People & Events
Maroons in the Revolutionary period
1775 - 1783
|Resource Bank Contents|
As early as the 1650s, enslaved Africans escaped into the American wilderness to form their own separate communities -- a New World adaptation of an African form of resistance. These maroons (or outlyers, as they were often called in North America) set up small communities in swamps or other areas where they were not likely to be discovered. Although most focused on their own survival -- building homes, raising crops and livestock, fortifying the community against attack -- others engaged in guerilla warfare against neighboring plantations and provided a base to which other fugitives could flee.
Because of extensive settlement and cultivation, maroonage in Virginia and the northern colonies was mostly limited to the Great Dismal Swamp, on the Virginia and North Carolina border. The lower South, however, provided ample territory for sanctuary. Newly imported African slaves fled South Carolina to establish maroon communities in Florida in the late 1600s, a tradition that was continued by American-born fugitives from South Carolina and Georgia well into the nineteenth century.
Slave resistance escalated along with colonial struggles for liberty. In Georgia, a group of enslaved men, women and children took advantage of the confusion created by the Stamp Act by fleeing into the swamps and managed to elude capture for four years -- prompting the Georgia assembly to send a detachment of militia after them.
During the Revolutionary War, service with the British provided military training to thousands of black men, many of whom continued to fight after the British departed. A large group of men and women erected twenty-one houses and planted rice fields in a clearing near the Savannah River. The site measured 700 yards long and 120 yards wide, and was protected by a four-foot high log-and-cane barrier on the land side and large fallen logs on the creek side. From this base in the swamps, "Captain Cudjoe" and "Captain Lewis" led an armed group of 100 men who called themselves "the King of England's Soldiers" in bold attacks on plantations and on Georgia state troops.
By 1787, this band of guerrilla fighters posed a serious enough threat that the Georgia legislature sent a force of state troopers to find and destroy the maroon village. Although six maroons were killed and others wounded, most of the people fled into the South Carolina swamps. Heeding the advice of James Jackson, commander of the Georgia militia, the governors of South Carolina and Georgia launched a joint mission against the maroons. Lewis was captured, tried, and hanged. Afterwards, his head was severed and placed on a pole. Despite this brutal warning, numerous instances of guerrilla attacks continued to be reported.
In 1795, a maroon community led by "General of the Swamps" formed near Wilmington, North Carolina. After numerous complaints by whites, a bounty was placed on the General's head, and special hunting parties succeeded in routing the fugitives and killing the General.
Guerrilla attacks by maroons continued until the end of slavery, despite numerous but ineffectual attempts to wipe out such settlements.
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