Date of Degree
African American Studies | American Literature
slavery, nineteenth century, United States, African American, freedom, abolition
This dissertation considers maroons—enslaved people who fled from slavery and self-exiled to places like swamps and forests—in the textual and historical worlds of the pre-Civil War United States. I examine a counter-archive of US literature that imagines marronage as offering alternate spaces of freedom, refuge, and autonomy outside the unidirectional South-to-North geographical trajectory of the Underground Railroad, which has often framed the story of freedom and unfreedom for African Americans in pre-1865 US literary and cultural studies. Broadly, I argue that through maroons we can locate alternate spaces of fugitive freedom within slaveholding territory, thereby complicating fixed notions of the sectional geography of freedom and mobility as they were tied to conceptions of liberalism in the antebellum United States.
Whereas previous scholars, especially those whose work focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean, have tended to regard forms of marronage in relation to their potential for large-scale emancipatory schemes like those made famous by the maroons of Jamaica, Suriname, and Brazil (among others), I am less interested in the concrete or imagined connections between marronage and enslaved revolt and more interested in those between marronage and freedom-seeking practices via flight in their many possible forms and manifestations. In this sense, marronage becomes an optic through which I investigate the production of alternate formations of community, sociality, belonging, space, and ultimately geography and freedom that primarily African American writers in the 1850s were exploring through literary discourse.
The texts I examine ultimately form a constellation which articulates a black-centered politics of resistance based on a freedom of movement disarticulated from liberal conceptions of citizenship and the nation state. The emphasis on the 1850s reflects a rise in attention to marronage after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, which effectively nationalized the institution of slavery in the eyes of the law. The mobility exhibited by runaway enslaved people who sought freedom by heading north, sometimes via the Underground Railroad, has been made to comport with the teleological narrative of the liberal subject in US history so as to appear as an example of those wrongfully denied liberal subjecthood valiantly striking out in search of it. The mobility exhibited by maroons, on the other hand, has been largely ignored in the US context because it does not comport with racial ideologies of assimilation and integration. This dissertation aims to demonstrate the extent to which marronage engages with contested, complicated, often nonliberal meanings of freedom for enslaved and fugitive African Americans in the antebellum United States as they were explored and articulated through representations of maroons in literary texts.
Gerrity, Sean, "A Canada in the South: Marronage in Antebellum American Literature" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.