SLAVERY'S EXILES by Sylviane A. Diouf


The Story of the American Maroons
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A curator at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture reconstructs the lives of blacks who sought freedom and self-determination on the margins of an American slave society.

Whether newly arrived from Africa or already acculturated to the demands of servitude, whether they fled to the hinterlands to live in secluded swamps or in the mountains, or to the borderlands, close by farms, plantations or towns, the maroons ran away intending to stay away, seeking autonomy even at the price of unspeakable danger. Most were captured and suffered barbaric whippings or brandings, some died of exposure or hunger, some were killed by the militia, the slave patrols and dogs—a memorable passage here details the various repellents the slaves devised to throw bloodhounds off the track—set after them. But many survived for weeks, months and even years, offering hope to their enslaved companions and a powerful rebuke to the white power structure. From the colonial era to the 1860s, Diouf (Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America, 2007, etc.) explains how the maroons lived, the skills and protective strategies they developed, how they sheltered themselves and traded in the underground economy, how they hunted, gathered and even raised crops, how they stole necessary clothing, tools and livestock, and how they depended on the complicity of their enslaved companions for survival. She tells the story of a few large communities, most notably that of the Great Dismal Swamp, and briefly examines the marronage subgroups of bandits and insurrectionists, but the triumph here is the author’s portrait of the day-to-day precariousness of maroon lives, the courage and resourcefulness required for survival, and the terrible price they paid for trying to recover their freedom.

A neglected chapter of the American slave experience brought sensitively and vividly to life.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8147-2437-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: New York Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2013


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