Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Chapter 3: “‘An Act of Deportation’: The Jamaican Maroons’ Journey from Freedom to Slavery and Back Again, 1796–1836” (Excerpts)

In the third chapter of Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images, Jeffrey Fortin discusses how the Trelawney Maroons fought and negotiated with the British to preserve a certain idea of community. Deported from Jamaica to Nova Scotia, then from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, and finally back to Jamaica, the Maroons reversed a centuries-old route of captivity in their voyages across the Atlantic, all the while reinventing themselves through intercultural encounters and exchanges. This chapter contributes to the understanding not only of the interactions between the British and the growing free black population (whose status was changing in that time period) but also of the various forms of resistance and migration that developed during the eighteenth-century in the English-speaking North Atlantic world. Below is an excerpt from the chapter:

Nova Scotia became a crossroads of sorts in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic world and the African diaspora. A place of sojourn for thousands of free and enslaved blacks, some on their way to Africa, Nova Scotia emerged as a site for contesting freedom, slavery, and identity in North Atlantic. The history of the Trelawney Maroons —removed from Jamaica to Nova Scotia after a failed insurrection in 1796—illustrates the tenuous nature of freedom in the Atlantic world:
challenging British authority, they were thrust back into the African diaspora where freedom and independence proved elusive. Swept up in a series of forced and voluntary migrations outside of the transatlantic slave trade, the Trelawney Maroons navigated these treacherous situations by continually seeking legal redress for their grievances, unwilling to allow British officials to determine their fate.

A quasi-free nation of runaway slaves in Jamaica, the Maroons revolted against encroachment by the British on their land there. After a year’s worth of fighting, the Maroons were captured and promptly deported for fear of future revolts and as punishment for their purported collusion with Haitian revolutionaries. Once in Nova Scotia, they continued a longstanding tradition of maintaining their Trelawney Town identity by resisting white cultural influence and control through the maintenance of close community bonds and by deflecting Governor Wentworth’s attempts to impose Christianity and civil education on them. Then in a state of quasi-slavery, the Maroons petitioned the British parliament to be deported once again, this time from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. Once in West Africa, the Maroons’ ability to retain their community’s traditions and customs was challenged as they policed the recently resettled and rebellious Black Loyalists from America. Within a few short decades, the Maroons petitioned for a third and final removal to Jamaica, where community leaders believed they could best preserve their cultural traditions away from the influences of Sierra Leone’s various white and black inhabitants. The Black Atlantic proved to be a foreign and hostile landscape for the Trelawney Town Maroons. By the time the Maroons returned to Jamaica, they no longer held land there and were dispersed amongst other Maroon communities on the island.

The story of the Trelawney Town Maroons depicts an Atlantic world in upheaval. As a tide of abolitionist sentiment began to wash aside the ships of the slave trade, the Trelawney Maroons’ maritime sojourn illuminates the precarious place of Africans in the Atlantic world, in which blacks confronted obstacles presented by dual cultural realities. Even in an age of revolution, when abolition movements flourished and the Haitian Revolution founded the first free black nation on the western side of the ocean, a decades-old free black community like the Trelawney Maroons stood on the edge of slavery. Not entirely free from the specter of the Atlantic slave trade, they were a trickle in what would become a flood of Africans seeking freedom back in Africa, reversing a centuries-old route across the Atlantic—only to retrace their ancestors’ voyages from West Africa to the Caribbean in their final sojourn across the spaces carved by the Atlantic slave trade.

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images edited by Ana Lucia Araujo is available in hardcover. It is also available as in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the slavery studies collection for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.