“Multiple Crossings: Movement and Metamorphosis in Atlantic Slavery and Freedom”
I am writing a biography of two highly mobile African men, Accara and Gousarie, who were caught up in Dutch slavery and colonialism during the Age of Revolution. The book tells the pair’s remarkable stories and asks questions about how people can simultaneously be victims, perpetrators, resisters, and collaborators, and what that means for our understanding of slavery and other human atrocities.
I first encountered Accara and Gousarie while researching my recent book, Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (New York: The New Press, 2020) which reconstructs a substantial but little-known slave rebellion in 1763-1764 in Berbice, a Dutch colony on the northern tip of South America, now part of the Republic of Guyana. Accara and Gousarie were leaders in the uprising until they betrayed their comrades and joined the Dutch.
The story starts in the mid-1740s, when Accara and Gousarie were forcibly uprooted from their communities in West Africa and shipped to the Dutch colony of Berbice. In 1763, Accara and Gousarie decided to join their fellow slaves in an armed bid for freedom. The rebellion quickly grew to encompass the entire colony and came very close to succeeding. When a year later, it became clear that the freedom fighters would lose, Accara and Gousarie did an about-face. They turned themselves in to the Dutch and offered to hunt down rebels and self-emancipated people hiding in the jungle in exchange for clemency and freedom. Accara and Gousarie were terrifyingly effective slave catchers, ensnaring over 600 people. The Dutch could not have won without them.
At the conclusion of the failed rebellion, slave catchers Accara and Gousarie could no longer remain in Berbice. When the last of the Dutch state troops repatriated, the two men migrated again. As they boarded the eastbound ship, the former slaves-turned-free-men underwent a second transoceanic exile and yet another metamorphosis. They lived in the Dutch Republic while working as drummers in the army for seven years — an assignment that placed them yet again in a liminal realm. In 1772, in their military role, they moved a third time, back across the Atlantic, shipping out to Suriname with Dutch forces to fight Maroons, people who had escaped plantations and lived independently in the South American hinterlands. The anti-Maroon campaign ended in 1777. Thereafter, Accara returned to the Netherlands, a fourth move, while Guassarie died in Suriname. From 1793 on, Accara received a pension as a former soldier. He is last mentioned in the records in 1817.
This biography will challenge general readers to look beyond the usual portrayal of enslaved people as either victims or heroes. Accara and Gousarie defy such neat categorization, as they were victims, perpetrators, resisters, and collaborators – not just sequentially but, at times, simultaneously. Their diasporic lives embody a complex interplay of powerlessness, agency, accommodation, and resistance. Multiple Crossings delivers more fully human portraits that do, I would argue, greater justice to the traumatic predicaments of surviving slavery and achieving a modicum of freedom in a racist world.
Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (New York: The New Press, 2020; London: Profile Books, 2022)
Bloed in de Rivier: Het onbekende verhaal van de massale slavenopstand in een Nederlandse kolonie (Amsterdam: Atlas Contact, 2021)
“Opstand in Berbice,” in Pepijn Brandon, Guno Jones, Nancy Jouwe en Matthias van Rossum, Eds., De slavernij in Oost en West: Het Amsterdam Onderzoek (Amsterdam: Het Unieboek/Spectrum, 2020), 225-233
“Dodging Rebellion: Women and Gender in the Berbice Slave Uprising of 1763,” American Historical Review 121, 1 (Feb 2016), 39-69Dodging Rebellion: Women and Gender in the Berbice Slave Uprising of 1763