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John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam

Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, by John Gabriel Stedman, edited and with an introduction and notes by Richard Price and Sally Price (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988; Open Road, 2016)
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Stedman's Surinam: Life in an Eighteenth-Century Slave Society, an abridged, modernized edition, by Richard Price and Sally Price (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)


When John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative was first published in 1796 -- a bowdlerized edition "full of lies and nonsense" -- Stedman claimed to have burned two thousand copies. It nevertheless became an immediate popular success. A first-hand account of an eighteenth-century slave society, including graphic accounts of the worlds of both masters and slaves, it also contained vivid descriptions of exotic plants and animals, of military campaigns, and of romantic adventures. Illustrated by William Blake, Francesco Bartolozzi, and others, Stedman's work was quickly translated into a half-dozen languages and was eventually published in over twenty-five different editions.

The Prices' acclaimed critical edition is based on Stedman's original, handwritten manuscript, which offers a portrait at considerable variance with the 1796 classic. The unexpurgated text, presented here with extensive notes and commentary, constitutes one of the richest and most evocative accounts ever written of a flourishing slave society. The Prices restore early omissions involving Stedman's horror at the Dutch planters' use of casual torture to discipline their slaves; his love and admiration for Joanna, his mulatto mistress; his strong belief in racial equality; and his outrage that "in 20 Years two millions of People are murdered to Provide us with Coffee & Sugar." Freed from its original publisher's censorship, Stedman's Narrative stands as one of the strongest indictments ever to appear against New World slavery.

In the paperback abridgment, the text has been modernized and pruned of many plant and animal descriptions, but Stedman's reflections on the slave society itself have been fully retained, as has the Prices' substantive introduction about the history of both Stedman's experience in Suriname and the manuscript's 1796 publication by Joseph Johnson in England.

"The 1790 Narrative is mostly written in direct, earthy prose that evokes the emotional response of a young European captain to the naked breasts of 'beautiful Negroe Maids,' to the clouds of ravenous 'muskitos,' to the tremors of tropical fever, and to the delight of stripping off all his sweat-soaked clothing and diving daily into the cool depth of a Surinamese river.... After the passage of two centuries, we now have a superbly edited critical edition of the book Stedman actually wrote."
--David Brion Davis, New York Review of Books

The abridged edition (1992) remains in print.

An unchanged reprint of the 1988 Johns Hopkins University Press unabridged critical edition is available in oversized paperback from Open Road (2016).

"Europe supported by Africa & America," engraved by William Blake