Bayou St. Malo

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Description

Bayou St. Malo is a region of marshes between Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River. Known by the Creoles as el monte, it was difficult to traverse unless on foot or through the canals on pirogues.

Marronage and Maroons

This region was a center for fugitive slave activity in the late 18th century. It was known as Gaillardeland. [1] Led by Jean St. Malo, these fugitive slaves, called cimarrones or maroons, lived in the marshes behind the river plantations and commonly conducted trade with slaves and free people of color. They raided the stores and livestock of plantations along the Mississippi and traded in and out of Lake Pontchartrain. Governor Miró, the Spanish governor, claimed 500 men could defend these bayous against any number of invaders, and this struck fear in the white creoles of New Orleans. The land was sustainable and the fugitive slaves even planted corn from a high ground in the marshes, called Terre aux Boeufs. This land attracted many slaves from the surrounding plantations, and even as far as the German Coast, wherefrom Jean St. Malo hailed. [2] Through these maroon colonies, slaves asserted power over their own lives. Commonly, masters could not challenge the maroon colonies without the fear that their own slaves would escape in marronage, petit or grand. [3] Many of these fugitive slaves maintained kinship ties with slaves still held in bondage on the river plantations. When committing petit marronage, the slave would escape for a short period of time, usually to escape immediate punishment. Grand marronage involved the permanent escape of a slave from bondage.

The Cabildo’s Reaction

The Cabildo became concerned with St. Malo’s maroons when clashes between these fugitives and groups of armed slaves and planters occurred in the 1780s. After the theft of his cow, Juan Bienvenu armed a group of his slaves with “three guns and sticks” to search the marshes behind his plantation. [4] After these slaves found and captured a fugitive and a slave cabin, Bienvenu and another planter formed a larger party of armed slaves and overseers to find more maroon cabins. [5] On March 1, 1783, the city’s militia was activated to deal with the situation militarily. A mixed regiment of whites and free blacks entered the marshes and captured 23 maroons and killed one. In exchange for her freedom, a slave led the expedition further into the swamp to Ville Gaillarde, a large maroon camp, and they caught eight more fugitives. [6]

Over the next year, multiple raiding parties were sent to the Gaillardeland, and many times they returned with handfuls of captured fugitives. By the middle of June 1784, 40 men and 20 women had been captured, along with St. Malo, who was mortally wounded. On June 19, 1784, Jean St. Malo was marched to the gallows and was hanged. [7]

Works Cited

  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 212.
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 215.
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 212.
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 208.
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 209
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 215.
  • Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century, (Louisiana State University Press: 1992), 232.

This page was last modified on 01 November 2012, at 01:18

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Bayou St. Malo