food and clothing from the slaves: in later times, many plantations fared so badly that they could hardly afford the barest necessities.

In the eyes of many people, even the inhabitants, 18th century Surinam was the epitome of a prosperous plantation colony. In the early part of the century, when the prices of the commodities it produced were high, this was indeed the reality. Money poured in and the planters were quick to spend it in the most conspicuous manner possible. The apparent prosperity made the planters eligible for ample credits and generous loans and this enabled them to maintain a high level of consumption a few decades longer. However, during the latter part of the 18th century, Surinam lived far above its station. The conditions for plantation agriculture were not exactly ideal. Land was plentiful, but land suitable for plantations was not and it had to be prepared by a costly procedure. Slaves were hard to come by and the fact that Surinam was located outside the main trade routes made them very expensive. As a result, the production costs compared unfavorably with those in other parts of the Caribbean, especially the French colony Saint-Domingue and (in later times) the Spanish colony Cuba. Fortunately, the Dutch market could absorb all of Surinam’s production (in fact much more).

In the 19th century, the number of plantations fell drastically and the remaining ones barely survived by a process of shifting to sugar, modernization of the production and much subsidy (mostly by hapless stockholders, who wasted the chance to invest their money more productively in the Netherlands). What it boils down to, is that Surinam has been a genuinely prosperous colony only during a few decades: it merely managed to give that impression a while longer because of high prices in the developing world market and the misuse of credit that was never paid back. Economically speaking, the situation of most Surinam plantations for most of the time was precarious and only in favorable circumstances the slaves were not victimized by this.

A predominance of large plantations.

During most of the slavery era, sugar plantations formed the majority of Surinam estates. They were condemned to a certain minimum size to make it possible to exploit an expensive sugar mill profitably. In the early period, when most of these mills were simple, animal-driven constructions, Surinam plantations could be small: a force of 10 to 20 slaves was not unusual. However, when water mills (and in later days steam mills) came in vogue, the production capacity increased and additional slaves were needed. Plantations with more than a hundred bondsmen became the norm in the 18th century. Even the coffee grounds, though much more flexible in the number of hands they employed, were comparatively large. In other plantation colonies, they were often relegated to marginal lands, but in Surinam, they took up some of the most fertile grounds, especially in the Commewijne district. Their overall size was somewhat smaller than that of sugar plantations, but they had more land under permanent cultivation. In the United States, planters owning more than 100 slaves tended to split up their holdings into several independent units, because it made supervision easier and the cotton plantations that predominated there hardly profited from the economies of scale. In Surinam, on the other hand, the few plantations specializing in cotton belonged to the largest in the colony.

While the coffee grounds lost terrain in the latter part of the slavery era, the remaining sugar estates grew in size steadily through a process of concentration: many 19th century estates boasted 200 to 400 slaves. Although this did not facilitate close supervision (which had never been a prime concern for many Surinam planters anyway), it made technological innovation -on a modest scale- possible. For the slaves, this process of concentration held little promise and they often protested the fusion of slave forces vehemently. With regard to the United States, it has often been maintained that the treatment of slaves was much better on small units than on larger ones. In Surinam, size seems to have made little difference. The slaves on large plantations were in some ways better off: they had less supervision and fewer problems to recruit the personnel for a large-scale rebellion.

A divided ruling class.

Surinam whites were divided in many ways. Their backgrounds were more diverse than anywhere else in the Caribbean. In all other plantation colonies, the citizens of the mother country made up a large majority of the white inhabitants. A take-over by another nation usually meant the substitution of most of the old planters by ambitious newcomers. In Surinam, Dutch planters indeed replaced most their English colleagues in the 17th century, but not because these were forced out. The Dutch wanted a strong and prosperous colony and welcomed everyone who could contribute to that. The varied backgrounds of the planters hardly ever posed a problem: Dutch, French, German, English, Scandinavian and Iberian planters all found their niche in Surinam society. However, since France and England were among the worst enemies of the Dutch Republic in the 17th and 18th centuries, the danger of a split along national lines in the ruling group always lurked in the background.

Religious differences also divided the white group. On the whole, Surinam exhibited a degree of religious tolerance that was quite remarkable for the age and the area, but some animosities remained. The largest minority, the Jews, had every reason not to challenge the status quo, because they could not expect a more favorable situation anywhere else in the region. It was different for the Catholics. Although they were no longer discriminated against openly in later years, they were mistrusted because of their alleged bias in favor of Catholic countries like France and Spain.

Class differences played an important role as well. Surinam was largely ruled by the planters and their allies. They provided the councilors for the courts and many higher civil servants and schemed to further their own ends (modest taxation for one). A small middle-class, consisting of traders and government employees, only took shape in the 19th century. Members of the lower classes (artisans, soldiers, sailors and blankofficieren), though numerous, were wholly dependent on the upper echelons and rarely stood up for their own rights. An exception was the mutiny against Governor Van Aerssen, but this was suppressed effectively.

Political differences were the most important. There was a continuous strive between the representatives of the planters and those of the Society of Surinam and the Dutch government, who vied for ultimate control. The first signs of this animosity could already be discerned during the 17th century, when the question arose who should substitute for an absent governor: the Commander (usually an outside appointee) or the members of the Court of Police. The earliest evidence of this fundamental opposition was the conflict over the defense of the colony in the aftermath of the attack by Jacques Cassard and his cronies. From then on, the relations remained strained. Sometimes they deteriorated so much that outside intervention was necessary to restore law and order. When the Dutch government took over control of the colony at the end of the 18th century, the planters were increasingly stripped of their power, the deathblow being given by the English occupancy during the Napoleonic Wars.

In the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, the Caribbean was one of the main theaters of war: no European conflict went by undetected in these parts. The Napoleonic Wars in particular had serious repercussions. Though not the finest prize of the Caribbean, Surinam was worth plundering at the very least and the danger thereof was present during any conflict, whether the United Provinces were directly involved or not. The inhabitants of Surinam were painfully aware that their defenses were woefully insufficient –and so were the slaves, who patiently waited for a chance to break their shackles every time a conflict broke out. Surprisingly, they were often well informed about the events abroad.

Blacks outnumbering whites.

In few areas of the Caribbean, blacks have outnumbered whites so heavily as in Surinam. During the heighdays of slavery, there was less than one white for every 20 slaves. Only some of the smaller Caribbean islands, which were less vulnerable to slave revolt by virtue of their situation, topped this. Because of the uneven distribution of whites over the colony, this ratio rose to 70 : 1 in the plantation area. This made the supremacy of the whites an extremely shaky one, which did not escape the slaves. The possibilities for communication were limited, so in times of trouble a beleaguered master could not count on timely aid from the outside.

Africans outnumbering Creoles.

Surinam has exhibited the characteristics of a frontier society for an inordinately long time. Compared to the normal life cycle of plantation colonies, this meant that the first phase, the phase of building a stable society, took longer than normal. Although Surinam chose the road it was to travel in an early stage of its colonial evolution, the obstacles encountered (lack of settlers, lack of slaves, lack of funds) delayed the onset of the second phase, the phase of the mature and prosperous plantation colony, for a considerable period. Moreover, this phase had lasted only a few decades before clouds started to gather on the horizon. The last phase, the period of decline, dragged on for nearly a century, although most of that time the inhabitants remained optimistic about the possibilities of recovery.

The development of the demography of the slaves generally corresponds with the life cycle of the plantation colony. During the period in which the Surinam plantation area expanded, the slave population grew fast, in the absolute sense and in relation to the number of whites. Mortality was high and fertility extremely low. The sex ratio was skewed: males greatly outnumbered females. During the period of stabilization, the percentage of zoutwaternegers fell and although mortality remained at a fairly high level, the sex ratio became slightly more normal and fertility increased. The period of decline was ushered in by economic hardship and later accompanied by a ban on the transatlantic slave trade. The planters had to depend largely on natural increase to keep their slave force intact. The sex ratio became more balanced and fertility rose. Mortality declined as result of better treatment and improvements in medical knowledge, though it remained too high for a ‘third world population’ during the whole slavery era. Because of this evolution, the African-born bondsmen heavily outnumbered Creoles during the 17th and most of the 18th century. Only after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, this situation gradually changed.

The importance of this observation lies in the fact that African-born slaves were more apt to resist oppression and more willing to risk their lives to gain freedom, partly because they had less to lose. The Creoles tended to bide their time and to strike only when they were reasonably certain of success.

Black leadership.

Surinam provided excellent opportunities for the development of black leadership. Not on the plantations: though the bastiaans could wield a great deal of power, they were chosen primarily for their loyalty to their masters and their ability to make the slaves do their masters’ bidding. The struggle to survive in the jungle, on the other hand, allowed talented leaders to emerge. In Surinam, able warriors could amass a strong following and form a real threat to the continuance of white domination. Their main problem was that they did not connect very well with the majority of the slaves.

Possibilities for marronage.

In essence, Surinam was little more than a large jungle in which tiny groups of people carved out small and often only temporarily granted footholds. The forest always threatened to reclaim the plantations. Although the whites managed to tame the elements up to a certain point, they could never influence sufficiently those factors that made Surinam such an inhospitable place: the climate, with its predictable excesses of rain and unpredictable occasional droughts; the vermin that plagued the inhabitants regardless of skin color; the weeds against which a perennial war had to be waged; the soil whose fertility was often so precarious. The slaves suffered from these hardships as well, but the harsh environment also offered them opportunities to win their freedom. Once swallowed up by the jungle, they were hard to track down and they could always evade their white pursuers by retreating deeper into its recesses. Even when they chose to stay in the proximity of the plantations, the forest hid them comfortably. Thus, they could build up their communities relatively undisturbed. The jungle also gave the Maroons cover while they waged a guerrilla war against the colonists. If slaves and Maroons had joined forces and had striven in earnest to overthrow the supremacy of the whites, who knows what might have happened.

The obstacles to a large-scale slave revolt.

We have seen in the preceding chapter why the Maroons were not particularly eager to overrun the plantation area. This is one of the main reasons why no large-scale slave revolt ever shook Surinam. It is hardly likely that the slaves would have remained idle during an all-out Maroon attack. Whatever their initial objections to such an undertaking might have been, when forced to choose sides, most would have supported their own kind. Without the stimulus of such a Maroon offensive, however, the factors working against the outbreak of a slave revolt proved too strong. Moreover, the circumstances that favored the possibility of a successful rebellion only form half of the story. Although, for example, absenteeism and depersonalization of the relations between owners and slaves was prevalent and the cultural estrangement between whites and blacks was nowhere as large as in Surinam, but this may have had different consequences than Genovese postulated.

The slaves of Surinam were neglected by their masters in many ways, but on the other hand, they were not constantly bothered by them either. Consequently, they had a large measure of freedom to arrange their own affairs. Surely, they often had to work hard and the daylight hours belonged to the master, but the nights, holidays and Sundays were their own. The slaves could develop an independent culture with profound African influences. It set them apart from their overlords, it signaled a silent protest, but it also helped the slaves to adapt and it blunted the worst onslaughts of slavery on their psyche. The planters were reluctant to interfere in the social life of the slaves as well, so the slave community was, in fact, independent in many ways. To give up this satisfying social and cultural life for an uncertain and often dangerous existence in the jungle was the inevitable price of freedom: a price that was considered too high by many of the slaves.

The Surinam masters often failed to provide their slaves with sufficient provisions, let alone food that was varied and of good quality. As a result, many slaves went hungry from time to time. This would certainly have prompted them to rebel, if they would not have had ample opportunities to add to their diet themselves. In the eyes of the slaves, this did not absolve their owners of the duty to provide for them, but it made them less desperate to challenge masters who failed to do so. The slaves could get additional food by hunting, fishing, collecting shellfish and robbing other plantations (although the latter was not without risk). Moreover, they had their own gardens and fruit trees and they raised fowl (sometimes even -in secret- pigs). Many slaves were sorely tried by masters who neglected to furnish other necessities, especially clothes, but this usually did not inspire them to a spirited protest: the Surinam climate was mild enough to go without if the need arose.

While the slave force of a large plantation might be strong enough to keep attackers at bay and even beat them in combat, it was seldom sufficient to stage a genuine revolt. For that, cooperation between slaves of different plantations was required and this was not easy to organize. There were always slaves ready to reveal a plot -either for material gain, or because they feared being dominated by other blacks even more than being dominated by whites.

Although the white colonists were divided in many ways, they were also very much aware of the precariousness of their situation and they tried their best to hide their differences as much as possible from the slaves. They were determined never to give the slaves a chance to set them up against each other and they usually cooperated loyally in case of any outside threat. Irreconcilable political differences, like the one that split the whites in Berbice (Patriots vs. Orangists) did not exist in Surinam.

Blacks may have greatly outnumbered whites, but this advantage was upset by two factors. Firstly, a large percentage of the black population was in no condition to wield any resistance: they were too young, too old, or too ill. A much larger percentage of the whites than of the blacks belonged to the category of ‘men capable of bearing arms’. Secondly, the whites managed to enlist the support of the Indians and did everything in their power to drive wedges in the black front, setting up the pacified against the not-pacified Maroons and runaway slaves, former slaves against Maroons, privileged slaves against their less favored colleagues, etc. On the whole, solidarity between the various groups of blacks was limited and the whites saw to it that it stayed that way.

Perhaps because of their scarcity, the Surinam whites had a lot of confidence in their Creole slaves, especially the Mulattoes. They deliberately tried to increase their loyalty by a preferential treatment. Also, the Creoles had good reason to fear the Africans because of their supposed magical powers and that distrust was mutual: Creoles were kept out of conspiracies as much as possible. In the 19th century, African runaways disliked the Creoles so much that they often killed any Creole who dared to enter their camp. The distrust between Africans and Creoles created another gap in the black front, which weakened it considerably. Moreover, for most of the slavery era the Creoles were not numerous enough to concoct their own revolts (which in the perception of Genovese were more sophisticated and therefore more dangerous).

Surinam slave society permitted the emergence of black leaders, but they were Maroon leaders. Their interest primarily lay with their own people, not with the black population in general. Most of them had little objection against slavery as such (they often treated the runaways that had drifted to their villages little better than slaves), but only to the fact that they had been degraded to slavery themselves, or had been mistreated. Once they had reached their goals -freedom, peace with the whites and a steady supply of European goods- they were quite willing to support the status quo.

The geographical situation of Surinam gave the slaves the possibility to withdraw from an unbearable situation individually, but at the same time it created so many obstacles that only the most desperate and the most brave ventured far into the hinterland. Runaways could fairly easy form independent communities beyond the grasp of the whites. The forest provided them with food and other necessities, but the Maroon societies continued to need the whites for many other goods (pots, knives, cloth, guns, gunpowder, etc), which made them less eager to drive their adversaries from the colony. Once the whites realized it was not a matter of conquer or be conquered, they learned to live with independent Bush Negro communities tucked away in the hinterland.

In Surinam, the situation was favorable for the articulation of various forms of protest: from sabotage and strikes to running away and small-scale revolts. However, these very same factors hampered a large-scale rebellion aimed at overthrowing the slavery system. The pressure was siphoned off the kettle in so many ways that the bursting point was never reached.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chapter 13: The Maroons and their adversaries.

The development of the Maroon societies.

If history has taught us anything, it is that in some instances a small but ruthless minority can keep a large majority subordinated for a long time. However, this is a lot easier if these suborinates are not needed for production. In concentration camps the inmates were used for slave labor, but the main object was to eliminate them. Consequently, the Nazi overlords lost little by starving and terrorizing them and the threat of a violent death was ever present. The slaveholders in the New World could not go a similar route. It has often been maintained that it was economically most expedient to exploit the slaves mercilessly until they dropped dead from exhaustion (generally after about seven years) and then buy new ones. However, even if the average slave could give a mere seven years of service in some places during some periods, this was not the result of a deliberate strategy. Most slaves did not die from starvation or maltreatment, but from the ravages of contagious diseases –against which the masters were as powerless as their chattels. Few masters could afford to transform their slaves into walking zombies: they needed their energy, strength and even their wit for the work that had to be done.

The inevitable consequence was that they also had to cope with resistance. The Surinam planters, with their woefully inadequate force of supervisors, had to expect more resistance than other slaveholders. They were, however, fortunate in having an endless stretch of forest behind their estates, ready to swallow up the most intransigent slaves. It could be surmised that the formation of warlike Maroon societies meant an additional threat to the slavery system, but it turned out this was not the case. It is far more likely that the very presence of Maroon tribes in the hinterland helped to preserve the system, until external developments heralded its demise.

Most Surinam slaves fled alone or in small groups and many of them soon returned to their plantation, sadder and wiser. A considerable percentage of those who sought freedom did so mainly because they did not fit into the plantation community and by their departure removed a (potential) source of conflicts. Others were the (innocent) butts of their masters’ frustration and ran away to save their own skin, but did not want to leave their loved ones behind and hid nearby –sometimes even on the plantation itself. Aiding and protecting them also united the slave community. The last category of single runaways were the schuylders. They settled close to the plantations and lived mainly from stealing and from whatever food they could gather, or cultivate in secret. Because they needed companions to survive, strangers often congregated in small communities, but remained distrustful of each other.

Runaways preferred to join groups of the same ethnic background. Hazard, a fugitive from the plantation Cannewapibo, stumbled upon a Coromantine and an Abo village in the forest, which had no contact at all with each other, even though they were situated within walking distance. After a short stay in the Coromantine village, he felt no longer secure, because the inhabitants, 10 men and 3 women, continuously threatened to kill one another. He then moved to the Abo village, which counted 14 men and 3 women, but after a landsman of his had been slain, he preferred to surrender to the whites.

Sometimes, these groups were so keen on reinforcement that they accepted any newcomer, but if the slave in question belonged to a different nation, he was likely to become the scapegoat when trouble arose (often fights over women). Many escapees came, like Hazard, to the conclusion that it was safer to brave the ire of their master than to stay with belligerent weglopers. Jaba, who had been kidnapped, decided after nine long years to flee back to the whites, when her captors started quarreling amongst each other, resulting in the death of all the (20) slaves they had in their power.

Constant infighting undermined the stability of many wegloper communities. This is illustrated by the sad odyssey of Cartoes of Meulwijk (alias Voeyoereman). Cartoes fled his plantation because of continuous beatings. In the forest behind Meulwijk he met two other runaways: Cottica of Perou and Adam of Halle in Saxen. They took him to their cabin, but the peaceful cohabitation did not last long. Adam imagined that Cottica was a poisoner and killed him in his sleep. Thereafter, he took Cartoes to Upper Cottica where they met the Maroon leader Baron, who had just plundered a plantation. They participated in a few unsuccessful raids and later followed Baron to his village in Upper Cottica. They were attacked there by a patrol and the group, consisting of 13 men and 10 women, had to flee to the Commewijne. Baron argued with a Coromantee named Benbonwa and left with his wife and child. The remaining runaways established a village on the Patamaka River, Tammaroe wa Hey, which was situated so close to a military post that they could hear the soldiers felling trees. Benbonwa was killed by his companions because they feared that he was a poisoner. When the remaining runaways went to Upper Patamaka to clear provision grounds, they discovered a Coromantine village, led by Quamie, and settled there. After some time, Cartoes left the group in the company of Adam and Tekkie and they were later joined by Coridon. Cartoes abandoned them because he suspected they wanted to kill him and briefly sought the company of Profijt and Sambo of Vossenburg who, however, he considered a threat to his life as well. While he was fetching provisions with Profijt, Kwamie joined the little group. Cartoes mistrusted him too, so he moved again. Along the way he met Lont, also of Vossenburg, who told him that he had escaped from the Maroon stronghold Boekoe. They stayed together for a while, but Cartoes mistrusted Lont and he went back to Quamie, who had not gotten any friendlier in the meantime. Thereupon Cartoes decided to go to Perica alone, built a cabin and lived there peacefully for a while. When he was looking for food, he was nearly caught by a group of weglopers, but he managed to reach his cabin undetected. When he heard the axes of a patrol, he did not feel safe anymore and he returned to Patamaka, where he had to live off cabbes. In the end, he decided that the existence in the jungle was too demanding, so he swam across the Patamaka and surrendered to a group of Negroes on patrol. He told the Court of Police that he had never experienced any charity, neither in his own land, nor in Surinam, neither from blacks, nor from whites and he pleaded that he “shall be killed with no malicious thought, but that he shall be punished with a rope so he can go to his god with an easy death”. His wish was granted.

When larger groups of slaves ran away together, the situation was different. They often acted to preserve their community when it was threatened by measures of their master, for example attempts to put them together with the slaves of another plantation. Sometimes, their escape was merely a protest and they went back voluntary once they had been given proof that the hated decision had been overturned. In cases like this, the slaves often ran away unprepared and were glad to be able to return to their cherished home. When the whites remained obstinate, such a spontaneous protest could escalate into a full-fledged rebellion, as happened in Tempati. Sometimes, a whole slave force resolved to flee into the forest without any direct cause, either because of the influence of a strong leader who did not want to live in slavery anymore, or because the situation made it feasible. This was, for example, the case during periods of external warfare.

The Court of Police was well aware of this possibility and warned that in case of an enemy attack the slaves had to be kept under close surveillance “because there is not one negro, who does not know, that it is then the time for him, to free himself or to run away without peril and therefore two or three planters who are based close together must form a patrol with their Creoles on such occasions with orders to shoot all negroes found outside certain limits under their feet”. After the plunder of the colony by Jacques Cassard, the councilors observed how vulnerable the country was when the planters were forced to leave their estates “exposing those, as well as the women and children, to the good, or bad intentions of the slaves, who then being alone without supervision, or work get used to a libertine existence that makes them long for their freedom, and seek it, like the experience during the last attack has partly taught [us].

The first large concentrations of runaways formed after the massive defections during such emergencies. Many slaves owned by English planters made off when their masters lost the control over Surinam to the Dutch. The Indian Wars added more recruits to the nascent Maroon communities. Some observers claim that more than 700 slaves ran away during this period. The attack of Cassard also provided an ideal opportunity for gaining freedom to a large number of slaves, most of them recent arrivals. Bondsmen of one (or a few) plantations escaping together formed the cores of the various Maroon tribes. In the initial stages, they are likely to have accepted newcomers eagerly, especially females, for they were in need of reinforcement. Those newcomers will have been even more welcome if they were familiar: either slaves from neighboring plantations, or belonging to the same nation as the dominant group.

Evidence of this scenario is found in the names of many of the Bush Negro clans, which are copies of the ‘Negro name’ of the plantation most early members came from (a name that was usually derived from the name of a former owner). A prominent Djuka clan is named Pata (after Gerrit Pater, one of the richest planters of the 18th century, who owned the plantations La Jalousie and Beekhuizen). Another clan is named Ansoe, the Negro name of the plantation Meerzorg, derived from the name of former owner Paul Amsinq. The Pinasi clan got its name from the Negro name of the plantation Frederiksburg, which derived from L’ Espinasse. The Dominé clan was named after a plantation once owned by a minister. The Missidjan clan originated from Palmeniribo, called Missidjan by the slaves, after the wife of former owner Jonas Witzen. Legend tells that the slaves fled from the plantation after murdering this ‘Missi Jonas’ (whom they hung from a ring fastened to the kankantrie where the slaves were tied for a whipping). The murderers were worthless trackers and could not find their way to the Saramaka. They were taken in tow by some ‘Ansoe Negroes’ and brought to the Djuka Creek. Another part of the Djuka tribe, with Boston as the common ancestor, is called the Compagnie clan (compagnie being the designation for a group of shipmates).

The Saramaka have a clan called Kardoesoe. It was named after a trader called Cardoso, who brought a shipload of slaves to Surinam during the attack of Cassard and hid them in the forest of Poelepantje, from where they escaped. A part of the fugitives came from Angola and they congregated in a village and clan they called Kardoso. Nepveu remarked about these Maroons that they were rumored to be the descendants of a brother and sister. Though most inhabitants of this village were healthy and able-bodied, some were malformed and this was considered a punishment of the gods for the supposed incest. Other clan names also point to a group of weglopers from one plantation: the Papota clan very likely got its name from Papot, a well-known planter family; and the Nassy clan from another prominent family, of Jewish extraction.

Life was hard for the Maroons in the Surinam jungle. Many died from starvation, illness, or attacks of enemy runaways, hostile Indians, or patrols. The ones who survived did so because of their own resourcefulness and courage. The early Maroon communities, conscious of their vulnerable position, were therefore only willing to include newcomers who were ready to pull their own weight. The leaders of those early groups, meriting their position because of their capacities (although it probably helped if they represented the most numerous nation) were, in the words of Franklin Knight, “rigidly authoritarian and often needlessly cruel”. They had little choice if they wanted to survive: many slaves arrived at their premises believing that from now on they would have an easy life. They were to be bitterly disappointed, as Hurault discovered: “the rebel chiefs [were] indifferent and even hostile to the wellbeing of the mass of the slaves. They feared that the combativity of their troops would be reduced by parasites, desirous to escape the condition of slavery in order to be no longer forced to any work. Boni imposed heavy tasks on the escapees who reached him, years of hard work, before he trusted them with arms. Countless among them gave up and preferred to throw themselves at the mercy of their masters.”

Genovese has remarked that it was very difficult for the Maroon groups to avoid the parasitic existence that alienated them from the slaves. It was the tragedy of the Maroons in Surinam that they could not afford to retire so deeply into the jungle that the whites were unable to track them down, because they were dependant on their products. Although some groups had learned Indian crafts, they could not provide for all of their own needs. They were unable to weave cloth, work iron, or make gunpowder. They had to steal the necessary goods from the estates and consequently had to stay fairly close to the plantation area, within reach of the patrols. When they robbed the plantations, they could not avoid harming the interests of the slaves as well, especially since they were not above kidnapping women and children to swell their ranks.

The larger Maroon groups could not depend on the provisions they stole from the plantations, so it was “the manner of the Weglopers to plant in the environment where they settle here and there some provisions & make shelters”. They cultivated rice, cassava, tayer, yams and sometimes corn. The provision grounds were a vulnerable source of food. Often, these were discovered and destroyed by patrols and then the Maroons were forced to subsist on stolen food and cabbes until they could harvest anew. They satisfied their need for protein by hunting, fishing and sometimes trapping, though this might give away their presence as well. The provision guard of Cortenduur, who followed the trail of a couple of runaways, discovered two to three hundred snares. The commando pursuing the trail stumbled upon a big house with two guards in front who resisted capture fiercely. One surrendered aften having been cut several times, the other had to be shot. Their companions managed to escape. The patrollers found earthenware, bows and arrows, machetes, deer meat and fowl in the house, as well as pots with plantains buried in the ground.

Genovese has classified most of the 18th century Maroons as ‘restorationalist’ in worldview. This holds true for the Surinam Maroons in particular. Moreover, they never reached the ‘revolutionary’ stage, like most of their 19th century Caribbean counterparts. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, they could not afford to lose the source of European goods they so badly needed. Secondly, the strongest groups were able to force the whites to concede to a peace treaty that gave them a large measure of independence. Thirdly, the Creole slaves did not gain more influence among the Maroons, as they did in other parts of the New World. On the contrary, while Creoles seem to have made up a reasonable part of some Maroon groups in the 18th century [the famous ‘Claas villages’, for example, incorporated a ‘Papa village’ and a ‘Creole village’; and the slave woman Fortuna, who had been kidnapped by Maroons, reported that the ones she had met were “mostly Creoles”], during the 19th century, practically all Maroons were (recently imported) Africans. The restorationalist character of the Surinam Maroon tribes is illustrated by their culture, that, although an original Afro-American creation, displayed the most pervasive African influence to be found anywhere in the Caribbean.

The situation of the major Maroon tribes changed for the better when the authorities concluded peace treaties with them: with the Djuka in 1760, the Saramaka in 1762 and the so-called Bekoe-Musinga Maroons (nowadays called Matuari) in 1767. These tribes were known from then on as the Bevredigde Bosnegers (‘Satisfied’ or ‘Pacified’ Bush Negroes). The pact was signed on the plantation Auca (for this reason, the Djuka were called Aucaners by the colonists). According to Wolbers, the whites had to swear a blood-oath in the following manner: “Each party let a few drops of blood, which had been obtained by a small cut in the arm, fall into a calabash with pure spring water, in which a bit of dry earth was mixed. All those present had to drink from this, after a few drops had been sprinkled on the ground. Next their Gado-man or priest laid a curse over all, who would break this covenant”. The peace treaties drove a wedge between the ‘satisfied’ and the ‘not-satisfied’ Maroons and permitted the whites keep the latter in check.

The Pacified Bush Negroes were not easy to deal with. Governor Nepveu complained that the authorities suffered “continuously much harassment and teasing”. However, “considering our weakness one shall incessantly be forced to yield to them in everything, to keep the peace, however onerous it might be”. His successor Texier was no more optimistic: “the more one gives in to them, the bolder, more arrogant and more malicious they become”. Some Bush Negroes from Upper Suriname, for example, asked him for the freedom of a slave woman owned by the Society. She was old and useless, so in itself this was not a problem, but Texier was afraid to create a precedent since many of them still had relatives among the slaves. The whites had to treat them with severity “because then they are peaceful, humble, fearful and compliant, and behave with Respect & Submission”. In the end, they proved to be reliable allies though.

Indians and Maroons.

The early weglopers would probably have perished in large numbers if the Indians had not aided them. During the Indian War, they collaborated on many levels and one group of runaways even amalgamated with Indians to form the so-called Karboegers van de Coppename. Some groups of Indians also took in runaways in later times and intermarried with them. Since the former slaves were often stronger and more ferocious than their hosts, some of them rose to prominent positions within the Indian tribes. Nepveu claimed that they were not above abusing their Indian subjects.

The plantation slaves often had friendly relations with the free Indians who hunted and fished for the planters and these were frequently willing to guide them to a Maroon settlement. Some Indian groups had an amiable rapport with these settlements, partly because they needed them to obtain valued European products (which the runaways had taken along from the plantations). The proto-Saramaka enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Acouri Indians (a tribe that moved to the Brazilian side of the border in the middle of the 18th century and only returned to Surinam in the beginning of the 20th century). They married Acouri women and the Indians demonstrated them how to weave hammocks and how to make pots and baskets. They also taught them to fashion covers of woven cotton, which they sold in Paramaribo after the peace treaty. The Djuka did not know any of these handicrafts. In later years the tables were turned: the Indians became the easiest source for those western goods the Maroons could not do without: they traded cassava, cotton, roucou and the like for axes, machetes and iron pots. Sometimes, the Indians even received hammocks from the Saramaka. The whites were well aware of this symbiosis and they decided to stop trading with the Indians, who from then on could only get the desired products if they delivered a runaway, dead or alive.

Quite a few Indians were arrested for aiding runaways. Among them were Ariamono, an Indian captain, and his brother Jary. They had been caught with the help of the slave Tam, who had feigned that he wanted to flee to the Maroons. Ariamono testified in court that he and his brother had met runaways from Palmeniribo, led by Claas and Jankie, 15 years ago. These had escaped in 1712, with 20 persons. Claas and Jankie had established separate villages. Jary revealed that these Maroons had a lot of fowl and large provision grounds. One of their villages counted 80 adults, 12 adolescents and a couple of children, the other about a hundred people. The inhabitants of the most populous village had built a large house, which they used for ‘joelen’ (festivities), and many other houses. They had constructed traps for catching game, but had no bread. They came to fetch this in the Indian village, which was located about four days traveling. Both Claas and Jankie could speak the Indian language.

During the 18th century, the relations between Maroons and Indians deteriorated steadily. Partly because the Indians were seduced by the rewards the planters offered for hunting runaways; partly because the Maroons, in their search for guns and gunpowder, did not hesitate to overpower unsuspecting Indians and plunder their villages. The Indians were not very eager to attack a Maroon village, except when they were clearly in the majority: they feared the military prowess of their opponents too much. They were occasionally willing to guide patrols to Maroon hideouts and most of the lonely runaways they came upon were no longer welcomed into the tribe, but were delivered to the whites in return for goods and money.

Slaves and Maroons.

Despite the fact that their interests were not always parallel, many slaves had a lot of sympathy for the Maroons, which they showed in various ways. Bondsmen regularly warned Maroons for coming patrols. The Court of Police complained in 1717 that these bostochten often yielded little result “because of continuous correspondence with negroes of some plantations by which [the Maroons] are informed of ordered patrols”. On their part the Maroons were the cause that “many planters do not have the service of their slaves that should be, even less [they] can punish wrongdoers as merited”. The slaves rejoiced in the failures of the soldiers. Herlein noted that if patrols were sent out and “some of [the runaways] are bought back as prisoners, the Slaves all over the Country are very fearful, because one tells the other, and if the voyage ends unsuccessfully, then they are much prouder again”. After a successful bostocht against a Maroon tribe that by then already counted 800 members and had lived in freedom for so long that some of them had married children who had never seen a white, “there was much dismay among the Slaves of Zuriname”.

Slaves and Maroons sometimes cooperated admirably when the latter raided a plantation. During an attack on La Paix, it was apparent, according to the government, that the slaves had “agreed with the Weglopers and went with them voluntary, the attack having only been staged and continued to prevent the soldiers that were present to track the fleeing”. Not without danger to their own safety, weglopers situated their camps often in such a manner that “in one or two days the slaves from all sides reach it”, noted the government in 1772. After the disappearance of the slaves of Planteau and Picolet, Raad-Fiscaal Bernard Texier wrote that it is “undeniable that such a considerable force of slaves could not have been taken away with violence if there had been only a few well-intentioned among the bunch who had resisted, made noise and by their opposition had given as well the owner as the militia that was posted on the plantation the possibility to learn of the attack”.

There was not always friendly cooperation though: bloody confrontations between Maroons and slaves were frequent as well. The Maroons who attacked the plantation Marseille several times in 1774 were driven back by the slaves each time and pursued far into the forest. This brought Governor Nepveu to the conclusion that “when they have no correspondence at all with some of the most prominent slaves, the attack does not go that easy”. Many times the Maroons did approach plantation slaves beforehand, but got the cold shoulder. If they proceeded with the attack anyway, it could cost them dearly.

Sometimes, Maroons who tried to entice slaves to run away with them were lured into a trap, as happened in the following case. One day, the slave woman Jana of L’ Esperance came back from the field in a very agitated state. She grabbed her child, who was being cared for by an old woman, and wanted to make off with it. Her unusual behavior alarmed the other slaves, who brought her to the director. She confessed that she had been approached in the field by a runaway from the plantation, called Jupiter. He took her to the Bottel Creek, where two others were waiting. They tied her hands behind her back and wanted to take her with them, but she begged to be allowed to fetch her child first. They agreed to this and she promised that she would return to the same spot the next day with her child. As a precaution, they cut off half of her hair (probably to conduct wisi with). At the designated moment, the director laid himself in ambush with some of his schutternegers. Jana and her child functioned as bait. However, the runaways must have noticed that something was wrong, for they did not show up.

The slaves had good reason not always to rejoice in the visits of Maroons. These frequently had only plunder and women on their mind. Not rarely, the plantation slaves were driven to a furious pursuit to save their loved ones from the hands of these ‘liberators’. They ocasionally asked bondsmen from adjoining plantations for help. In 1751, the slaves of Zorghoven, with the assistance of some of their colleagues from Onoribo, managed to free several children and two women from the clutches of a group of Maroons (at least one of them a survivor of the revolt on Bethlehem the year before). They killed three of the culprits. A group of ten armed slaves followed the trail of the remaining kidnappers, who still had 2 men, 5 women and 4 children in their power, but they were unable to retrieve them. The bondsmen were well aware that such a display of ‘loyalty’ merited a token of gratitude. The slaves of Marseille were rewarded by the authorities as well as by their owners, who resided in Holland. They were greatly hurt when it turned out that their heroism was forgotten soon.

Many of the slaves ‘liberated’ by Maroons were not exactly grateful for their deliverance. They were torn away from their familiar surroundings and found themselves in a situation of great uncertainty. They could depend on no one. The women, especially, were treated hardly better than slaves. They were taken as wives by the most influential Maroons, without having any say in the matter. Often, they were used as a kind of breeding mares by men desperate for offspring. Until they had been around long enough to earn the trust of their companions, the new recruits were forced to perform the heaviest and dirtiest work, which made the prospect of continued slavery lose much of its horror. Many of the new additions, especially the involuntary ones, tried their utmost to return to their plantations. Therefore, they were watched closely and killed on the slightest suspicion that they wanted to escape.

The Maroons had good reason not to allow anyone to return to the whites, even when the persons in question had come to them on their own initiative and had merely found the joys of freedom somewhat disappointing. Many of the returnees were willing to betray the Maroon hideouts in order to escape punishment, or revenge themselves. To avoid this possibility, the Maroons often made new recruits swear a solemn oath (sweri), enforced by the drinking of blood, that they would never betray their comrades, on the penalty of being stricken with instant death. Jupiter of the plantation Elk Het Zijn told the Criminal Court how he had been captured while on patrol and had been brought to Boekoe, the stronghold of the Maroon leader Boni. Because he refused to participate in raids, he was employed as a provision guard. When Boekoe was attacked by the Vrijcorps, he was grabbed in the provision grounds, together with Janconie of Roosenbeeck. The next day, the commander freed Janconie of his shackles and ordered him to lead them to Boekoe. Along the way, Janconie suddenly dropped dead (without having been touched in any way) and Jupiter attributed this to the fact that he had not kept his oath to Boni.

Captured runaways were put under heavy pressure to betray their fellows and since that sometimes meant the choice between a horrible execution and freedom plus a reward, some of them were willing to comply. Others only professed to cooperate, but in reality lured the soldiers on the wrong trail, so their comrades would have more time to flee. Markies, for example, had promised to guide a patrol and he brought it to two villages, which were both deserted. He said he would lead them to another one, but instead he steered the patrol though so many swamps that the commander, sergeant Krijgslaen, became suspicious. Markies tried to desert, but was caught and severely whipped. The chance to find the village was lost, however, and the soldiers decided to return. Markies later explained to the Court of Police that he had sworn never to betray his leader Coffy and when he was on the verge of breaking his oath, his “eyes had twisted” and he could not find the way anymore. The leaders of the patrol were of the opinion that he had led them astray on purpose and had tried to warn the Maroons, because when they stumbled upon a large barbacot along the way, with a fire still burning underneath, Markies had asked for a calabash of water in a very loud voice and had started to rattle his chains, whereupon a Negro, who had been hiding under the barbacot, jumped up and ran away. Markies claimed he had not been a wegloper but a schuylder. What further happened to Markies the story does not tell, but Profeyt of Wajampibo, who on a similar mission had been plagued by a “twist in his head” and had also not been able to find the right track anymore, was beheaded for his failure.

Since runaways often claimed to have been kidnapped by Maroons to save their life, whites were not very gullible when confronted with this claim. Even slaves who really had been dragged away by force had much trouble to prove their innocence. In 1771, the administrators of Rustlust, Kennedy and Backer, wrote a request to Governor Nepveu, begging clemency for some of the women of their plantation, who had been captured by a patrol under the command of Ensign Sebulo. Maroons had attacked the plantation in the expectation that the slaves would follow them willingly, but a great deception had awaited them. Though unarmed, the slaves had resisted with all their might and had even managed to free some of the maids who had already been overpowered and bound. After this feat, they had continued to work to the full satisfaction of the director, even though they were very sad about the loss of their women. When Sebulo visited the plantation during his patrol, the bondsmen had asked him if he had any suspicion against the slaves of Rustlust who had fallen into the hands of the Maroons and he had denied he had. The administrators requested that the women would be sent back to the plantation, for “what kind of impression will it give to the well-meaning, loyal and especially Creole slaves who shall have the misfortune to see everyone who is dear to them in this world confined this way on their return or capture and treated the same way as those who have conspired and plotted with the runaways”.

The peace treaties of the 1760’s included the provision that the ‘Pacified Maroons’ were obliged “to return all the slaves or slave women who might come to them or who are encountered in the forest to the whites without any distinction and to deliver them to the nearest magistrate or burgerofficier”. The Bush Negroes kept their part of the bargain, but they did not like it very much. They made it clear that they had little desire to hand over slaves who had fled because of cruel mistreatment and they wanted to make sure that the slaves they delivered would not be condemned to death, except when they were guilty of murder. The Saramaka Bush Negroes (who returned only two of the twenty slaves already residing in their midst) complained that the wails of abused slaves caused much “commotion and resistance” in their villages, especially among the women and children.

It should, however, not be presumed that the Bush Negroes were motivated by humanitarian reasons only. Not only could they use the labor of the fugitive slaves very well, but they also saw a perfect opportunity to manipulate and blackmail the whites. Often, absconders were kept in semi-thralldom for a considerable period and only handed over after much pressure and the payment of bribes by the whites. Ensign Daunitz, the posthouder (government representative) with the Saramaka, made himself very unpopular by reporting to the authorities that they had hidden a large number of runaways in the forest. Chief Etja even threatened to kill him, but he later relented and acknowledged that peace had only been saved by the mediation of Daunitz.

Runaway slaves were often treated as pawns by the Bush Negroes, who held out for the best bargain. This is illustrated by the behavior of the Bekoe-Musinga Bush Negroes. They were closely allied with the Saramaka, but had not shared in the presents distributed to the Saramaka chiefs, and consequently were not included in the peace treaty either. Although they were not yet pacified, they often visited the plantation of Mr. Planteau and consumed dram with the slaves. Because this led to frequent disturbances, Planteau forbade them further entrance. Moreover, Musinga was refused free passage over the Para River and was very annoyed about that. He proposed to the elite slaves of the plantation to come with him and they agreed. To prepare for the flight, the housemaids and the voetebooy hid the possessions of the master in the forest. The other slaves butchered all their fowl and took it along half roasted. Musinga forced the unwilling slaves to follow him with the help of some of his Maroons and the slaves who participated in the conspiracy. At the same time, Bekoe enticed the bondsmen belonging to the plantations of Picolet and Latterman to flee with him. The slaves of the latter he gave to the Saramaka chief Donkie. Musinga gave some of ‘his’ slaves to chief Quakoe of the village Coffy Sambo, who returned them to the whites without delay and pocketed a handsome fee (probably shared by Musinga). The same happened to some slaves who were donated to chief Samsam. In retaliation for these kidnappings, a patrol under the command of ensign Dorig burned down Musinga’s village, but it had already been deserted because a lukuman had predicted the attack. When a peace treaty was concluded with Bekoe and Musinga in 1767, they returned some of the remaining slaves as a token of goodwill, but these were, of course, not the most useful ones. Susanna, for example, realized very well that she was only handed over because she was “old and sick and cannot work”. The other stolen slaves were kept behind to toil in the provision grounds and only after urgent requests some of them were sent back.

Less prominent Bush Negroes also delighted in the possibility of harassing the whites. A Saramaka named Soesa had “received if not taken away” a slave “to spite the white”, had given him to an Aucaner and had taken another one in return. He refused to hand over this slave to the authorities on the pretext that he belonged to the Aucaner “which game these two have invented to elude restitution according to the peace treaty”. There was nothing the authorities could do, except to threaten Soesa that they would arrest him the moment he showed his face in the capital.

In 1721, the death penalty had been made obligatory for runaways (except when they had been driven away by abusive planters, or had been kidnapped by Maroons). After the peace treaties, the authorities faced a problem, because they had promised the Pacified Bush Negroes that returned slaves would not be punished with death unless they were “wrongdoers, murderers and poisoners”. However, they did not dare to send the runaways whose lives they had to spare back to the plantations, out of fear that they would incite the other slaves to rebellion. Therefore, they decided to keep them at the fortifications to work in chains for the rest of their lives and they paid the masters 200 guilders as indemnification. In 1788, when the worst dangers were over, the whites could afford to be more lenient: from then on, the death penalties would be reserved for proven murderers only. In 1828, it was ruled that runaways could only be condemned to death if they had drawn blood while resisting capture. Finally, in 1838 the following decree was issued: “The escape of a slave from the colony Suriname, with the apparent aim to remove himself from his lawful master, will be punished with forced labor on one of the Government Establishments, or the plantation of his master, for the time of ten years at most.” This penalty will not have inspired much fear in the slaves, but by this time, although some Maroons groups continued to plague the colony, the real danger had long passed.

It can be concluded that the existence of Maroon settlements in the hinterland had profound repercussions for the position of the slaves. On the one hand, it proved that their situation was not hopeless, which gave them solace; on the other hand, it added to the dangers already lurking in the jungle. The slaves could never be sure of acceptance among the Maroons and if they were unlucky, they might be taken for a spy and be killed without mercy. Even when they were accepted, they might very well have bartered one kind of slavery for another and they might be treated by their new masters just as heartlessly as by their former owners. After the conclusion of peace treaties with the major Maroon tribes, they were no longer welcome there. From then on, they were locked in between the plantation area and Bush Negro territory. Though the Bush Negroes certainly did not sympathize with cruel slaveholders, runaways could not trust them and many deemed it prudent to stay out of their reach. Consequently, they were often forced to stay much closer to the plantations than they would have preferred.

The war against the Maroons.

During the Indian War of the 1680’s, runaway slaves became a threat to the colony for the first time. Cornelis van Aerssen was the first governor to take the problem of the weglopers seriously. He concluded a peace treaty with a group led by Jermes in 1685. After that the position of the remaining weglopers was weakened so much that they quietly disappeared from the scene for several decades. Although individual attacks could endanger isolated plantations, the Maroons only became a problem to the colony again after their numbers had swollen considerably by runaways profiting from the chaos that ensued after the attack of the fleet of Jacques Cassard in 1712. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Maroons made up about 10% of the black population.

During the post-Cassard period, the number of patrols that were dispatched increased and the awareness of the danger the weglopers posed grew. Governor Temming wrote in 1722: ”the runways who are very numerous and are spread far and wide over the whole colony start to become very insolent, and not without reason they are feared on some plantations, yes even here in Paramaribo to the side of the new expansion: if I had some more soldiers here, I flatter myself to be able to root out this scum in due course”. During the reign of Governor De Cheusses (1728-1734) one patrol after the other was sent out and three decades later Pieter Brouwers gloated that ”by fire and by sword this brave Hero had them pursued into their holes, and if he had not been stopped, he would have gone to war in person; alas! Surinam may morn the loss of this Warrior up to this moment”. De Cheusses’ successors were even more burdened by the duty of fighting the Maroons: by the middle of the 18th century they made up about 10% of Surinam blacks.

To stimulate members of the Burgerwacht to search for weglopers more actively, Governor Van Scharphuys decided in 1691 to reward them with a hogshead of sugar for every fugitive they apprehended and he promised anyone who participated in a bostocht 50 pounds of sugar a day. The premium for catching a runaway increased steadily: first to five guilders, than to 300 pounds of sugar (= 15 guilders) if the captive had been hunted on purpose and 100 pounds if he had been caught by sheer luck. Still later, the reward rose to 25 guilders if the runaway was captured in the territory enclosed by the major rivers and 50 guilders if he was captured outside this area -to be paid by the owner. In 1717, it was decided by the Government and Court of Police that everyone was free to organize a commando, which would be rewarded with 1500 guilders for the discovery of one of the so-called Claas or Pedro villages and 600 guilders for the discovery of another Maroon settlement. Slaves or runaways who guided a patrol to a Maroon village were rewarded with freedom. At the height of the Maroon Wars, the fee for a captive rose to 150 guilders.

During the first stages of the Maroons Wars, they were fought mainly by the planters themselves. When a burgercapitein decided to assemble a patrol to track runaways or raiders, the planters in his division had either to participate themselves, or hire replacements. When most owners moved to Paramaribo, this left only the directors and blankofficieren as recruits and understandably, they were not very eager to risk their lives for the possessions of others. A few planters seemed to enjoy these expeditions: David Nassy, for example, led one patrol after the other and he trained Indians in the use of rifles when he could not persuade enough whites to enlist. However, by 1730 it had become clear that the militia could not handle the situation and regular soldiers were sent on patrol as well. The jungle patrols were extremely hard on the participants. Governor Nepveu wrote that the soldiers “melted like snow before the sunsine and those who are still alive carry around an impotent and miserable body”.

In the beginning of the 18th century, Governor De Cheusses was already well aware that it would be difficult to beat the Maroons: “while they don’t have to do anything, but hide about six behind trees here and there on the Route of our march, and from there shoot at our men, and then flee again further, since it will be impossible to discover them before they shoot, or to pursue them after the shooting, while they are in their Element there, and are very knowledgeable, and if one or two of our men are wounded in this manner, they will need bearers again, to traverse the forest”. Half a century later, Nepveu had similar reservations “even if there were 1000 yes 3000 men in those Forests, they could not do more than is done now, while it is impossible to engage them, if they want to retire, and the same with hungering them out even if one could suppose that one would find all their provision grounds, while they will never lack cabbes, wild fruits, fish and game”.

Despite this prevailing pessimism, patrol after patrol was dispatched. The soldiers experienced hell on earth. Van Sypesteyn explained: “Often they had to wade for hours and sometimes during half a day through the deep swamps, sinking to the hips in the swamp at every step, and obliged to carry the weapons and the ammunition on the head, to prevent them from getting wet. If the night fell, before they had reached a dry spot, then they were compelled to tie the hammocks to trees above the water or above the swamp, or to spend the night on a raft, which had been fashioned hastily from felled trunks … Sometimes it happened that, while they were wading through the swamp with the water reaching to their armpits, they were shot at by the ever-lurking bush negroes from a safe hideout, without being able to defend themselves much, because they, standing in the water, could not load their discharged rifles.”

Fortunately for the soldiers, the rebels had a constant shortage of guns, gunpowder and ammunition. According to Stedman, their shots often did not do much damage, because their rifles were loaded with small pebbles, buttons, or coins and they used a potsherd instead of a piece of flint for ignition. Sometimes, the Maroons were driven to attack military posts to obtain guns and ammunition, a risky venture that could go very wrong. Boni was rumored to make his own bullets.

Logistics was always the weak point for patrols. Governor Mauricius reported: “All the provisions have to be carried on the head by slaves and easily spoil in this heat. And everything depends on the loyalty of these slaves, who have been scraped together from all plantations, and usually are those which the owners or directors of the plantations want to get rid of. So it is usually the end of all patrols that one has to return for lack of provisions.” Governor Crommelin observed: “when a Load-carrying Negro has to carry provisions for four weeks for himself, one can easily understand that one cannot give him much to bear for the white Patrollers”.

Many of the Maroon villages were not that far away as the crow flies, but it often took weeks to reach them: “one reckons from Auka being a Jewish plantation, situated just below the Blue Mountain, at least 14 days travel, over Mountains, Creeks and Valleys, before one nears their Villages”, Thomas Pistorius observed. The Maroons usually situated their settlements in swampy areas, on the higher sand ridges. In the rainy season, they were practicably unreachable. During the rest of the year, they were well protected too. Some were surrounded by stakes, who functioned as man-traps: “From this we can see, that the Bush Negroes are not as simple as one thinks, and even shame us, while they do everything in their ability that is conductive to their Defense”, Governor Nepveu noted. One of the larger settlements was called Pennenburg, because “around the Village they had made double Diamonds, Crosswise over each other, in the manner of a Draught-board, with square holes, in which sharp pins had been put, which properly distributed, like a fence of Palisades, surrounded the Village”, wrote Pistorius. Boekoe had similar fences and was also protected by swivel-guns. When a village was attacked, the Maroons often did not defend themselves, but retired into the jungle, tried to hide their trail and brought their women, children and ‘house gods’, “in whom they have much confidence”, to safety.

Because of “bad judgement and fear” white soldiers were useless for battling Maroons. Moreover, the costs of dispatching so many patrols soon became prohibitive. Not infrequently, these amounted to more than 100.000 guilders for the average sojourn. Although a special cassa had been established for this purpose in 1749, it was emptied much quicker than it could be filled. It became increasingly clear to the whites that they could not win this war on their own.

From the beginning, they had put their hope on the abilities of the Indians. In 1690, for example, Governor van Scharphuys informed the Society that “fourteen days ago a troupe of 17 Coromantees have run away which [I] immediately have had pursued, but until now [I] got back no more than 8 of them the Indians have gone out in search of the rest who [I] hope return [with] good success”. Using Indians had its drawbacks though. The authorities observed in 1712 that weglopers had continuous contact with the Indians “who function as Instruments to debauch the Negroes on the plantations to Desertion”. Many runaways sought refuge with the Indians along the Saramacca and Coppename rivers and made ‘plantations’ for them. Later, the lure of rewards made the Indians more willing to track absconders, but they were put off by the fact that they often did not receive the promised premiums.

The bravery of the Indian warriors left much to be desired as well: “The Carib Indians are Lazy and Peaceful [and] fear the Weglopers a lot; they also don’t need any kargasoenen [trading goods] since they get enough kargasoenen from the Ruijlders [and don’t need] to barter for them, [they] also don’t want to do anything, and [they] would themselves not easily be able to find the places where those Weglopers hide”, Commander De Raineval complained. Governor De Cheusses was just as pessimistic. The Society should keep in mind “that the indians even though they knew some hideouts of the weglopers would never betray those, because it is a fearful people, and they would be afraid to be employed to point out these weglopers”. According to Teenstra, the Waraus were much better suited for hunting Maroons than the Caribs or the Arawaks and much less addicted to alcohol. The half-black Coppename Karboegers were deemed the most courageous. It was forbidden to trade with them to make sure they did not obtain guns. Governor Mauricius proposed in 1747 to ply them with gifts to get them on the side of the whites.

The battle against the Maroons could never be decided with the help of the Indians, so the colonists were forced to enlist Negro troops, who were much more suited to guerilla warfare. Slaves made up a valuable part of the various bostochten from the beginning, especially the schutternegers accompanying their masters. A more or less typical expedition to the Sara Creek, for example, consisted of a lieutenant, an ensign, 40 planters, 37 schutternegers and 83 carriers. The owners did not always like to see their slaves employed for this purpose. One of them complained to the Court of Police: “I do not give slaves to have them burn houses and to have them beaten with clubs as has been done here continuously for three years”. Other whites saw more possibilities.

Already in 1716, some colonists proposed that “The best and most loyal Negroes can be encouraged by favorable promises and compensation, and the service one would get from them, would in all probability have an even greater effect, than that of the Indians, because they are usually bolder”. Shortly after this, Commander De Raineval concluded: “Therefore, in my opinion, there will never be found a good remedy for this scandalous desertion, as with a group of freed Negro Creoles and Mulattoes, with four to five whites as their Chiefs, who could be divided [into] one group on the Upper Zuriname River and one group on the Upper Commewijne River, provided that first sufficient housing, provision grounds are made for them, the premiums for the catching and shooting of the maroons could be split, one half for the Mulattoes and Negroes and the other half for the whites … To animate and reassure these Mulattoes and Free Negroes one should supply those who had caught and killed a certain number of runaways with a wife to be paid for partly from their premium, and what was short from the public means of the land”. In this period, the authorities were not ready for these extreme measures yet. Governor Van de Schepper observed: “with regard to the Blacks one cannot Form a regular Corps and supply them all with guns, since this [is] too dangerous and would often lead to our own ruin, but most whites ordinarily whether on Patrol or otherwise take along two or three of their loyal slaves who they can trust supplied with riffles and use them”.

As the hostilities dragged on, the whites came to reason. The peace with some Maroon groups in the 1760’s had not ended the troubles with belligerent runaways. A new group under the command of Boni and his lieutenants Baron, Jolicoeur and Coromantin Codjo harassed the whites as never before. Governor Nepveu observed: “The terrible Insolences of these Negroes is without Example; however it appears that their principal goal is, to force us to make peace with them too, which is surely all the more questionable, since others will not fail to assemble in this Manner again from time to time: so this is an evil of which one cannot humanly speaking expect the end as long as one has Slaves”.

Since the expenses of fighting the insurgents nearly brought the colony to bankruptcy, Governor Nepveu concluded in 1769 that ‘if the slaves are made willing, they alone are able to track and catch runaways”. The best way to make slaves ‘willing’ was to promise them freedom. So three years later, the Governor and Court of Police decided to buy the freedom of 300 of the best slaves in the colony. Most of the candidates were eager to accept this opportunity. Only a few, owned by timber grounds in the Para, declined. These ‘Black Chasseurs’ (also called the Vrijcorps or Redi Moesoe) turned out to be singularly efficient and Governor Nepveu reported with glee that “the Negroes are incomparably more competent for this than Whites, and that one has always to expect much Benefit of them, provided one lets them act on their own without hindrances & without beings charged with Whites, for whom it is impossible to act with dexterity and obstinacy in the Forest, when it matters”.

The Maroons considered the Redi Moesoe traitors of the worst kind, but in the beginning, they wanted to give them a chance to defect. One chasseur reported to the Court of Police that he had been captured by the Maroons along with twelve comrades. Their captors had given them the choice to join them or die. Their leader Vigilant thereupon pronounced that they preferred to die and all of them were sentenced to death. The gun pointed at the survivor, however, failed twice and the Maroons regarded this as a sign from the gods. They killed his comrades with machetes, but decided to let him go, after whipping him soundly, cutting off an ear and shaving off his hair. Jupiter, the kidnapped slave of Elk Het Zijn, had witnessed this execution and later testified that the Maroons had brought the captives to their place of worship, had retracted their oath that they would not kill any Negro and had replaced it with an oath that from now on they would kill any chasseur that fell into their hands. The Redi Moesoe did not give quarter to the Maroons either. They gained some remarkable victories, the conquest of Boni’s stronghold Boekoe being the most remarkable.

During the height of the Boni War, Governor Nepveu finally found support for a favorite plan of his: the establishment of the so-called Cordon Pad around the inhabited part of the colony. The construction took from 1774 tot 1778. Kappler gave the following description: “The right branch of it stretched from the Suriname to the Commewijne, the left from the latter to the sea. The paths were about 80 feet wide and where they went through the forest, ditches four feet deep and 10 feet wide lay on both sides, in which the water seeping out of the forest gathered, and which discharged into the rivers and creeks. At a quarter of an hour distance of each other sentry posts and pickets were situated, which were partly manned from the main post, partly had a regular crew. The call-to-arms traveled the cordon pad from one end to the other in a few minutes.” In a way, the colonists had become the prisoners of their own former slaves.

In their desperation, the Surinam whites requested the help of the motherland and in 1773 the first contingent of State soldiers arrived under the command of Colonel Louis Henri Fourgeoud, who had gained valuable experience during the suppression of the Berbice rebellion in 1763. Nearly 2000 soldiers were sent to Surinam and when they left after five years of skirmishes only “a sad few hundred” were still alive. A minority had been killed in actual battle. Liquor and diseases had taken the heaviest toll. The debaucheries of the soldiers in Paramaribo, where they spent most of their time, angered the inhabitants and the fact that they had to bear a large part of the costs of the expedition did not please them very much either.

Colonel Fourgeoud was appointed the commander of all troops in Surinam, the soldiers of the Society included -thus surpassing the governor in importance. It is therefore not surprising that the relations between Colonel Fourgeoud and Governor Nepveu were strained from the beginning. Nepveu wanted the State troops to engage the Maroons whenever possible and to hunt them without mercy. Fourgeoud preferred a more restrained tactic. Nepveu complained that “with his Caresses, Benefactions, Promisses he tries to get [the Bush Negroes] on his side and on the other hand denigrates us with them”. Fourgeoud concentrated on destroying the provision grounds of the Maroons and in the end, this proved successful: desperately short of food and exhausted by the constant pursuit the remaining ‘unpacified’ Maroons (led by Boni) crossed the Marowijne River to French Guyana.

The troubles were not over though. Fortunately, the whites could depend on their new ‘pacified’ friends. When the Boni Maroons, in search of provisions and utensils and gunning for a similar peace treaty, returned to plunder the colony in 1788, the whites enlisted the help of the Djuka to suppress them. The Djuka were hesitant at first, but in 1792 a group led by captain Bambi attacked the village of Boni and killed him. This signaled the definitive end of the Boni Wars. Although a peace treaty was denied them, the Boni Maroons (nowadays called Aluku) were permitted to stay in Surinam as wards of the Djuka and they posed no longer a threat to colonial society. Other groups continued to trouble the plantations and until the last months of the slave era, patrols were dispatched to root them out, but although they remained a nuisance, they never constituted a real threat anymore.

For the whites it had been a bitter moment when they were forced to acknowledge that they could not defeat their rebellious slaves on their own. Coming to depend on their own former bondsmen to protect them was not an easy step, but it was a necessary one. The Bevredigde Bosnegers were never happy with the situation they had been obliged to accept and up to this day have retained a deep suspicion of whites and their motives, but the peace between them and the colonial government endured, to the benefit of both. This is certainly more than can be said about the peace treaties with Maroons groups elsewhere.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chapter 12: Resistance to slavery.

Heroes and villains: some views on slave resistance.

Resistance in all its forms was a popular subject for academics in the last decades and most writers about slavery indulged in lengthy discussions about it. For many of them the thought that slaves meekly accepted their lowly condition was unbearable and when they could not find clear signs of rebelliousness, they practically invented them. Sometimes, all acts of slaves that purposely or accidentally harmed the interests of the masters were taken as proof that a heroic struggle for the Dignity of Man was going on. From this perspective, suicide, laziness and stupidity all had revolutionary virtue.

Experts on slavery in the United States were hard pressed to come up with evidence of a heroic zeal among the slaves. A mere three or four abortive uprisings in a slave population of millions over a period of nearly 200 years do not constitute a very impressive record. Especially not, when one compares this with the rebellious attitude of the Caribbean bondsmen. With the help of an imaginative definition, Herbert Aptheker could dredge up several hundreds of ‘rebellions’ in the Old South, but most of them were no more than unsuccessful schemes and mere rumors. The crux of the matter is that many modern authors, most emphatically those of Marxist hue, find it hard to believe that slaves would have been able to live under such degrading conditions without a constant struggle against their oppressors. Unfortunately for them, the revolutionary potential of subjected peoples tends to be greatly overstated.

Eugene Genovese therefore warned against too simplistic a view: “Unable to challenge the system as such, unable to resist it frontally except on desperate occasions and then with little hope of success –they accepted what could not be avoided. In its positive aspect this accommodation represented a commitment, shared by most peoples, however oppressed, to the belief that a harsh unjust social order is preferable to the insecurities of no social order at all.” People with such harrowing experiences as the slaves soon learn to distrust all “utopian nostrumy”. Sidney Mintz voiced a similar opinion: “That slavery is inherently degrading, that it degrades both master and slave, goes almost without saying. But this does not mean that men are incapable of living in degraded conditions, nor does it guarantee that they will wage an unremitting struggle against them.”

For most black writers, however, it is unthinkable that the slaves will not have resisted with all their might -if not with violence, then in some other way. Orlando Patterson, for example, warned not to underestimate the capacity for playacting in the slaves. They may have fooled the slaveholders of the Old South by their contented appearance, but the ancient Greeks knew better: “Never once did they commit the lamentable error of those modern bourgeois historians who confuse the aggressive duplicity of the oppressed with a psychology of servile conformity”. For George Rawick every slave contained a rebel, struggling to get out: “Man … do not move in their own behalf or make revolutions for light and transient reasons. Only when they no longer can stand the contradictions of their own personalities do they move in a sharp and decisive fashion. The victim is always in the process of becoming a rebel, because the contradictions demand this solution.”

Some slavery authors were so eager for displays of a revolutionary fervor by the slaves that they, in the words of Rice, were pushed into “a characteristically American double standard on the violence of the anti-slavery years into the assumption that violence was distasteful when used to defend slavery but excusable when used to attack it.” The most extreme representative of this position was C.L.R. James, who wrote about Haiti: “The massacre of the whites was a tragedy; not for the whites, for these old slave owners, those who burned a little powder in the arse of a Negro, who buried him alive for insects to eat, who were well treated by Toussaint, and who, as soon as they got the chance, began their old cruelties again: for these there is no need to waste one tear or one drop of ink. The tragedy was for the Blacks and the Mulattoes. It was not policy but revenge, and revenge has no place in politics.”

It is remarkable how blandly these authors condone the most vicious kinds of violence by black insurgents, even when aimed at their fellow slaves. Eugene Genovese, who in the beginning of the 1970’s warned the proponents of the ‘burn, baby, burn’ philosophy that it were the blacks who would be burned first and most, in his latest book on this subject not only defended the use of terror against whites, but also against blacks who were reluctant to revolt just because it was politically expedient.

One thing most slavery authors agreed on is the fact that the resistance of the slaves could hardly be called political. Eric Hobsbawn regarded slaves as “prepolitical beings in a prepolitical situation”. Their rebellions did not represent deliberate strategies to overthrow the system, according to Frederickson and Lash: ”They do not aim so much at changing the balance of power as at giving expression on the one hand to apocalyptic visions of retribution and on the other to an immediate thirst for vengeance directed more at particular individuals than at larger systems of authority.” This was even true for the Maroons. Genovese concluded that especially in the 18th century, when Africans predominated in the Maroon groups, their goals were ‘restorationalist’ in character (they wanted to recreate African communities) and only when Creoles gained more influence later in the century “the historical context of the slave revolts shifted decisively from attempts to secure freedom to attempts to overthrow slavery as a social system”. Only in Haiti, these attempts met with success.

Different groups had different ways of resisting. The Africans moved in a sudden and violent fashion: all or nothing, freedom or death. The Creoles chose an alternative approach: they knew the ropes, they could manipulate the rules and they could cleverly undermine the system by gnawing at its roots. This did not mean that they acted more ‘cowardly’: “the African predominance among the Maroons does not indict the Creoles for lack of militancy, but, rather, delineates different paths of struggle”, Genovese maintained.

In this context, some writers came to regard the whole way of life of the slaves as a constant, silent protest against their oppression. Consequently, the concept of culture as a form of resistance could develop. This view has some merit. If the ideal is that the slave is merely an extension of his master’s will, a working robot with no feelings, no ambitions, no pride, then the mere fact that slaves had a culture of their own contradicted this image and signified a manner of resisting the pervasive power of the master. Elkins disagreed with this view because of the pathology inherent in the culture of the slaves, which made clinging to this culture an unhealthy form of adaptation.

Some slavery authors opposed the unfavorable picture painted of slaves in the traditional literature so militantly, that they ended up too far on the other side of the fence. They created heroes where there were none. They claimed, for example, that just the ability to endure is a quality to admire -in a slave: “it is presumptuous in posterity to dismiss contemptuously the methods that enabled generations of slaves to endure their harsh lot in life and to snatch from it a few human satisfactions”, wrote Rose. Others bombarded common thugs and bloodthirsty maniacs into revolutionary heroes. “According to the myth, which does have a strong kernel of truth, every lower-class badman is a Robin Hood, avenging the poor and downtrodden and harassing the Man”, remarked Genovese. No doubt, when a slave killed a white or burned down his plantation (for whatever reason) he helped to undermine the system, but at the same time, these actions “strengthened the slaveholders’ self-esteem and sense of commanding a moral system”. Therefore, anarchistic violence was largely self-defeating.

The level of resistance encountered in the various slave societies largely depends on one's definition of resistance. However, overt slave resistance in the United States was slight by any definition. There were many obvious geographical, demographical and cultural reasons for this, but in the opinion of Stanley Elkins, they cannot explain this phenomenon satisfactorily. He pointed to the necessity of taking the influence of the slavery system on the psyche of the slaves into account. In the Old South this influence resulted in a certain degree of infantilization. Consequently, many of the American slaves displayed the traits of ‘Sambo’: “Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing; his behavior was full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration. His relationship with his master was one of utter dependence and childlike attachment: it was indeed this childlike quality that was the very key to his being.”

On the whole, there was little sympathy for this theory, although some authors conceded that there might have been a few genuine Samboes around. Earl Thorpe wrote: “Any historian who denies that Sambo, often feigned, but sometimes genuine, was one side of the bondsman’s personality is probably guilty of being unrealistic. What is known about human behavior and totalitarian systems calls for a change in some aspects of the slave image which some Negro historians have favored. Since these were their immediate blood and cultural forbearers and in view of the overly narrow image of them which slavocracy projected, it is understandable that they sometimes have put great stress on the neater side of the bondsman’s personality and character. Thus, in reacting against one stereotype, they have been in danger of creating another one, equally false.”

It cannot be denied, as Roy Bryce-Laporte stressed, that the circumstances on the plantations had an “intense mortifying and dehumanizing impact”, but if the slaves had “fully succumbed to those conditions they would have all been zombified or psychologically dead”. On the other hand, he did not believe in the continuous resistance of the slaves, because then “they would have all been physically dead or absent by way of escape, exodus, or revolution”. Neither was the case, so they must have found a workable compromise. Few slaves wholeheartedly accepted their lowly position as their proper station in life. Most of them showed some resistance, actively or passively, but as Genovese remarked: “The practical question facing the slaves was not whether slavery itself was a proper relation, but how to survive it with the greatest degree of self determination.”

Resistance in Surinam.

An uneasy balance.

In the eyes of many slavery authors with a comparative perspective, Surinam slaves wrote one of the most ‘heroic chapters’ in the history of slave resistance. In Surinam alone, Maroons not only created viable communities in the interior, but they forced the colonial government to acknowledge their freedom and independence and they managed to survive as distinct tribes until this moment. Thousands, of slaves escaped into the jungle over the years. Most remarkable, however, is not the fact that so many ran away, but the fact that so many stayed on. The slaves of Surinam did not flee at the slightest provocation. The ties that bound them to the plantations were hard to severe. Many slaves were willing to undergo manifold deprivations in order to remain in their cherished community.

Even if they did not resist their overlords actively, the slaves were not totally helpless. The masters wanted their subjection and unfailing obedience, but first of all, they wanted their labor and they were willing to compromise their principles for a higher production. Consequently, they often ‘negotiated’ with their chattels. Sometimes this resulted in decisions that undermined their very authority (not to punish erring slaves, for example). As early as 1670, the Political Councilors reported that it had come to their notice that “sometimes some planters have negroes who rise up and rebel against their masters, and from fear of losing them do not dare to punish them or bring them in for punishment; [and] that some negroes having received freedom from their patrons wander around lazy and idle and thereby give other negroes a pretext to run away from their masters”. Therefore, the councilors demanded that planters who had been opposed by their slaves would be obliged to turn them over to the authorities for punishment.

There was a perennial tug of war between slaves and masters and although the latter had the power of violence and law at their side, they had to be careful not to lose the battle at the very beginning. Blom warned that slaves tried out any new master. The first few days of an administration were decisive: “When the negroes have gotten a new master, be it Planter or Administrator, the most daring often will try to reach their goal; but having failed once, they keep quiet from then on, and everyone bows to the orders of the Director; all is quiet, in order, and the plantation fares well; but if they succeed, these will play the master over the innocent negroes; make them work for them and serve them, everything is upset, and the plantation fares badly.”

In the opinion of Blom, the slaves should never be given the chance to ‘divide and conquer’. It was vitally important that the owner/administrator and the director never quarreled about the management of the plantation in public. Also, the grootmeester should never allow the house servants to report on the behavior of the director: “not that sometimes when one has taken a man of bad comportment as his Director, it would not be expedient for the Planter; when he is informed of this; but for reason that one can never trust such reports; that if [a slave] has found such a way to get the ear of his master, they will only look up to such a favorite, lose the awe they should have for the Director, and consider him a man, in whom their master has no confidence himself. Once a Director has lost the respect of the negroes, he is not able to govern such a plantation well, but even when he was totally wrong, and the negroes were wholly justified to complain, a Planter should not show his displeasure in front of the negroes.” When a grootmeester had reason to be dissatisfied, he should make the director account for his actions in private and complaining slaves deserved to be “punished immediately and without mercy”. Sometimes, this was exactly what happened. Given the isolation of many plantations and the heavy losses owners could sustain when they left a sadistic director in charge, they often had no choice, however, but to lend an ear to the grievances of the bondsmen.

Surinam slaves clung to the principle that they had certain modest, but inalienable rights and that their masters ought to respect these. Especially when they ignored the rules laid down by the government, the slaves were encouraged to rebel. The authorities could not dismiss justified complaints without courting the danger of widespread unrest, so they often felt obliged to placate the slaves, as they did in the following instance. Councilor Hatterman was dispatched to the plantation La Paix in 1772, when trouble arose between the slaves and the new owner (and former director) Jean Rivière, who accused each other of wrongdoing. He tried to pacify the bondsmen by offering them a soopje but remarked: “if we were in different Circumstances of Time, it would have been very necessary that of two or three of those Cockerels the head was cut off, because [I] attest never to have seen such impertinent Slaves”. Hatterman prevailed upon Rivière to appoint another director, but he refused because he had to satisfy his creditors. The Court of Police summoned Rivière and persuaded him to turn over the government of the plantation to someone else. The slaves were admonished about their misbehavior, but ‘at the request of their owner’ they were not to be punished, provided they promised to obey their new director.

So, even when the slaves were clearly in the wrong in the eyes of the mediators, they sometimes felt obliged to give in to them. When a plantation was located in a sensitive area, the leverage of the slaves was even greater, especially when they threatened to run away en masse: Mr. Tribulon of Timotibo had to promise his slaves 30 acres of new provision grounds and the distribution of the crops from it among them, before they gave in.

At other times, the whites refused to be blackmailed. Two councilors were dispatched to deal with the slave Prince, who was accused of opposing and threatening his director. According to Prince, the director had kicked in the door of a house where his sister lay to recuperate from a bad miscarriage she had suffered three weeks before. He had beaten her with a stick, from which she had still not recovered. Prince claimed to have merely tried to dissuade him. It turned out that the slaves had ample reason to be dissatisfied with the director and the investigators had the impression that they planned to kill him and run off. The accused vehemently denied any such intention. The wise gentlemen thereupon decided to urge the bondsmen to work harder “in the hope that in the future, like on other Plantations, they will receive their distributions”.

Not rarely, the masters themselves appealed to the authorities for help. Some of them were not able to keep their slaves in line and asked for military support to teach them a lesson. The events on the plantation Maalstroom provide an example. This estate had been sold to a new owner and the slaves believed that they would be delivered from the strict government of the old director Ranitz. They let it be known that they preferred Mr. Tekenburg as their new master. A wise choice, because Tekenburg was the owner of a plantation himself and administered several others, so he would have little time to interfere in the affairs of Maalstroom. But alas for the slaves, Tekenburg was on the verge of returning to Europe. The resistance of the slave force had been animated by the old hand Quamina, who “has had the authority over the plantation before [and who tried] to mount the throne again”. Although Ranitz showed himself willing to compromise, the unrest continued and he was forced to ask for assistance. A sergeant and six privates were sent to his aid. When the slaves found out that he intended to put the main culprits behind bars, they took off. Most of them were apprehended soon, but forty fugitives managed to evade their pursuers. Very worried now, Ranitz asked the Court of Police to investigate his behavior and two members arrived to examine the captured slaves. They concluded that these had earned most of the blame themselves and had them soundly whipped. This intervention proved successful, because several days later most of the runaways returned and discipline was restored.

It is undeniable that some directors and administrators had serious problems establishing their authority. Sometimes a thunderous speech by the owner worked miracles, but just as often, the authorities had to lend a hand. These were often hesistent to sent in the troops for fear of escalation. Therefore, they not only ispatched envoys to mediate, but gratefully accepted the intercession of slaves of neighboring plantations. When unrest occurred on Wajampibo (because the slaves refused to accept the authority of the newly appointed administrator Rotarius), the slaves of the adjoining plantation Vossenburg, who evacuated the desperate man to Paramaribo, offered to reason with them. This diplomatic gesture was much appreciated. They were received by Governor Nepveu, who was greatly impressed by their loyalty. Before they could commence their mission, however, the slaves of Wajampibo proved that they did not reject the authority of a master out of principle. When Maroons attacked the plantation, the bondsmen did not join them, but instead tracked the culprits down and caught two of them. Nepveu thereupon concluded that “they hold themselves very well and work well, but do not want to be commanded by Mr. Rotarius”. In the end, the mediation of the slaves of Vossenburg was obviously successful, because their colleagues of Wajampibo were reconciled with Rotarius, who no doubt returned to the plantation and wiser and milder man.

Masters who failed to establish their authority were not always supported, though. When the director of the plantation Cortenduur, J. Snebbeling, asked for replacement because he feared a plot against him, the Court was not convinced that his accusations had any foundation and pointed out that he had run into had similar trouble on other plantations.

In some cases, the government contemplated interference not because planters were too cruel, but because they were too lenient and spoiled their slaves. Governor Texier, for example, was seriously worried about the situation on the plantation Goed Accoord, which was about to be sold. “There is a considerable force of the best Creole Slaves … who however are not used to work very hard, who have been left to do what they pleased, and who have had Whites on the plantation but only Pro Forma, and because this had to be according to the laws of the Land; The administrators have had to use all this Leniency, to avoid upsetting these Slaves, who have always been considered a security against the enterprises of the Runaways for upper Commewijne; If these Slaves upon Sale fall into the hands of someone who wants to Compel them to more Work and another Way of Life by force and severity, one runs the Danger that they become obstinate, and start the same Game as those of La Paix in Cottica, who were like these formerly the bulwark of that river, until having been sold to Rivière, and having been treated badly by him, they started those Extremities that have been so harmful for the whole Colony, and of which the after-effects are still felt”. He needed not to have worried, because the plantation was bought by a former blankofficier, a friendly man who was well known to the slaves.

Although the masters tried to prevent it, the slaves often got the advantage by playing them against each other. If there were several owners, the opportunities multiplied, as is proven by the following case. Abraham Cores jr., married to Susanna van Ortena, reported to the Court of Police that his wife had inherited the plantation Crispinapie, together with Jan van Vliet. When he and his wife wanted to take possession of their new domain, the slaves (encouraged in their obstinacy by Van Vliet, he claimed) refused to acknowledge him as their master and every time he showed his face, he was treated with the utmost insolence. The Court sent two members to investigate and these found that the slaves wanted Jan van Vliet as their sole master. They stated categorically that they would rather die than work for Cores, who was reputed to be very cruel. They promised to be faithful slaves to any other master, but as long as Cores kept coming to the plantation, they would continue to run away. Cores gave in and offered Jan van Vliet the opportunity to buy him out in 10 to 12 years, which Van Vliet declined. He also refused to rent Cores’ part of the plantation, or even to administrate it. Therefore, the representatives of the Court advised to appoint a neutral director who was acceptable to all parties.

These examples support the impression that slaves were sometimes listened to, if they had ‘reasonable complaints’ and that in these cases their resistance was tolerated and appropriate measures were taken -sometimes even to the point of allowing slaves sometimes to see a ‘difference of opinion’ between their superiors. An illustration of this was given by Bartelink. In the 1850’s, he worked on the plantation Onoribo, where corporal punishments had been abolished. Wrongdoers were locked up during the night and it was his duty to release them at four o’ clock in the morning. Once, he overslept and only let them out an hour later. By then “it was however too late for the people to cook their meal and be ready in time to go to the field; they refused to come out. [The director] turned to me and gave me such a reprimand that the ground trembled.” Going without food did not absolve the slaves from the duty to work, though.

The bondsmen considered themselves rightfully entitled to annual distributions, sufficient food and the usual holidays, but most of the time material deprivations were not enough to unite them in a common protest, as the following example shows. One day, the slaves of the plantation Berlijn attacked the bastiaan when he tried to punish one of them. Thereafter they threatened the director with machetes and knives. They warned him that they would bash in his head and retreat into the forest when he did not mend his ways. To show their resolve, they went on a strike and the director was powerless to break it. Instead of going into the fields, they tended their provision grounds. The authorities could end this protest easily because there were only 38 able-bodied men on the plantation. The rest of the 200 slaves were women, children and seniors. It quickly turned out that the bondsmen had every right to be annoyed. They had not received their usual distributions in years (“not even something to cover their humbleness”) and they had not bothered to clear land for provisions now because the director had told them that he would take them to Nickerie, so they considered it a “useless occupation”. They complained that they had always worked well (they even did more than the landsmerken proscribed), yet, if they needed clothes, they had to buy them from the director with timber.

These slaves had quietly suffered material deprivations for years and only when their master threatened to move them, they revolted. With success: the transfer to Nickerie was canceled. Faced with the prospect of being forced to leave their familiar surroundings, many slave communities rebelled. The majority of them elected to follow the safest route: disappearing into the jungle.


Nowhere in the Caribbean were the circumstances so ideal for escaping the plantations as in Surinam. The estates were all situated along the rivers and creeks and extended only a couple of kilometers into the hinterland. Behind them, the unspoilt forest beckoned. Runaways merely had to cross the back dam of the plantation and they were swallowed up by a jungle so impenetrable that they could hide for years without being detected, even when they stayed close to home. If they ventured deeper into the interior, the chances that their masters would ever find them again evaporated. Therefore, it is no wonder that many dissatisfied slaves took this course.

Several hundreds of bondsmen ran away each year. Roughly two thirds of them returned to their plantations eventually, mostly voluntary. Often, they had only been hiding in the cane fields or the coffee grounds because they feared punishments, or because their tasks were too heavy. When the air cleared (of which they were often informed by friends who knew their whereabouts), they generally ventured back, hoping to come off with a light penalty. Other runaways lived, sometimes permanently, in the kapoewerie behind the plantations (these were called schuylders). Most of them kept in touch with their relatives and when they received notice that it was safe to return (for example because a vindictive director had been replaced), many of them did. The weglopers with the most courage and the least ties burned their bridges behind them. They went deeper into the jungle, grew their own food, enticed other slaves to join them, or kidnapped women to establish a family. When a large group absconded, or some smaller groups amalgamated, the first Maroon communities were formed. For their very survival, these waged an unremitting war against the whites.

Often, slaves had to be severely provoked before they decided to leave their plantation and their companions forever. Many famous Maroon leaders had been model slaves before an inexcusable act of cruelty drove them away. Hartsinck told the story of Quakoe, a captain of the Aucaners, who had been the property of Sara de la Parra. He hated her because “she had plagued him many Years, even though he had brought her many benefits, [and] as reward she wanted to cut off his Nose and Ears; this he could not endure, as he understood, that his countenance would be disfigured by this more or less, therefore he did not want to suffer this, having seen the bad figure of his companions, of which one was still with him, and consequently felt obliged, to leave for the Bushnegroes”.

Not only the valued ties of kinship and religion withheld them from running away merely to escape economic exploitation, the forest harbored untold dangers as well. Few slaves dared to flee during the wet season, because then it was very hard to find food and to get about. But even under more favorable circumstances, the runaways often went hungry and had to steal food from the plantations –a hazardous undertaking because they might be captured, or even be shot on sight. Other runaways were forced to live on roots and cabbes for months. Not a few decided to return and face retribution for this reason. If runaways succeeded in establishing provision grounds, there was a good chance that these would be discovered by patrols. The Indians, at first allies, later became enthusiastic bounty hunters, who turned in many fugitives.

Often, other runaways proved to be the most dangerous adversaries. A fugitive could never be assured of hospitality or acceptance. In the 18th century, many Maroon communities, except when they were desperately short of manpower, were reluctant to accept male strangers, especially when they were of different ethnic stock. In the 19th century, most new Maroon groups consisted almost wholly of recently imported Africans and did not hesitate to kill any Creole who dared to show his face. Many runaways therefore preferred to stay on their own.

These factors limited the number of (permanent) escapees considerably, but there were still enough to worry the whites seriously. Innumerable measures were taken to stem the tide, but generally with little effect. For example, the Court of Police decreed that slaves needed written permission from their master to leave the plantation, but there was hardly any control. It was pure coincidence when slaves without a pass were caught and the chances were good that these were not fleeing at all, but were just innocently visiting an adjoining plantation. It was all but impossible to keep slaves from congregating. The planters could hardly lock all of them up during the night and only notorious deserters were treated to a ball and chain.

When slavery was abolished in the French and English territories, many Surinam slaves crossed the waters to the Promised Land. Some were caught, like Dicky and Askaan, who had sneaked onto the English schooner Lady of the Night, but were discovered and delivered to the authorities by the captain. Another slave, owned by Mr. Camijn, was picked up on open sea, put on board of a ship and send back. What he had in mind is not clear; perhaps he believed the emancipated islands were close. Some runaways were captured near the Moravian mission post Saron while building a ship with which they planned to return to Africa. A few lucky ones did manage to reach freedom by the sea: Phillip and his companions escaped in a stolen schooner, despite the fact that guards had been posted.

Masters could do little to retrieve an escaped slave. They had to warn the militia and if the fugitive had committed a crime, or if a group had fled, a commando (patrol) was dispatched. In the absence of tangible success, the patrol usually returned quickly and then the escapee(s) would usually only be found by pure chance, as happened in the following cases. (1) Three slaves of the plantation Marseille discovered a small path in the kapoewerie behind their plantation one day. They followed it and found a cabin, inhabited by a man, his wife and their child. During the ensuing fight, the man was killed and the woman and child were taken prisoner. They were brought to the director of Marseille. The irony of the matter was that these runaways had lived for three years at a distance of only 15 minutes from the military post Vredenburg, where members of the Vrijcorps patrolled daily. (2) The provision guard of Mon Affaire found some cut off plantains one day and discovered a path leading into the forest. He warned his master and three whites, accompanied by two slaves, went to investigate. After walking for two hours, they found a cabin with three schuylders. Two managed to escape, but the third was captured, wounded in several places. It turned out they had been living there for ten years (“which is unbelievable”). All the time, the captive had closely watched everything that happened on the plantation. He was clearly not very eager to return, because the director had to carry him from the forest hanging from a branch like a pig.

Sometimes the owner of a runaway placed an advertisement in the Surinaamse Courant, but this was only likely to have success if the culprit had chosen to stay in Paramaribo, hoping to disappear into the mass. Such advertisements went like these: (1) “The cooper negro with the name of Frederick, reddish of color and marked with G.K., belonging to the widow Rocheteau hiding himself in the city here and probably sometimes working on board of ships, a premium of fl. 50,- is promised to those who can give information on the aforementioned slave in the office of the undersigned so he can be apprehended”; (2) “For some time is absent from the plantation De Twee Kinderen a negress named PRINCESS, formerly belonging to the free ASTREA van SCHANTZENBACH, who catches her and delivers her to the undersigned or Mr. P.E. PEYREYRA in the Saramakka Street, will enjoy the premium of Hundred guilders: everyone being warned not to hide or keep the aforementioned negress.”

Surprisingly, not all masters were eager to reclaim their property. The Court of Police complained that many recaptured deserters incarcerated in Fort Zeelandia had not been retrieved by their owners. These were reluctant to pay the expenses of apprehension, detention and punishment, which could amount to more than the value of the slave. Therefore, it was decided that captives had to be reclaimed within six weeks, or they would be sent to Fort Nieuw Amsterdam to work in chains.

In some instances, a slave had been such a nuisance on the plantation that his owner was ambivalent about the advisability of getting him back, even if he was worth more than the costs. The director of De Eendracht, Mr. Jantzen, reported to his employer: “The Negro Toon is still with the posthouder [government representative with the Bush Negroes] on Sienaba who wants for him a Bounty of 23f & 4 jugs of dram, the Negro is outside danger for [I] have let the Negro Solieman already take out 1 Bullet and the other does not hurt him anymore, if Your Hon. desires that I pay the demanded Bounty for this, so [I] shall fetch the Negro, because if he comes to the fort it sometimes will cost more, and if he is fully recovered Your Hon. had better put him on a boat, that will be the best for the Villain because on the plantation the Negro will never do.”

Slaves who tried to win their freedom were often betrayed by their peers, out of spite or for gain. However, sometimes they would be aided and sheltered, most frequently by other slaves, but occasionally by a vrijneger (who often had an ulterior motive). For example, the free Negress Candace hid the runaway Quakoe (a plantation slave) for three months. He showed his appreciation by helping her husband, a mason, with his work. Candace pleaded for mercy in the Court, claiming poverty drove her to this deed.

The Moravian Brothers seemed to have a ‘good’ influence on slaves contemplating desertion. Convinced that they would receive a just reward for their loyal services in the afterlife and of course not wanting to lose their sheep to the forest, they urged the slaves to stay on the plantations and to try to better their circumstances peacefully. The planters greatly appreciated these sermons. Director Wohlfahrt of Breukelerwaard told a proud missionary that the EBG-influence had changed his slaves a lot, and for the better: “they were a very bad sort of Negroes, when I wanted to punish them in the past, they often ran into the forest in a whole group, now however, this does not happen anymore”.

The ease of escape may have kept the slavery system of Surinam from ruin, because it acted as a safety valve: the most rebellious elements, who might have become the leaders of an uprising, removed themselves from the premises. They also showed the other slaves that their situation was not hopeless, that there was always a way out when life in captivity became unbearable, as long as they were willing to take the risk. It was, however, not always the cream of the crop that made off. Undoubtedly, slaves will have been quite pleased to get rid of some of the worst troublemakers this way.

I have gathered information on about 500 slaves who had to appear before the Criminal Court for unwarranted absence. Most of them (86%) were males, as might be expected. However, contrary to what might be expected, only a minority (15%) could be classified as a nieuwe neger (they had been in the colony less than three years). Most of these did not know the slave language yet. Nearly a fifth of the recaptured slaves claimed to have been kidnapped by Maroons when they were in the forest and 8% (mostly females) said they had been dragged from their plantation by other slaves (males, of course) by force. These figures must be taken with a pinch of salt, since their life or limb depended on their desertion being classified as ‘involuntary’. Many of the absentees (17%) had not run into the forest, but had set forth in the direction of Paramaribo, trying to reach the Raad-Fiscaal, the Court of Police, or their grootmeester to complain about their situation. The majority absconded because of mistreatment. A considerable part (8%, usually nieuwe negers), claimed to have been mainly brutalized by fellow slaves, but with a share of 33%, whites certainly made up a major portion of the abusers. The rest of the slaves had been mistreated by black officers at the behest of the master. The grievances varied from stinginess (sometimes in an extreme degree: Prins of Mr. Ladesma received only two plantains a day) to tortures that shocked even the most hardened judges. Finally, 10% of the deserters had fled because they feared, or had been threatened with, punishment. In most of these cases, the slaves knew from bitter experience what they were running from, but Frinkie, a slave of the plantation Clifford Kockshoven, had never been beaten in his three years of thralldom and had immediately deserted when the director suggested it was time he got acquainted with the lash.

Most of these slaves had fled alone or in small groups, often in the spur of the moment. Consequently, they were ill-prepared for their new freedom and were often very glad to return to the safety of the plantation. It was different when a large group of slaves made off together. Although this could also be the result of a sudden panic (for example when a slave had killed his master during a fight and incited his fellows to run off with him because they might be held responsible as well), most escapes of this kind were carefully planned, and occasionally even advertised in advance. If they were sensible, the plotting slaves made sure they had some food stowed away to tide them over and waited for an occasion when the director would not be able to follow them right away, so most traces would have been lost when a patrol was finally sent in pursuit. Only a few of such planned mass desertions took place during the rainy season, because of the logistic problems. When the flight was not primarily meant as a protest, or as a way to obtain leverage for bargaining with the masters, it was hard to capture these groups of slaves again. They might develop into stable Maroon communities that the whites would get to know much more intimately than was good for them.

Violence against whites.

Because the facility of desertion removed the most dissatisfied, obstinate and ruthless bondsmen from the scene of possible confrontations, actual physical violence of plantation slaves against their master was comparatively rare. It seldom happened that a slave killed or seriously wounded a planter, but (perhaps because of this) these events were etched into the minds of the white inhabitants. In their conflict with Governor Mauricius, for example, the members of the Cabale dredged up attacks on planters that had taken place 40 years earlier, in order to demonstrate the dangers of living in the colony. When a planter was murdered, it usually happened in the heat of the moment. In 1752, Willem van Gorcum of the plantation Cipibo was killed by a slave in the field, who made off immediately. The other slaves had been too far away to prevent it.

The authorities tried to limit the possibilities for violence as much as possible, for example by ordering to keep guns away from slaves, or by forbidding the presence of a blacksmith’s shop on the plantations. Governor Nepveu warned against issuing guns to slaves on many occasions because “they run away with them and thus turn these weapons against us”. The masters had their own reasons to sabotage these measures, however. Many privileged slaves were allowed to possess guns to hunt and others were trained as schutternegers (marksmen) to accompany their masters on patrol. Add to this the incalculable number of axes, machetes and hoes, and it follows that the armament of the slaves was not exactly inferior to that of their masters.

Although the usual rumors about uprisings and killings also circulated in Surinam, most whites do not seem to have been very paranoid. They had little reason to fear overt violence from their own slaves: most slain whites were the victims of outsiders, although occasionally these outsiders were their own former chattels, who had come back to settle scores. Even then, their anger was usually reserved for specific persons. Malouet reported for example: “I have seen the mistress of the celebrated Baron, captain of the enemy maroons, who received from her revolting slave the most touching signs of respect and attachment. This negro only wanted his master, who had treated him with cruelty: he has come ten times on the terrain with the plan to burn everything down; but the mistress and her children were for him a safeguard he respected. He threw himself at their feet, embraced his little masters, and went away without doing any harm, when he saw that the master was absent.”

In rare instances, the white victims were not only killed, but tortured as well. During an attack on the plantation Welgevonden, owned by Abraham Meyer, his son fell into the hands of the attackers and was cruelly slaughtered: “the hands were cut off first, and then the throat, then the Breast was split open and the Heart taken out”. The same fate befell Mr. Hartdegen and in addition, his body was roasted over a fire, reported the Surinaamse Almanak in 1796. Whether it was eaten as well, the story did not tell, but there have been documented cases in which the remains of a slain white disappeared into the stomachs of his murderers. Kappler recounted how in 1832 a patrol in the Upper Commewijne region was ordered to bring some papers from Post Willem Frederik to Post Oranje (which was done every month). The patrol consisted of three soldiers. One corporal stayed behind to defecate and his comrades lost sight of him. He was never seen again. A year later, a group of weglopers attacked an Indian village and kidnapped a girl. The Indians asked for a patrol, which was duly sent. During their search, the soldiers discovered a large village and occupied it. In the debris, they found a uniform, a gun and a golden watch that had all belonged to the missing corporal. Their captives confessed that they had butchered and eaten him.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, the Surinam colonists suspected that their slaves lusted after white women and would kidnap and rape them whenever they got the opportunity. Few deserters seems to have entertained this ambition in real life, although there was a group, inhabiting a kind of ‘robbers den’ near Paramaribo, whose leader liked to indulge in fantasies of this kind. There is no proof that he ever acted them out. In some instances, women were indeed molested, however. When Maroons attacked the plantation of Cornelis Fok in the Para region, they “stripped the Wife of Fok naked (and God knows what they did to her) finally cut her in the cheek with a machete, and let her go”, lamented Cabale member Salomon Duplessis. Since very few of the white women lived on plantations (most were safely tucked away in the capital), there was little chance that they would meet with a fate worse than death.


Although not many Surinam slave masters honestly feared that one of their slaves would pick up an axe and crush their skull, many were apprehensive about the possibility of being poisoned. “Such suspicious directors then took a child five or six years old from the most influential slave family in their home, as a kind of hostage. Of everything they eat or drink, the child had to taste first. This way they believed to be protected against secret attacks”, Bartelink reported. Not only slave masters felt threatened. Raad-Fiscaal Jacobus van Halewijn wrote to the Society in 1742: “I have said to be endangered by many things, of which not the least is [that] the use of poison by many of the slaves, on whites, as well as blacks, has much increased lately because of overindulgence, and this tolerance has brought the slaves to an unbearable temerity, indeed in such a degree, that one nowadays does not stand, go or eat without fear, and because the investigation of the commited evil, and the punishment following that is vested in my office as Fiscaal, I am exposed more, than others.” Gouvernor Mauricius had a similar observation in 1745: “One of the greatest unpleasantnesses of this Land is, the continuous Fear, one has to live in, for the poison of the Slaves, which is more prevalent then ever. The Lord Commander with his wife and the Lord Collector Couderc, who is lodged with him for the time being, having been unable to find a house yet, have been on the verge of losing their Lives by a plate of soup, which already had been ladled out. Those who are guilty of this, were the Commander’s best and old house slaves. However constant and generous one might be, I confess that these cases scare one. And what can one do, as this Rabble does not fear death, and endures the cruelest torments with a laughing face. Also neither goodness nor badness helps and there are Examples of the most magnanimous masters, who nevertheless have been poisoned.”

Kappler noted that the poisons were all of vegetable origin and left little or no trace. It is likely that many a hated slave master gradually weakened and finally died without anyone imagining that he had been poisoned. Sometimes slaves suspected of such a misdeed were caught. In 1748, a woman was executed for an attempt to kill Mrs. Pater, a daughter of former Governor Van de Schepper and the wife of one of the most prosperous planters of the colony, by putting poison in her coffee. In most cases, the slaves who employed poisons did not aim to kill their master or mistress, but to harm them indirectly by destroying their most valuable property –their slave force. Lans (who did not believe that poisoning was as prevalent as many masters and slaves thought) wrote: “it is terrible, when on a plantation a poisoner hides who, either because of hatred against the master, or, as sometimes seems to be the case, merely because of a desire to do evil, by a kind of monomania, practices his disgusting art on the children”. Stedman also acknowledged poisoning as a plague and he described how the culprits sometimes went about: “they carry it under their nails, and by only dipping their thumb into a tumbler of water, which they offer as a beverage to the object of their revenge, they infuse a slow but certain death. Whole estates, as well as private families, have become the victims of their fury, and experienced their fatal vengeance, even putting to death scores of their own friends and relations, with the double view of depriving their proprietors of their most valuable possessions.” The same phenomenon has been observed in other colonies: McCloy, for example, noted that in Saint-Domingue the slaves “rarely attempted to poison the whites but endeavored to destroy their master’s wealth by killing off his slaves”.

It has never been proved conclusively that these mass poisonings really happened, let alone that they were solely done to hurt the masters in their wallets, but there can be no doubt that some planters suffered losses because their slaves poisoned others, usually because of private grievances. Some slavery writers would like to classify this kind of behavior as ‘resistance’. If one defines as resistance all actions that harm the interests of whites, this is accurate of course, but it is at the very least a sadistic and nihilistic kind of resistance. These same authors like to classify suicide, abortion and infanticide (as well as theft and arson) as forms of resistance as well. Sandew Hira modified this classification by calling these merely ‘defensive actions’, meant to end intolerable suffering. These kinds of ‘resistance’ were exclusively private and were never coordinated into a politically significant form of rebellion.

Destruction of property.

With so many possibilities for escape, suicide was relatively rare in Surinam. Most suicidal slaves killed themselves before reaching the colony: by jumping overboard, refusing to eat, or by swallowing their tongue. In Surinam, the suicides were mostly nieuwe negers, who often took their life only after an unsuccessful attempt to flee. Most Surinam victims died in an unspectacular way: by eating earth and rubbish. It is not even clear how many of them were genuine suicides and how many merely resorted to eating dirt because of a ravenous hunger. Sometimes, it took a year before they had wasted away. Serious suicides would have resorted to alternative measures long before that.

It was quite common that slaves committed suicide after a failed uprising. In Curacao, for example, most participants in the unsuccessful revolt of 1750 hurled themselves from the cliffs, or took their life in a cave nearby. In Surinam, however, this was relatively rare. The rebellious slaves of Bethlehem and Killestein Nova bravely faced their trial and subsequent execution. Only one, the mulatto Dirkje, took his own life. Even slaves caught after performing a capital crime (like murdering their master) seldom killed themselves, nor did most captured Maroons -even though they could expect a horrible execution and had ample opportunities to end their suffering before they fell into the hands of their pursuers. They preferred to show defiance. There were exceptions, of course: one runaway tried to kill himself with his rifle when he was about to be caught, but it blew up in his face and he was badly hurt. He was hung by the authorities.

Two groups of slaves were known for their propensity to commit suicide, but for very different reasons. The Ibo slaves (Calibaries) were easily discouraged, susceptible to depression and often killed themselves by hanging or eating dirt. They were notorious for this all over the Caribbean. For many planters, it was the main reason to avoid buying them. Coromantees killed themselves frequently also, but mostly because of hurt pride, for example when they were accused of a lowly crime, or were punished unfairly. The young slave Jacky of Katwijk, for example, was lashed because he had not rinsed the glasses properly. After this mortification, he went to his master’s room, put the muzzle of a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe. From then on, no Negro dared to enter that room for fear of being haunted. In circumstances like these, Coromantees might just as well kill their master as themselves. When a punishment was deserved, however, they took it in stride.

Abortion was probably quite common in Surinam, but it took place in secrecy and it can hardly be called a form of resistance. Maybe some women aborted because they resented bringing another slave into the world, but most did it for purely private reasons and sometimes even at the instigation of their masters, who did not want to be burdened with rearing young slaves, or to be embarrassed by mulatto offspring. Infanticide was also a hidden phenomenon. It was nearly impossible to prove whether a baby died from natural causes, or because it had been deliberately neglected or killed. It is undeniable, however, that some mothers were suspected by their master, or by other slaves, of having practiced infanticide. Most of the time, the slaves did not take kindly to this. When a mother killed her baby out of desperation, both the master and the Court often proved to be remarkably forgiving –much more so than her peers.

Slaves usually revenged themselves by manhandling their master’s property in different ways. Theft (as defined by the masters) was epidemic in plantation colonies. Surinam was no exception. On the plantations, the stealing of food was most prevalent. When the master failed to provide the necessities, the slaves had no scruples at all to add to their diet on their own initiative. All plantations had provision guards, to keep not only runaways and slaves belonging to adjoining plantations from plundering the provision grounds, but also their own comrades. Since most of these guards were were old men, they were easily circumvented. When caught stealing on another plantation, a slave might be in peril of his life, but on his own estate, he usually got off with a few lashes. In the city, the temptations were much larger. Few slaves were tormented by hunger there, so food was not their main target. [Although there were exceptions: when the supplies in Colonel Fourgeoud’s warehouse continued to dwindle mysteriously, pilfering soldiers were suspected, but in the end, two Negro boys were caught red-handed.] Paramaribo thieves were mostly after money and valuables.

Genovese has argued that by stealing slaves proved that the masters’ low opinion of them (as being a lazy, thievish, untrustworthy bunch) was correct and that they diminished their self-esteem by performing an act they considered morally wrong themselves. As far as Surinam goes, he was mistaken. Undoubtedly, some slaves may have felt ashamed of being forced to steal, but mainly because they had failed to get what was due to them in another way. Blom concluded, accurately in my view, that “stealing is nothing to be ashamed of among them, neither is the punishment they receive for this, when their theft is discovered”.

It may seem that arson was the easiest way revengeful slaves could get even. However, the number of cases of arson is astonishingly low. Upon reflection, this outcome is not so strange. It was indeed easy for a slave to set fire to the cane fields, but only if he planned to run away, because his master would be deprived of (part of) his income and as a result might no longer have been able to provide for his slaves, so they suffered along with him. Consequently, most of the cases of arson on plantations were the work of schuylders or Maroons. These either torched the place to keep the whites occupied while they made off with slaves and goods, or they deliberately burned the buildings down out of revenge, which was usually instigated by a fugitive from the estate. Sometimes, the plantation slaves cooperated with the attackers. The bastiaan of Halifax in the Perica region was accused of conspiring with Maroons to set fire to the buildings and lead away the slaves. The fire was kindled according to plan, but discovered in time and extinguished. The bastiaan was arrested. Plantation supervisors were certainly not paranoid about the danger of being smoked out: when in 1770 an enormous fire laid waste a large part of western Surinam, they believed Maroons had ‘unintentionally’ kindled it.

The inhabitants of Paramaribo were equally vulnerable, but they seemed not to have been unduly worried either. It took the authorities decades to ban the use of tras as roofing for houses and in later years they tried to abolish the use of shingles in vain. In 1832, a devastating fire destroyed a large part of the houses in the Jodenbreestraat, Heiligenweg, Steenbakkerijstraat and along the Waterkant, but even then the whites at first did not suspect foul play. One of the accomplices of the arsonists was later picked up on another charge and he revealed that the fire had been laid by Cojo (alias Andries), Mentor and Present, three young schuylders who hid in the Picorna forest near the capital and lived from theft. They had planned to use the chaos resulting from the fire to plunder to their heart’s content. The damage amounted to 800,000 guilders, so the culprits could expect little mercy: they were burned at the stake on the spot where they had started the fire (even though such vicious punishments had been formally abolished by this time).

Sabotage of work and utensils has been hailed as the most widespread form of resistance. It is, however, difficult to ascertain how much of this was deliberate and how much was the result of indifference, laziness, or ineptitude. The whites sometimes suspected sabotage. When Governor Van de Schepper complained about the dismal quality of the wheelbarrows sent over, the suppliers suggested that the slaves wrecked them on purpose, so they would not have to work so hard. Mostly, however, the masters meekly accepted these problems as the inevitable consequence of employing Negroes. The slaves had every reason not to exert themselves too much and since the masters often had no yardstick to measure their performance by, they usually got away with it. Only when whites engaged in the same job, it became apparent that the performance of the bondsmen was clearly substandard. Also, the slovenly work habits necessitated constant supervision, which the planters often found difficult to provide.

A special form of sabotage was the abuse of animals. Most of this was probably a form of venting frustrations, but sometimes there seems to have been a deliberate ploy to rob the master of valuable property -with a slim chance of being caught. The high mortality among the draught animals of the sugar mills may even have been primarily the result of neglect and abuse by the slaves, who knew very well that they were hard to replace. Slaves also regularly mistreated the animals grazing in the Gemeene Weide, because these wandered into their provision grounds. The Court of Police threatened them with heavy penalties, but also reminded the owners of their duty to fence their gardens properly.

Most sabotage took the form of foot-dragging, feigning illness (a route that did not hold much promise in Surinam though: often, a slave had to be near death before he was allowed entrance to the jaashuis), feigning excessive stupidity, etc. The masters were frequently at a loss and they either resolved to punish anyone they suspected of shirking work (with the result that they sometimes caused the death of a slave who was genuinely ill), or they resigned themselves to a less than optimal level of production.

Plantation uprisings.

Genuine plantation revolts were exceedingly rare in Surinam, considering the circumstances. In most cases, they were limited to one plantation and the rebels made little effort to enlist the help of the slaves of adjoining estates. This was caused by the fact that most of these uprisings were sudden outbursts of frustration and not bold, well-planned bids for freedom.

An example is the unrest on Palmeniribo in 1707. The slaves of this plantation rebelled against director Christiaan Westphal, who, according to their testimony, harassed them continuously. He had shot their pigs and goats (because these damaged the crops), destroyed their boats (because they used them without permission) and had even fired at them when they protested, hurting Charl. Finally, the slaves decided that enough was enough. They took their sabres, lances and guns and went to the director’s house, threatening to kill him. The intended victim was saved by other whites and the leaders of the rebellion were cruelly punished. Whether their complaints were justified did not interest the Court. Waly, Baratham, Mingo (three Creole brothers), Charl and Joseph were condemned to be “burned alive and during the burning, be pinched with glowing tongs, and so be killed in the most painful and prolonged manner”.

The severity of this penalty was brought on by three considerations. Firstly, the white officers of Palmeniribo had repeatedly complained about the insolent behavior of the slaves. Mingo had made a real spectacle of himself after he found his corjaer broken: “seeing this [he] trampled and stamped with his legs against the ground, and pressed his hat against his eyes with both hands, beating against his head with his fists repeatedly”. Charl had wanted the partner of another slave for a second wife, because his own wife was ill (which the director did not condone) and had beaten her and stolen her possessions out of jealousy. Secondly, the day before the aborted rebellion, twelve slaves had run away (eleven were caught again with considerable effort and one died). Thirdly, about the same time, all the slaves of the plantation of David Montesinos had absconded because of his strict government and they had taken everything belonging to the plantation with them. They had offered to come back on the condition that an honest man would be appointed as director, which the owner had been forced to concede to. In this tense situation, the slaves of Palmeniribo had overstepped the boundaries a bit too far and the Court decided to make an example of them.

Most conspiracies floundered. Especially when slaves of several plantations schemed together, they would often be found out long before the plot had matured, usually because they were betrayed by fellow slaves. An example is the failure, in 1771, of the conspiracy led by the bastiaan Frater of the plantation Driesveld, owned by the later Governor Bernard Texier. Frater gathered a group of slaves around him and made them swear a solemn oath to keep silent about his plans. He then proposed to kill the director, steal guns and and gunpowder and run away. One of the initiated, George, went directly to the carpenter David and revealed the plot. David warned the director, who put two of the conspirators in chains. Frater managed to escape, but was later apprehended at the Motkreek. Texier acknowledged that this could have ended badly “had it not been for the Loyalty of the Negro George who notwithstanding the Oath he had sworn with them, had made this known to the Whites at the first opportunity”. He considered Frater especially devious because “he will surely have used his Authority to seduce the others, particularly with regard to the Negro Pierrot, who has always been a good & loyal, but simple and very timid Negro”. While the other conspirators were executed, Pierrot only got a Spaanse Bok.

In many cases, personal grievances caused slaves to betray their fellows. Venus, for example, confessed to the Court of Criminal Justice that her husband Quamie had suggested to her and some others to run away. She claimed she had refused this because she did not want her child to be subjected to danger and she had little reason to complain about her master. She warned her shipmate and landsman Tromp, who informed their master of the plot. Together they went to the governor, who advised Tromp to invite Quamie and his accomplice Coffy for a drink behind the Government Palace. The governor had Quamie arrested there. It became clear during the investigation that Venus had been annoyed about the fact that her mate courted the new slave girl Truy. His intended already had a white lover, who showered her with presents, but she was not adverse to Quamie’s advances if he would buy her some skirts and other pieces of clothing. Quamie and Coffy paid with their life for Venus’ jealousy.

Bethlehem & Tempati.

Even when no betrayal was involved, an uprising might still fail, as is proven by occurrences in the Commewijne district in 1750. In this revolt, conspiritors from four plantations (Bethlehem, Killesteyn Nova, Hazard and Concordia) participated. The ‘brain’ behind the plot was a mulatto named Dirkje, owned by Killesteyn Nova, where chaos had reigned for a while. Dirkje was inspired by lofty visions, though he remained rather vague about the way to realize them. It appears he wanted to get control of the whole Commewijne district, kill all the whites who were guilty of mistreating slaves or resisted his authority and search for a ‘new land’ where he and his companions could live in peace. He did not manage to attract sufficient followers, so he sought the support of slaves from adjoining plantations. In Coridon of Bethlehem he found a willing ally.

Coridon was described by witnesses as the most influential slave on Bethlehem and he was undoubtedly someone with great capabilities. He had enjoyed the favor of his master Amand Thoma for a long time. Thoma had, for example, permitted him to have two wives and had even given him a recent addition to the slave force, the beautiful Bellona, for a spouse. Unfortunately, Thoma fell for her charms himself. Coridon’s two wives did not get along, so this was a good excuse for Thoma to take Bellona into his own bed. He also donated Coridon’s other wife to his rival Hector. Coridon would later maintain that he had not been jealous on account of Bellona and that “he had always brought her to his Master himself at night”. The fact that Thoma had given his other wife Bessolina to a fellow slave was a humiliation that was hard to swallow though. Furthermore, Coridon detested the woman Thoma had given him in exchange. Probably out of revenge, he got involved with his master’s favorite, the Bokkin (Indian woman) Eva.

Because of all this male attention, Eva soon found herself in a blessed condition and (according to the testimony of other slaves -which was however disputed by Eva) she was not sure who the father was. Coridon, fearing that he would be in grave danger if Eva bore a karboeger child, decided to get rid of his master. Faithful slaves warned Thoma repeatedly that Coridon plotted his demise, but he does not seem to have taken these ominous signs seriously until it was too late. By the time he resolved “to do away with him, which the negro shall have noticed”, Coridon was already deeply involved in the plot hatched by Dirkje. They had been able to brood out their plans undisturbed for about three months and were ready for action.

One evening, when Thoma was contentedly smoking a pipe in his living room, Coridon entered with a sledgehammer in his hands and bashed in his skull. Another slave, Gallien, killed the bookkeeper, who had been immersed in his work elsewhere. Thoma had not been a particularly humane master (he was bad-tempered and drank a lot) and most slaves were glad to be delivered of his tyranny. They dragged his lifeless body outside and vented all their pent-up frustrations on it. The corps was mauled with a whip and some slaves pushed it repeatedly into the dead mouth, saying “eat the whip now”.

After these murders, the slaves had no option but to run away. Not all of them were enthusiastic about the prospect of trading in the unpleasant but secure existence on the plantation for the uncertainties of living in the jungle. Slaves of Killesteyn Nova, armed with guns, had to change their minds for them. Eva steadfastly refused to come along, though. Coridon reluctantly speared her life, because he did not want to risk killing his own child. Some malinkers, who would be of no use in the jungle, were left behind as well. The other slaves made off with the spoils, consisting, among other goods, of 30 rifles and some casks of gunpowder. Brashly, they placed the cannon of the plantation on the riverbank to shoot at the vessels passing by.

The sounds of the cannon and the gunshots alarmed the neighbors, who hurried to the scene of the rebellion and immediately realized the danger of the situation. In all haste, a Christian and a Jewish patrol were assembled and started to track down the rebels. These were forced to leave behind their women and children in the kapoewerie behind Bethlehem, where they soon fell into the hands of the militia. Probably in an attempt to get food, the remaining rebels attacked the plantation Wederhoop on the Cassiwinica Creek, but they were repulsed and suffered several casualties.

The militia meanwhile reestablished order on the plantations. Contrary to the plan, most of the slaves of the other estates that were involved in the conspiracy did not join the rebels, but on suspicion of aiding and abetting them, eight slaves of Killesteyn Nova and six of Concordia were taken into custody. The commandoes soon tracked down the fugitives and during the first skirmish with the Christian patrol, the rebels suffered 15 casualties, while 31 were taken prisoner. The Jewish patrol was successful as well: first catching 12 rebels, some days later 15 more and finally another 12. One runaway was killed. The situation of the remaining rebels soon became hopeless: they were threatened from all directions, their best warriors were dead and they had no provisions. They tried to find refuge on other plantations, but were repulsed by the slaves there. In the end, 10 of them were captured on Onobo and 6 on Wajampibo. It was rumored that Coridon was among them, but this turned out to be premature: he was taken prisoner a few weeks later by slaves of Hazard.

At the trial, the arrested slaves were grouped into four categories: (1) those who “actually did the murder”; (2) those “who have known in advance”; (3) those who “have resisted in the forest”; and (4) those who “have been carried along out of fear”. For the accused that fell into the first three categories the death penalty was obligatory and it was executed with the usual ruthlessness. A total of 28 offenders paid with their lives: three were hung from a hook, among them Gallien and Pensé (who had helped to kill Thoma); two were burned to death over a slow fire, while being nipped with glowing tongs; three were broken on the wheel; the remaining were hung. Most executions took place a few days after the culprits had been caught. The trial of Coridon took months, however. He was interrogated at length, because the judges really wanted to know what had driven him. His execution was exemplary: after having been tortured in every “ordinary and extraordinary way” for hours, he was “torn apart alive by four Horses”. His head was cut off and displayed on a stake and the four parts of his body were hung at several places in the savanna to rot there as a warning for the other slaves. Dirkje did not await his fate: he hung himself in his cell a day before his execution. His body was hauled to the gallows and burned there. Thoma's son-in-law Isaac Godefroy received 5600 guilders compensation for the 28 executed slaves -half of what they were worth.

Most slaves belonging to the fourth category got off better. The Court merely tried to infuse them with a ”deadly fear”: they were decimated after a lottery. One of the losers was pardoned because of his youth. After the first execution, Governor Mauricius wrote that “it would be a good policy to be satisfied with the terror inspired by the first public execution here in Paramaribo, and to expedite the other condemned quietly in the river, or have them punished on the plantation: but the anger is too great”.

Eva, the causa proxima of all this trouble, escaped punishment. Soon afterwards she bore a light-colored child, “which is very conductive for her pardon”. She was a real enigma for Mauricius: “I have seen this Helena, who caused all this misfortune. A terribly ugly creature!” The real reason for this drama was not a mystery to him, though: the “detestable mingling of the Master with the loathsome refuse of his Black Slave”.

The aftermath of this tragedy was not devoid of hilarious events. Some months later, it came to light that a slave woman of Thoma, though cleared of guilt by the Court, had been whipped and branded because of an administrative error. This would have hardly been worth mentioning, if Governor Mauricius had not noticed something strange about her sentence: “the most absurd thing is that in the aforementioned Sentence the condemned is banished from the colony, on penalty of being broken on the wheel, and afterwards being sold to the English or others”.

The Commewijne uprising failed because of the inherent weaknesses of the plot and the strong opposition of the whites. Firstly, it had been planned carelessly: the rebels did not make sure that they had enough provisions, nor did they take care that the women and children were evacuated properly. Secondly, they could not depend on the other slaves. Even those who had been involved in the conspiracy did not deliver enough accomplices. Only a few slaves of Killesteyn Nova supported the rebels. Although almost all of the slaves of Bethlehem participated in the uprising, the majority of them did so reluctantly and only because they feared they would be blamed for Thoma’s death just as much as the killers. The slaves of Hazard and Concordia and most of those of Killesteyn Nova not only failed to participate, but in the end they also turned against Coridon and his men. Finally, it was remarkable that the militia acted so swiftly and decisively.

Perhaps the most fatal flaw in the plot was the fact that there was no common vision behind it. Dirkje had megalomanical plans that were shared by few and he was not a charismatic personality. Coridon was involved because of private grievances and his predicament elicited little sympathy with the other slaves. Like most would-be revolutionaries, Coridon did not hesitate to warn his companions that their only option was to fight to the end, but most of them were obviously not very motivated to risk their lives in battle.

The Tempati uprising of 1757 was more successful. It was an unplanned revolt that shook the colony in its vestiges and freed several hundreds of slaves. The Tempati area was dominated by timber grounds, whose slaves had gained extensive privileges because they had resisted Maroon attacks in the past. These included ample provision grounds and large flocks of fowl. They were also allowed to sell the remaining pieces of timber in Paramaribo for their own profit. One of the plantation owners, the Political Councilor Martin, made the fateful decision to move a few of his slaves to his sugar estate in the lowlands. The affected bondsmen begged him not to separate them from their loved ones, but Martin was adamant. On the advice of his director Bruyère, he even sent soldiers to take them away by force. When the slaves got wind of this, they rebelled. They attacked Bruyère, cut off his hand and wounded two soldiers. Joined by slaves from other plantations, they retired into the forest with an army of 150 warriors, accompanied by many women and children. The pursuing whites were overpowered and lost many casualties. These rebels, with some survivors of the Bethlehem uprising and other groups of runaways, later formed the Djuka.


The slaves of Surinam did not accept their subjection meekly. They were conscious of their rights and when these were trampled upon, they were quick to retaliate. The most effective way was to flee into the jungle, either as a way of putting pressure on the planters, or as a bold move towards freedom. Although most of the runaways eventually returned to their plantation, hundreds of Maroons kept endangering the stability of the colony.

The slaves expressed their dissatisfaction in various ways -mostly by more or less individual protests, like malingering, feigning illness, sabotaging tools, abusing animals, etc. Though these could harm the interests of the planters considerably, they were not a menace to the slavery system as such. Even most plantation uprisings, who were rare anyway, did not present a real threat. Rebellious slaves could always retreat into the forest, so they were never obliged to make a ‘last stand’ against the militia that might have roused the other bondsmen to come to their aid. Consequently, the slave revolts always remained localized. Once swallowed up by the jungle, runaways might continue to harass the whites, but, with the exception of would-be dictators like Dirkje of Killesteyn Nova, it was not their objective to overthrow the Surinam slavery system by force.