Sylviane Anna Diouf

Historian of the African Diaspora

Osman, the maroon in the swamp

My ancestor's mosque built in 1611 in Pire, Senegal

Tromelin, Indian Ocean, home of the shipwrecked Africans

Ruins of the houses

Yes indeed, plenty of slaves uster run away. Why dem woods was full o’ ’em chile

July 26, 2013

Tags: maroons

Arthur Greene of Virginia knew what he was talking about. His friend Pattin and his family had lived hidden in the woods for fifteen years until “Lee’s surrender.” Like them, from the day Africans first set foot in what became the United States until the end of the Civil War, tens of thousands of men, women, and children made the forests and the swamps their home.

They were Africans two days off the slave ship and people who intimately knew the geographic and social environment, its constraints, and the way to navigate it. They were not “truants” who had absconded for a short while, to rest, avoid a beating or recover from one, take a break, or visit relatives and friends on neighboring plantations. They were not runaways making their way through the wilds to reach a Southern city or a free state or to cross international borders to find freedom under a foreign power. The people whose stories are the subject of my book Slavery's Exiles went to the Southern wilds to stay.

The study of their experience has led me to reconsider the various definitions and classifications used so far to describe maronnage, and to develop a more expansive vision to better reflect what happened on the ground. And below it as well, as I discovered with amazement.

The American maroons' diversity was also a revelation. They farmed in one place or moved around; established a range of social and economic structures; maintained various degrees of relations with the plantation world; traded with or worked for white men or cut off all links with the outside world. They fought when necessary and disappeared when survival laid in retreat. Their experiences were varied and complex; their lives difficult and dangerous. Yet they persevered and carved, out of the wilderness, a new life for themselves and their children.

Why their unique and extraordinary experience remained unknown and unexplored even as increasing numbers of monographs and articles were dedicated to the enslaved community in the United States surprised me. What I uncovered surprised me even more.


  1. February 14, 2014 11:18 AM EST
    Interesting. Thanks
    - Mor Gueye
  2. February 19, 2014 6:06 AM EST
    Living in the Chesapeake Region and having familial connections that include community histories of both African and Indian maroon experiences, Dr. Sylviane exploration of this subject is sorely needed; I have benefited from her consummate scholarship through publications such as "In Motion" and her book about the diaspora.
    - James S. Lane 2nd
  3. May 27, 2014 10:53 AM EDT
    Thank you for your outstanding C-SPAN BookTV interview. I recently had a discussion with a young woman from Atlanta, GA about the issues of "reparations" for slavery in America. I have recommended your work. The current movement to edit slave history from U.S. public school textbooks is something many readers may not be aware of. We must support & preserve our slave history in America for future generations to have access to actual documentation of our struggles and survival. We are truly the envy of the world. I believe, more presentations such as yours, are needed to UNIFY all people of African descent. I have read "The Servants of Allah" and shared the research of Muslims who were enslaved in the GA Sea Islands. If we African-Americans can understand why our faith and practice of Islam is so threatening to western societies, we may begin to make the connection between the destruction of the lands of our ancestors and our families of the diaspora. May GOD reward you in this life and in the hereafter.
    - Khai'dah Muhammad
  4. June 21, 2014 8:24 PM EDT
    I just watched the C-Span Interview and was sitting on the edge of my seat anticipation my question, but nobody asked it. I do hope I get a response. Is there any connection at all between, the Maroon spirit and reality and the proliferation of the Black towns that sprang up all over after 1865? It is my understanding that Oklahoma alone had fifty Black towns of which about thirteen still exist, and that it was a movement to make Oklahoma an all Black state. As we are finding, many of these towns were destroyed by envious and bitter whites in the original "race riots" of the early 20th century. Would love to hear what you have to say on this. Thanks
    - Jamie


In a tale worthy of a novelist, Sylviane Diouf provides a well-researched, nicely written, and moving account of the last slave ship to America, whose 110 captives arrived in Mobile in 1860 and, after the war, created their dream of Africa in Alabama. Howard Jones, author of Mutiny on the Amistad
The first book on the American maroons' experience
A major book on the various components of the Black Power movement, with photos, essays and testimonies.
The fascinating story of the East Africans who distinguished themselves in India
Thorough and ambitious. William and Mary Quarterly
Readers are presented with a wide range of evidence to show how Africans fought against slavery as well as the slave trade. Canadian Journal of History
A groundbreaking look at [the] bigger picture has been unveiled in a project called "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience." The Washington Post
Children's Books
Bintou’s hair is short and fuzzy, but she wants beautiful braids “with gold coins and seashells” like the big girls, but everyone says no. The New York Times
Young readers will enjoy this fascinating look at [some] brave leaders. Children's Literature
Destroys the stereotype of the happy, ignorant slave child. Booklist

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