Blood on the River

A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

A breathtakingly original work of history that uncovers a massive enslaved persons’ revolt that almost changed the face of the Americas

“As the rebellion lighted from one plantation to another, colonists panicked. Instead of rallying to the colony’s defense, they acted to save themselves. Rather than protecting their plantations, they hurriedly readied themselves to abandon them.”
—from Blood on the River

On Sunday, February 27, 1763, thousands of slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice—in present-day Guyana—launched a massive rebellion that came amazingly close to succeeding. Surrounded by jungle and savannah, the revolutionaries (many of them African-born) and Europeans struck and parried for an entire year. In the end, the Dutch prevailed because of one unique advantage—their ability to get soldiers and supplies from neighboring colonies and from Europe. Blood on the River is the explosive story of this little-known revolution, one that almost changed the face of the Americas.

Drawing on nine hundred interrogation transcripts collected by the Dutch when the Berbice rebellion finally collapsed, and which were subsequently buried in Dutch archives, historian Marjoleine Kars reconstructs an extraordinarily rich day-by-day account of this pivotal event. Blood on the River provides a rare in-depth look at the political vision of enslaved people at the dawn of the Age of Revolution and introduces us to a set of real characters, vividly drawn against the exotic tableau of a riverine world of plantations, rainforest, and Carib allies who controlled a vast South American hinterland.

An astonishing original work of history, Blood on the River will change our understanding of revolutions, slavery, and of the story of freedom in the New World.

Praise

“A riveting addition to the history of the search for freedom in the Americas.”
Kirkus Reviews
“[A] masterpiece . . . Marjoleine Kars has unearthed a little-known rebellion in the Dutch colony of Berbice and rendered its story with insight, empathy, and wisdom. You’ll find no easy platitudes herein. Instead, you’ll find human beings in full relief, acting with courage, kindness, calculation, and mendacity in their quest for self-determination. Blood on the River is a story for the ages.”
—Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
“This riveting story offers a close look at the inner dynamics of a slave war—its fraught alliances and antagonisms, strategies and tactics, and the grievances and aspirations of its combatants and resistors.”
—Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War
“Vivid. . . . The aborted attempt at freedom she chronicles provides a harrowing counterpoint to the American and French revolutions that would soon follow.”
—Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World
“Meticulously researched and careful to prioritize the perspectives of the marginalized, Blood on the River offers a fascinating glimpse of the complex history of slavery in the Americas.”
Booklist
“A gripping tale about the human need for freedom. . . . The story of the Berbice Rebellion begs to be told, and Kars' telling is impressive.”
—Martha Anne Toll, NPR Books
“[An] epic history. . . . A sweeping, thoughtful narrative, joining a new wave of books that make visible previously dismissed Black voices.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“This striking study unearths a meaningful chapter in the history of slavery.”
Publishers Weekly
“Takes readers on a moving journey deep into a colonial heart of darkness. Drawing on rich and challenging sources, Marjoleine Kars reveals enslaved people making a rebellion that lingers in memory and landscape.”
—Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize–winning author ofThe Internal Enemy and William Cooper’s Town
“One of the great slave revolts in modern history has at last found a gifted historian to tell its epic tale. Using a breathtaking archival discovery to make the Berbice rebels vivid flesh-and-blood actors, Marjoleine Kars deeply enriches the global scholarship on the history of slavery and resistance.”
—Marcus Rediker, author of The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
“Marjoleine Kars has brought from the archives the voices of the enslaved, both in hope and in defeat.  A tale of importance for our time.”
—Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Trickster Travels and The Return of Martin Guerre
“A must-read for anyone interested in slave revolts and the history of Atlantic slavery.”
Library Journal
“A richly detailed account of a gripping human story.”
—H. W. Brands, The Washington Post