Mapping the Masterless Caribbean: Maroons, Pirates, and Indians in the Seventeenth Century

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:30 AM
Manchester Ballroom H (Hyatt)
Isaac Curtis , University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
This paper explores the social geography of the colonial Caribbean from the perspective of rebel slave societies, indigenous communities, and buccaneers. It traces the changing dynamics of regional integration from 1400-1726, focusing in particular on circum-Caribbean social networks among maroons, pirates, and Indians in the seventeenth century. It suggests three phases of Caribbean geography: a pre-Colombian phase based on maritime connections made possible by the canoe; a Spanish phase based on what Las Casas accurately described as "warfare and bondage;" and a third phase with two overlapping geographies - first, a capitalist geography based on both primitive and capitalist accumulation through imperial trade networks; and second, an anti-capitalist geography based on the interconnected and often allied struggles of maroons, pirates, and Indians across the region. The study is based on materials in French, Spanish, English, and Dutch that include linguistic data, archaeological records, geographical accounts, nautical manuals, trade statistics, official communications, and sailor's journals from published sources as well as research conducted at the Library of Congress in 2007 and the Archivo General de Indias in 2009.

The methodology and preliminary findings of this research will be of interest to those who study the Caribbean, maritime history, piracy, slavery, indigenous history, Marxist studies, and subaltern studies. It emphasizes the Caribbean as an actually-existing social space in the colonial period, rather than a twentieth-century invention, focusing on the complex and often contradictory relationship between the imperialist geography pursued by European powers and the alternative geography created by those who attempted to live in the shrinking space outside of such boundaries. By consistently highlighting the maritime dimensions of this geography, it seeks to build on and encourage ongoing efforts in Caribbean and Latin American maritime history.

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