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Expeditions against maroons

In Demerara the largest expeditions to destroy maroon camps and re-capture slaves were led by Charles Edmonstone of Mibiri Creek. Edmonstone headed fifteen such expeditions before he left the colony in 1817, the largest being that of 1810.

The naturalist Charles Waterton recorded an account, from Edmonstone, of the expedition of 1801:

From Wanderings In South America, by Charles Waterton
I have had the account of this engagement with the negroes in the forest from Mr. Edmonstone's own mouth. He received four slugs in his body, as will be seen in the sequel.

The plantations of Demerara and Essequibo are bounded by an almost interminable extent of forest. Hither the runaway negroes repair, and form settlements from whence they issue to annoy the colonists, as occasion may offer.

In 1801 the runaway slaves had increased to an alarming extent. The Governor gave orders that an expedition should be immediately organised and proceed to the woods under the command of Charles Edmonstone, Esq. General Hislop sent him a corporal, a sergeant and eleven men, and he was joined by a part of the colonial militia and by sixty Indians. With this force Mr. Edmonstone entered the forest and proceeded in a direction towards Mahaica.

He marched for eight days through swamps and over places obstructed by fallen trees and the bush-rope; tormented by myriads of mosquitos, and ever in fear of treading on the poisonous snakes which can scarcely be distinguished from the fallen leaves.

At last he reached a wooded sandhill, where the Maroons had entrenched themselves in great force. Not expecting to come so soon upon them, Mr. Edmonstone, his faithful man Coffee and two Indian chiefs found themselves considerably ahead of their own party. As yet they were unperceived by the enemy, but unfortunately one of the Indian chiefs fired a random shot at a distant Maroon. Immediately the whole negro camp turned out and formed themselves in a crescent in front of Mr. Edmonstone. Their chief was an uncommonly fine negro, above six feet in height; and his head-dress was that of an African warrior, ornamented with a profusion of small shells. He advanced undauntedly with his gun in his hand, and, in insulting language, called out to Mr. Edmonstone to come on and fight him.

Mr. Edmonstone approached him slowly in order to give his own men time to come up; but they were yet too far off for him to profit by this manoeuvre. Coffee, who carried his master's gun, now stepped up behind him, and put the gun into his hand, which Mr. Edmonstone received without advancing it to his shoulder.

He was now within a few yards of the Maroon chief, who seemed to betray some symptoms of uncertainty, for, instead of firing directly at Mr. Edmonstone, he took a step sideways, and rested his gun against a tree; no doubt with the intention of taking a surer aim. Mr. Edmonstone, on perceiving this, immediately cocked his gun and fired it off, still holding it in the position in which he had received it from Coffee. The whole of the contents entered the negro's body, and he dropped dead on his face.

The negroes, who had formed in a crescent, now in their turn fired a volley, which brought Mr. Edmonstone and his two Indian chiefs to the ground. The Maroons did not stand to reload, but, on Mr. Edmonstone's party coming up, they fled precipitately into the surrounding forest.

Four slugs had entered Mr. Edmonstone's body. After coming to himself, on looking around he saw one of the fallen Indian chiefs bleeding by his side. He accosted him by name and said he hoped he was not much hurt. The dying Indian had just strength enough to answer, "Oh no,"--and then expired. The other chief was lying quite dead. He must have received his mortal wound just as he was in the act of cocking his gun to fire on the negroes; for it appeared that the ball which gave him his death-wound had carried off the first joint of his thumb and passed through his forehead. By this time his wife, who had accompanied the expedition, came up. She was a fine young woman, and had her long black hair fancifully braided in a knot on the top of her head, fastened with a silver ornament. She unloosed it, and, falling on her husband's body, covered it with her hair, bewailing his untimely end with the most heart-rending cries.

The blood was now running out of Mr. Edmonstone's shoes. On being raised up, he ordered his men to pursue the flying Maroons, requesting at the same time that he might be left where he had fallen, as he felt that he was mortally wounded. They gently placed him on the ground, and, after the pursuit of the Maroons had ended, the corporal and sergeant returned to their commander and formed their men. On his asking what this meant, the sergeant replied, "I had the General's orders, on setting out from town, not to leave you in the forest, happen what might." By slow and careful marches, as much as the obstructions in the woods would admit of, the party reached Plantation Alliance, on the bank of the Demerara, and from thence it crossed the river to Plantation Vredestein.

The news of the rencounter had been spread far and wide by the Indians, and had already reached town. The General, Captains Macrai and Johnstone and Doctor Dunkin proceeded to Vredestein. On examining Mr. Edmonstone's wounds, four slugs were found to have entered the body: one was extracted, the rest remained there till the year 1824, when another was cut out by a professional gentleman of Port Glasgow. The other two still remain in the body; and it is supposed that either one or both have touched a nerve, as they cause almost continual pain.

Other references

Essequebo & Demerara Gazette, Saturday, the 18th of April, 1807
A runaway negro, named Jack, who had been brand marked for his conduct in 1795, and who was taken about a twelvemonth [sic] ago with arms in his hand by the indefatigable Mr. Edmonstone, was this morning executed before the Court House pursuant to his sentence. At the same time, two minor offenders, one named Crowdy, belonging to Plantation Great Diamond, the other Kees [sic] belonging to Dr. Cramer, were brand marked and ordered to work in chains for the benefit of the Colony during the remainder of their lives.

Thomas Staunton St Clair, A residence in the West Indies [referring to 1808].

The colonel determined upon going up the Demerara river, in order to visit his old and esteemed friend, Mr. Edmonstone, who was residing on his wood-cutting estate up the Mibiri creek. This gentleman had on several occasions shown great courage against the runaway slaves, and an intimate knowledge of their habits and manners, and proved himself a zealous defender of our authority and possessions. So early as 1801, he commanded a small party sent by General Hislop to attack a settlement made by some runaway slaves up this river, in which service he was severely wounded ; and, in 1809, he was presented by the governor with a handsome sword, accompanied by a silver mug, in token of his esteem.


Essequebo & Demerara Royal Gazette, Tuesday, January 9th, 1810
Silence respecting the progress of the Expedition lately fitted out to windward under the command of C. Edmonston Esq. against the Bush Negroes, being no longer, if it was ever thought seriously necessary; we now take leave to announce the return of the Party, with Seventy-six black prisoners, after having killed Twenty-six more in different skirmishes with the Banditti. The prisoners were marched through town this morning and are either to be sent on board a Hulk already moored for that purpose in the mouth of the River, as soon as properly fitted up for their reception, or divided amongst the shipping in the harbour. We mention these things on report without vouching for their authenticity.