Locating Maroon Settlements in Colonial-era St. Croix

Authors: Justin Dunnavant*, Vanderbilt University, Steven Wernke*, Vanderbilt University, Lauren Kohut*, Bowdoin College
Topics: Black Geographies, Historical Geography
Keywords: slavery, caribbean, GIS
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Maroon communities have existed in nearly every colonial context. However, locating the remnants of these communities is difficult due to their often ephemeral nature and intentional seclusion and secrecy. In an attempt to locate these sites, archaeologists have employed archival records, oral histories, and various survey methods with little avail. New advances in geospatial technology make it possible to develop models to assess potential settlement locations. We construct a suitability model that parametrizes the unique hazards and opportunities afforded by colonial St. Croix to maroon communities. Using eighteenth-century colonial maps, LiDAR data, mobility analysis, and other repeller and attractor variables, we identify likely sites of maroon settlement in St. Croix. We further assess how the landscape of opportunity for maroon settlements constricted as plantation agriculture and colonial settlement expanded over time. The results demonstrate a marked reduction in the extent of suitable locations as plantation agriculture expanded across the island, which likely restricted maroon settlement. In so doing, we approximate “fugitivity as method” by enslaved peoples in the past, while exploring novel methods for approximating how they perceived and moved through a hazardous, colonized landscape in their search for a measure of liberation. Finally, these methods provide the opportunity to locate similar maroon settlements in other geographic contexts.

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