In 1763-1764, five thousand slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice in South America rebelled. The extraordinary judicial records of the uprising allow for an examination of the internal dynamics of rebellion. Mapping the politics among the enslaved, rather than merely their interactions with European colonists, shines a light on the many Afro-Berbicians who, eager to remain both master-less and alive, struggled to dodge all combatants, whether Dutch and their Amerindian allies, or rebels. Their inventive coping strategies, not commonly examined in slave rebellions, suggest that historians’ usual binaries of freedom and slavery, or “rebellious” and “loyal,” simplify complex dynamics. The Berbice rebellion clues us in to the existence of alternative, and competing, notions of what life beyond European slavery might look like. Focusing on the internal dynamics also exposes the importance of gender. The available evidence suggests that while men and women shared much in the rebellion, their experiences also powerfully diverged. For women, rebellion proved much less liberating than we have assumed. This talk, then, examines a major slave rebellion from the bottom up, yielding new understandings of insurgency.
Marjoleine Kars, Associate Professor of History and Chair, UMBC, is finishing a book about the slave rebellion in Berbice. An article about the role of gender in the Berbice rebellion will appear in early 2016 in the American Historical Review. She has previously written a book about a farmers’ rebellion in pre-revolutionary North Carolina: “Breaking Loose Together”: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002). She was a Dresher Center fellow in spring 2015.
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