Maroon Communities in South Carolina: A Documentary Record

Article excerpt

Maroon Communities in South Carolina: A Documentary Record. Edited by Timothy James Lockley. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009. Pp. xxiii, 142; $39.95, cloth; $19.95, paper.)

Studies of recent years have complicated our view of slave society in the American South, leading to a slew of new questions. How did enslaved Africans negotiate the world around them? How did their owners attempt to control interrelationships among slaves? The Stono Rebellion, one of the most gripping episodes in South Carolina history, reshaped the colony's involvement in the slave trade as well as the treatment of slaves on the plantations. In 2005 Mark M. Smith bolstered our understanding of this pivotal event by incorporating transcribed primary sources along with fresh interpretations of the material into a book. Timothy James Lockley's documentary history Maroon Communities in South Carolina approaches a different form of slave resistance in the same way.

This book is an edited collection of letters, diary entries, newspaper advertisements, trial records, and government reports from the early eighteenth century to around 1830 that details the struggles of white planters against maroon slaves, who chose to secret themselves in small, semipermanent encampments near the plantations rather than flee hundreds of miles for freedom. As revealed in these accounts, maroon communities were an established, integral part of slave life and a long-term source of frustration and fear for whites in colonial and antebellum South Carolina.

Lockley begins by sketching the history of maroon communities in the New World, looking specifically at their formation in Spanish America, the French colonies, Brazil, the British Caribbean, and North America. These comparisons shed light on why and how South Carolina was different from the other colonial holdings and, as a result, so ripe for widespread, almost unending marronage. The historical background Lockley provides on South Carolina in chapter 1 will be familiar to most scholars of the colonial period, including the population majority held by Africans. This racial imbalance is important context for five original sources dated from 1711 to 1751 that present the earliest known documentation of marronage in South Carolina, attempts to employ Native Americans as maroon hunters, and the violence that came with such actions. In the first chapter, Lockley also discusses the Stono Rebellion as the product, in part, of marronage.

Chapter 2 highlights late colonial marronage between 1765 and 1774. Since plantation settlements and towns typically occupied high ground, the surrounding swamplands became refuges for runaway slaves. During these years, the swampy islands in the Savannah River that formed that border between South Carolina and Georgia became a hotbed of maroon activity. Not only were the jurisdictions of the river islands in doubt, but the remote outposts also could be easily defended. The first-hand accounts from the late 1760s show just how violent maroons were becoming as they sought freedom. This chapter includes records of a planned massacre of whites in 1765. Official communication between the governments of South Carolina and Georgia about maroons foreshadowed major trouble ahead.

Chapter 3 deals with maroon communities from the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775 to 1787. Growing anti-British sentiment and political unrest changed the way order was maintained in South Carolina, and sentries were called away from usual slave patrols to refocus on other unlawful behavior. Lockley cites these changes as fuel for marronage toward the end of the colonial era. The first twenty documents in this chapter describe the Savannah River maroons and the problems they caused to both South Carolina and Georgia planters. As indicated by letters and newspaper articles, the two states undertook joint military action in the region during the mid 1780s. The twenty-first account describes the court proceedings of one maroon leader from the Savannah River and offers a glimpse into the judicial system's attempts to deal with marronage during the postwar upheaval. …