Becoming a maroon and other resistance

Life as an enslaved laborer on the plantations was hard. The field work was tough, and especially during dry periods, the enslaved laborers, who had to survive on vegetables from their own small plots of land, starved. There were not many opportunities to resist. Some enslaved laborers became maroons, i.e. ran away, others rebelled, and still others saw no way out other than to take their own lives.
Picture of a newspaper with a text from Mary Alletta Heyliger who sought an enslaved laborer by the name of Peter, who had run away from her.
In the newspaper from January 23, 1771, Mary Alletta Heyliger sought an enslaved laborer by the name of Peter, who had run away from her. She promised a reward to the person who brought the enslaved laborer back to her, and she prohibited all others from giving him employment. (The Royal Danish Library).

The term for a runaway slave, maroon, originated from the Spanish word cimarrón, which means wild or untamed. To become a maroon was common among the enslaved laborers, who ran away alone or in small groups. Some ran away for a short period because they had been unfairly treated, were afraid of being punished or wanted to avoid the hard work in the field. Others ran away to obtain permanent freedom.

Maroon hunts

Some tried to reach the surrounding islands, for example, Spanish Puerto Rico or the British Virgin Islands, which could be reached by boat or canoe from the three Danish islands. But the colonial administration tried to block the enslaved laborers in their flight. For example, it was decided in 1706 that all trees from which enslaved laborers could build canoes were to be felled. A reward of fifty rix-dollars was also promised for capturing and returning enslaved laborers – dead or alive – who had fled to Puerto Rico. Other runaway slaves lived in hiding on the three islands. For that reason, so-called maroon hunts were held a couple of times a year. The colony’s militias marched into the countryside hunting the runaway slaves, who could then be brought back and punished for their crime.

Rebellions and mutinies of the enslaved

There were also other forms of resistance. In all, thirteen rebellions or mutinies took place on Danish slave ships during the crossing from the Gold Coast to the West Indies. The enslaved laborers also rebelled on the islands. On St. John, the enslaved succeeded in 1733 in taking over control of the island and holding it for eight months. Read more about the slave rebellion. It was one of the most successful slave rebellions in the entire Caribbean. On St. Croix, there were plans several times for rebellions among the enslaved laborers. The plans were discovered, however, and the rebellions averted. There was also a slave rebellion that led in 1848 to Peter von Scholten abolishing slavery in the colony.


But for some enslaved laborers, the only way out of the torments was to commit suicide. In particular, newly arrived enslaved laborers who had had a high social status in their homeland resorted to this way out. Some took their own lives as early as the crossing from the Gold Coast to the West Indies by jumping overboard, while others starved themselves to death after arriving in the colony.