cover image Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

Marjoleine Kars. New Press, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62097-459-9

Kars (Breaking Loose Together), a University of Maryland, Baltimore County historian, delivers a vivid and accessible chronicle of the 1763–1764 slave rebellion in the Dutch colony of Berbice (present-day Guyana). The size (nearly all of the colony’s 5,000 enslaved people participated, according to Kars) and duration of the uprising (10 months) made it unique for the era, as did the meticulously documented investigation that unfolded after it was put down by colonial authorities. Hundreds of interrogation transcripts, as well as letters from the rebels to Dutch officials, Kars writes, offer “a first-hand view of slavery... in intimate, granular detail,” and document how the rebels became both the perpetrators and the victims of horrific acts of violence. Kars recreates daily life on coffee, cacao, and sugar plantations in the remote colony, where slaves “hugely outnumbered” whites and those who tried to escape into the surrounding jungle were brutally punished; notes the impact of frequent dysentery outbreaks on both the enslaved and European communities; and explains differences of opinion among rebel leaders on what freedom would look like. With careful research and a globalist perspective, Kars convincingly argues that the Berbice uprising portended aspects of the American, French, and Haitian revolutions. This striking study unearths a meaningful chapter in the history of slavery. (Aug.)