15 Feb

Map of the Week: Maroon Communities of North America

By: Alexandra Kicior

Maronage refers to removing oneself from enslavement and slave-holding society to form independent communities. In virtually every slave society in the Americas maroon communities emerged as a key act of resistance to the dehumanising and brutally violent experience of enslavement.

Bayou Bienvenue is a 12.1-mile-long bayou and ghost swamp in southeastern Louisiana, running along the political border between Orleans Parish and St. Bernard Parish to the east of New Orleans. The freshwater bayou consisted of old growth cypress and many native species of plants and animals such as fish, alligators, otters, birds, and crawfish. Beyond its ecological significance, however, Bayou Bienvenue has served cultural functions to the populations of the surrounding areas throughout the area’s history of human occupation. The arrival of French explorers in the late 1600s led to nearly two centuries of disputes between French, Spanish, British and later American interests throughout the colonial era. Bayou Bienvenue – which is French for “welcome bayou” – gained its name during the initial French occupation. 

Under French rule, the enslaved population – which included indigenous peoples as well as Africans brought to the Americas – was used to facilitate the interests of the colonizing powers. By 1828, New Orleans was the center of the United States slave trade and Bayou Bienvenue, which was 5 miles away, became home to a community of Maroons. Maroons lived alongside indigenous communities that were there before them, like the Chitimacha and Choctaw Tribes and Acadians, who had arrived when Britain colonized Canada. These societies developed various techniques for living in the wetland environment in sustainable ways, including raised housing, small watercraft-like pirogues, and a cuisine of alligator and turtles. 

Eventually, various industries and plantations began to exert pressures on these communities and how they used the landscape. Maroon communities would make wares with grass-weaving techniques they had learned from the Chitimacha. Other people who developed relationships with the Maroons would take the wares and sell them at the slave market in New Orleans. Lumber companies began to pay Maroon communities, who were deeper in the wetlands, to cut timber. Despite being a source of income, logging practices were at the same time destroying the wetlands that protected these groups. As the wetlands became navigable with more shipping channels and canals, the Maroons and their living environment became increasingly sought after.