Maroon Women in Colonial Spanish America: Case Studies in the Circum-Caribbean from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries

TitleMaroon Women in Colonial Spanish America: Case Studies in the Circum-Caribbean from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsLanders, Jane
EditorGaspar, David Barry, and Darlene Clark Hine
Book TitleBeyond Bondage: Free Women of Color in the Americas
Pagination3 - 18
PublisherUniversity of Illinois Press

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With rare exceptions, women have remained largely invisible in the literature about maroons. The generalized maroon experience—a daring and dangerous escape from closely supervised plantations, followed by a harrowing chase by slave catchers and dogs through rough forests and swamps inhabited by dangerous creatures—is most often depicted as a male endeavor, as in the case of war. Marronage became so threatening and disruptive in many colonies of the circum-Caribbean region that officials engaged in what they termed “maroon wars.” Their reports described military leaders and rebel tactics in some detail, but because these reports were basically battlefield accounts they rarely dealt with women. To be identified in such reports women had to be almost mythical or supernatural figures such as Nanny, for whom Nanny Town in the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica was named. The few graphic images we have of maroons such as Cudjoe and his warriors in the Jamaican Maroon Wars reinforce this masculine association. Muscled young men race through exotic landscapes,muskets in hand and large knives or hatchets at their belts. The virtual absence of women in either the written or iconographic record is due in part to the traditional male bias in history and in part to the lack of sources for women’s history in general, particularly in more remote times. The historical neglect of maroon women is, however, also due in great part to the real sexual imbalance of maroon communities. More men than women became runaways. As other scholars have noted, women were often restrained from flight by maternal or family obligations. When women did flee from slavery , however, they faced the same dangers encountered by their male counter They had to evade surveillance systems and pursuers,cope with unknown terrain, and brave animals and sometimes hostile Indian groups to find safe refuge in areas remote from European control. Despite these terrors and challenges,many slave women fled,and at least some of them survived to establish new and free lives in the hinterland. Some escaped with family members or friends; others were rescued by husbands or lovers already established in wilderness hideouts. Although maroons sometimes raided Indian villages for women,that action entailed additional danger and engendered resentment among indigenous communities with which they needed to maintain defensive and commercial alliances. To raid in order to seize women brought almost certain retaliation and was therefore not the best solution to the maroons’ demographic imperative. Women of African descent were clearly critical to the success and longevity of any maroon settlement for both their reproductive and productive abilities. Their children became the next generation, and they helped their mothers with the agricultural labor that sustained the larger community. This essay examines the experiences of women of African descent who successfully escaped slavery and participated in the establishment of maroon communities in colonial Spanish America from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries ,using case studies of Hispaniola (the modern-day Dominican Republic), Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, and Spanish Florida. 

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