Κυριακή, 1 Αυγούστου 2010

John Gabriel Stedman's slavery narration in Surinam

John Gabriel Stedman (1744-1797) was a distinguished British–Dutch soldier and noted author. His years in Surinam, on the northern coast of South America, were characterized by encounters with African slaves and colonial planters, as well as the exotic local flora and fauna. He recorded his experiences in "The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam" (1796) which, with its firsthand depictions of slavery and other aspects of colonization, became an important tool in the early abolitionist cause. (wikipedia)

Though Stedman himself was not an abolitionist, the tortured slave imagery in the Narrative provoked a large public response and became an important source material for the abolitionists. (ackland.org)

Eighty-one illustrations, by various engravers, accompanied the Expedition and received contemporary acclaim. Of those, twelve images of slaves and slave life including illustrations that represent the punishment and execution of slaves, were engraved by William Blake. The images depict some of the horrific atrocities against slaves that Stedman witnessed, including hanging, lashing and other forms of torture. The Blake plates are more forceful than other illustrations in the bookThese images were unusual within the traditions of book illustrations in travel narratives and abolitionist literature because of their graphic display of pain. (circle.ubc.ca)

"Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave."
Illustration in Stedman's book by William Blake.
Stedman witnessed this punishment in 1774. The woman being whipped was an eighteen-year old girl who was given 200 lashes for having refused to have intercourse with an overseer. She was "lacerated in such a shocking manner by the whips of two negro-drivers, that she was from her neck to her ancles literally dyed with blood." (hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu)

"A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows,"
Illustration in Stedman's book by William Blake.
Stedman witnesses a number of executions and brutalities against both rebelling and complacent slaves. Stedman describes the horrors and his disgust with the punishments. A fellow soldier tells Stedman of one case in which a rebel was hung by his ribs for two days as punishment for his crimes. It was common practice for the Europeans of the colony to cut off the noses of their slaves, burn them alive, and whip them to death with impunity. Some slaves were known to swallow their tongues or eat dirt in an effort to commit suicide to escape (wikipedia)


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