Note: This story was updated on March 22, 2016.
From 1763-1764, nearly 5,000 enslaved people in the Dutch colony of Berbice in South America rebelled. In studying the history of the rebellion on the surface, one might think it fits the pattern of many New World slave revolts. But as Marjoleine Kars discovered, an examination of the judicial records provides a much closer look into the internal dynamics of the rebellion.
Kars, associate professor and chair of history, is currently finishing a book about the slave rebellion in Berbice. She recently published a paper based on her research in the February 2016 edition of American Historical Review titled “Dodging Rebellion: Politics and Rebellion in the Berbice Slave Uprising of 1763.”
In November 2015, Kars appeared on WYPR’s Humanities Connection in advance of her Humanities Forum talk at UMBC.
“Even though the rebellion appeared massive to the Dutch, it was in fact the work of a determined minority who forced participation of their fellow slaves,” shared Kars in the segment that aired November 19 on WYPR. “In actuality, many enslaved people in Berbice were neither purposeful rebels nor active collaborators, nor did they take one position and stick with it. Rather, as one would expect in a lengthy, dangerous, and ever-changing insurgency, people moved along the political spectrum, changing their positions and loyalties, sometimes multiple times, as survival demanded.”
By focusing on the internal dynamics of the rebellion, Kars argued that it also exposes the importance of gender. While examining the rebellion from a distance, one might assume it appears men and women shared a great deal in the rebellion, however closer research reveals their experiences powerfully diverged.
Because not all of the insurgency agreed on what freedom actually meant, Kars stated that the untold story of the Atlantic Slave Rebellion in the Dutch Caribbean teaches us about the dynamics of other famous rebellions such as the American and French Revolutions.
Listen to the full segment on WYPR.
Kars 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), and she was a Dresher Center fellow in spring 2015.
Image: Marjoleine Kars. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.