Richard Cullen Rath

Drums and Power:

Ways of Creolizing Music in Coastal South Carolina and Georgia, 1730-1790

citation: Richard Cullen Rath, “Drums and Power: Ways of Creolizing Music in Coastal South Carolina and Georgia, 1730-1790,” in Creolization in the Americas: Cultural Adaptations to the New World, ed. Steven Reinhardt and David Buisseret (Arlinton, TX: Texas A&M Press, 2000), 99–130.

Creolization gave African Americans a way to craft autonomous agendas in colonial America, even during slavery. Autonomous agendas are not autonomous lives. For Africans in the Americas, slavery precluded the latter in an obvious way. A focus on how they framed their agendas and approached their lives requires a shift in the questions that historians ask. A good deal of work has been done on resistance to slavery. An inquiry into how people of African descent negotiated their everyday lives needs to ask another question, too: With what did Africans in the Americas frame their agendas? The traditional answers have been either with very little because of the destructive, dehumanizing nature of slavery, or else with some essential African cultural heritage. This essay takes a third approach. First it explicates a theoretical base for the process of cultural creolization, drawing on the link between language and culture. It then examines how Africans and their descendants in the South Carolina-Georgia low country took advantage of musical creolization in their struggles for self-directed rather than other-directed lives during the eighteenth century.

Creolization, Language, and Culture

How does creolization work? It is a way of forming a "native" identity in a situation where there is no natal society. The process takes place in the descendants of forcibly displaced immigrant populations when the immigrants were drawn from more than one source. First-generation immigrants, the ones forcibly displaced, undergo pidginization, a more tenuous and provisional process of negotiating linguistic and cultural practices in the face of multiple native identities. Children are often born into these groups, in a situation where there is no consensual identity. These children take an unstable polyglot cultural inheritance and create stable creole identities from it. If and when natural increase overtakes forced immigration as the chief means of sustaining the population, then the process of creolization affects the whole society, changing it from a heterogenous group to a creole culture. Creole languages and cultures are most often associated with a legacy of slavery, which produced the harsh and disruptive conditions necessary for their formation.(1)

To be useful as a concept, creolization needs to be distinguished from other ways of mixing, creating, and maintaining cultural identities. In addition to distinguishing pidginization from creolization, the demographics of forced labor, mixed origin, displacement, natural increase, racism, and inequality also serve to distinguish creolization from other related forms of cultural fashioning like syncretism, hybridity, transfer, borrowing, retention, or translation. Ignoring the special circumstances of creolization renders it analytically redundant as a term.

Students of cultural creolization have treated it as analogous to linguistic creolization. This analogy is mistaken. Culture is not like language; it is integral to language, and language to it. Both are ways in which individuals make sense of their worlds. They are both ways of getting meaning to and from expressible forms. They also make the human landscape comprehensible. Language and culture are two different ways of doing this, each dependent on the other. Thus cultural creolization and linguistic creolization are integral, rather than analogous, to each other.

The twentieth-century history of the idea of linguistic transformations helps make the relationship between language and cultures explicit. From the 1930s through the 1950s, structuralist linguists proposed a sort of rule set, called linguistic transformations, that mapped culturally specific underlying grammatical structures onto expressions in a particular language. In 1957, Noam Chomsky argued that these underlying structures of language were in fact universals, part of an innate human capacity for acquiring languages. In Chomsky's "generative" grammar, meaning loaded into these innate structures undergoes a transformation that renders expressions in the speaker's language. At first, he and his students emphasized "spelling out" the transformations, on the premise that they were universal. By the mid-1970s, it had become apparent that the ever-increasing stock of transformational "rules" had become too burdensome and culturally specific to function as an explanation of the human capacity for language. Generativists concluded that the innate parts of human language reside in the underlying structures rather than in the transformations of those structures into an actual expressions. Linguistic variation results from differences in the transformations used to produce an expression.(2)

While the underlying structures of human language are to some extent universal and a function of individual minds, the transformations that any language user employs must be culturally conditioned to some extent -- the alternatives would be either the obviously false proposition that all humans speak and comprehend the same particular language or the untestable conclusion that all humans speak their own private language. Transformations -- the ways that the meanings packed into universal underlying structures are mapped into particular expressions -- are culturally specific.(3)

Perhaps such transformations are what defines culture best: They are the ways we make sense of our worlds. How they do this will condition, if not determine, how they transform a finite set of underlying structures into infinitely varied yet culturally-marked expressions. Culture is not a meaning-loaded underlying structure, nor is it a corpus of expressions. It is the way between them. This idea of culture seems to be a profoundly individualistic or personal definition, and in some ways it is. But the notion of self employed here is relational, making culture the way for individuals to situate themselves in the human landscape. It may be personalized, or geared to dealing with "mixed" societies, but in order to be culture, it must reckon with the ways of others. Less than that renders it an idiosyncratic and most likely incomprehensible expression, or perhaps art.

This definition of culture as ways of making sense has three advantages: First, it places culture in its proper relation to language. Second, variety and conflict no longer have to be explained away, because culture does not exist outside the people constructing it. Third, authenticity and essentialism cease to be issues because no claims are made about culture as a normative object. This makes it a particularly rewarding definition to apply to models of creolization.

Historians and Creolization

The idea of creole identity has been talked about in three general ways. First, it has been discussed as a general moniker for anyone born in the Americas but with descendants from elsewhere, including Europe. Jack Greene and Benedict Anderson have each employed this "provincialist" definition of "creole" to explain the emergence of distinctively American identities during the eighteenth century. Anderson, in fact, associates creolization solely with Europeans. Second, it has been used as a historically-produced outlook, African in its origins, through which Caribbean authors such as Edward Brathwaite and Edouard Glissant have interpreted the histories of their region. Third, and for the present essay, most importantly, anthropologists and historians have employed linguistic models of creolization to explain the origins of African American culture.(4) One contention of this article is that all of these approaches can be integrated into a powerful explanatory tool by examining how language and culture are related. For that reason, my emphasis will be on "linguistic" explanations of cultural creolization.

Historians use linguistic models of creolization as a solution to what is known as the "Herskovits-Frazier debate." At the turn of the twentieth century W. E. B. Du Bois, arguing against a paternalist tradition that denied Africans' having any culture with which to begin, claimed that although slavery damaged African institutions severely, parts persisted -- especially in the realms of music and religion -- to form the core of African American society. In 1939, the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier mustered evidence that the damage had been much more severe than Du Bois had allowed. American slavery, Frazier contended, had obliterated any usable African past. The anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits responded three years later with a compendium of hundreds of American practices having African precedents. Frazier's position dominated for several decades in the work of Stanley Elkins, Kenneth Stampp, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Eugene Genovese. What Africanisms were to be found, they assumed, were isolated and trivial. The differences between Elkins and Stampp had to do with psychology rather than culture, with Elkins positing a pathological, dysfunctional set of black American personality types and Stampp countering that slave resistance was a well-adapted response to a situation where all vestiges of one's culture had been stripped away. Moynihan's famous report on slavery's destruction of the black family and Genovese's influential work on slave accommodation and resistance in the totalizing sphere of Hegelian master-slave dialectic also both presume Frazier's version of black American history.(5)

During the 1970s, Africanisms grew increasingly difficult to dismiss. In 1972, John Blassingame published The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, which drew extensively from Herskovits's ideas and new research to argue for an autonomous slave community that existed alongside slavery. Herbert Gutman challenged Moynihan's conclusions about black families using a research approach similar to Blassingame's. It became apparent almost immediately that some middle way between Herskovits and Frazier was needed, for while Blassingame and Gutman had demolished the idea of no African past, it was obvious even to them that the slave trade made the carrying of culture a proposition very different from that undertaken by Europeans.(6)

In 1976, with nods to Du Bois and Brathwaite, the anthropologists Richard Price and Sidney Mintz proposed a synthesis of Herskovits' and Frazier's positions. Mintz and Price drew an analogy between creolized language and creolized culture that focused inquiry on "deep structures." Specifically, they compared "underlying values and beliefs" with "unconscious grammatical principles." Mintz and Price contended that values and beliefs, because they existed at a deeper level, had a better chance of surviving the middle passage and planter deculturation strategies than did material objects and surface expressions. Creolized cultures, they contended, were like creolized languages, in that African-derived deep structures survived even where the various lexicons and surface expressions might not.(7)

Mintz and Price's essay sparked a generation of groundbreaking studies of African American culture during slavery times that borrowed, extended, and critiqued the notion of cultural creolization using linguistic models. Several of these works returned to creole linguistics to qualify their applications of Mintz and Prices's model, using what creolists call the "substratist" approach. Substratists count Herskovits as one of their own, and their approach is similar, mapping Africanisms in the Americas to argue that what is distinctive about creole languages and cultures is to be found in their African features. However, the relationship between creole and regional African identities has proven frustratingly elusive. Almost invariably, Africanisms are either too widely distributed to be considered as distinguishing features or too specific to generalize from.(8) Two examples serve to illustrate.

First, consider Mintz' and Price's scenario of a creolized response to twin births, an event that they include, along with insanity, suicide and other unusual occurrences, in the category of phenomena that "would have required some kind of highly specialized ritual attention in almost any West African society in West or Central Africa."(9) The difficulty with this model is that the 'belief' Mintz and Price focus on is so general that it could hardly be considered a distinguishing African feature at all, amounting to the near-tautology that unusual occurrences are treated as being unusual. Even the underlying values and beliefs about twin births that they hinge their analysis on are far too widely--perhaps even universally--distributed to be markers of a particular source culture.(10) The fact that twin births are regarded as special in many areas of Africa fails to operate as an explanation because twin births are regarded as special in lots of other places, too. Most other things that fall under the aegis of "underlying values and beliefs" run into the same problem: The more important they are, the less they can be unambiguously and distinctively assigned to a single culture with any amount of confidence.

Second, consider John Szwed's and Robert Farris Thompson's convincing substratist exegesis of the origins of baton twirling. They trace the practice back to northern Kongolese sources, from hence it was transmitted to Haiti. There, it took shape in rara street parades, with participating groups each led by a fantastically outfitted baton-twirling leader. From there it traveled to New Orleans with many Haitian slaves, spreading thence to Mississippi and finding its way into mainstream US entertainment, namely the football half-time show. Here, then is a well-documented Africanism, but then the question becomes "So what?" Although Thompson asserts the importance of baton-twirling, he never quite gets around to explaining just what it is that is important, or how so.(11)

Thus, at Mintz and Price's underlying level of values and beliefs, we run into universally distributed characteristics where they predicted (in structuralist fashion) culturally specific values and beliefs. But at the substratists' level of concrete expression there is a question of significance: Are persistent Africanisms to be celebrated for their mere survival? The solution to this apparent dilemma involves reconsidering culture not as an analog to language, but as a related system of representation that both affects and is affected by language. It also involves returning to linguistic theories of creolization.

In 1981, Derek Bickerton turned the field of creole linguistics on its head by arguing that in the process of creolization, normal channels of transmission were so disrupted (a la Frazier) that the resulting creole came close to being an "unmarked" version of the innate human endowment for language posited by Chomsky. His justification for this explanation arose from observations about the peculiarities of creole languages. Creolists have long known that creole languages around the world show remarkable similarities in their grammatical constructions. Independent origin theories ("polygenesis") leave too many similarities among far-flung creoles to be explained by chance. Explanations of creole structural similarities that depended on historical contact and diffusion also fell short, because even creoles that had no possibility of contact with each other have similarities in their grammars. For the past fifteen years, Bickerton's "bioprogram hypothesis" has been at the center of research and heated debates in creole linguistics. All but the most resolute substratists now allow that linguistic universals account for at least some of the similarities among creole languages, although which ones and to what extent are contested, often acridly.(12)

With a single exception, historians have roundly ignored the generative turn in creole linguistics. Two reasons could be proposed. The first is that Bickerton's arguments and his critics' rejoinders turn on technical terms and concepts not in historians' toolboxes. Nor need they be. However, to accept the substratist position as consensus is mistaken, particularly since it cannot explain the widespread similarities observed among creole languages. The second reason is that the idea of an innate structure seems inimical to historical inquiry.(13)

This may in fact be so, but it also may be why historical inquiries focused on deep structures and underlying values and beliefs have proven so disappointing. The tack taken in this article is to acknowledge the possibility that universal structures may be at work at the "deeper" levels of values and beliefs that Africans carried over with them, and then to focus on the culturally specific ways in which creolized descendants of enslaved Africans expressed themselves. I will use eighteenth-century African American music from the Georgia-South Carolina Low Country as a case study.

Drums and Power

During 1930s, an ex-slave from St. Simon's Island, Ben Johnson, recalled from his childhood an old African man, Dembo, who was familiar with the traditional African uses of drums. Dembo used to beat a drum at funerals (and probably at feasts), but his master, the Yale alumnus James Hamilton Couper, banned the practice, ostensibly on religious grounds. Johnson said Couper did not want drums beaten around the dead. By the 1930s, the uses of drums for spiritual and festive occasions had seemingly ceased. But many of the coastal Georgian African Americans remembered the use of drums, or someone who knew how to make them, and a few admitted the practice to still exist. While drums may have been scarce, the practice of social representation by means of a complex, culturally-specific grammar of rhythmic patterns (or "ways") thrived in the worksongs and handclapping patterns that accompany Sea Island spirituals.(14)

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FIGURE 1. Detail, oil painting by Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, about 1687, showing two-stringed harp with a gourd resonator, similar in design to a musical bow. See Jos Gansemans and Barbara Schmidt-Wenger, Musikgeschichte in Bildern: Zentralafrika (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag fr Musik, 1986), 15-27.

African Americans had solid historical grounds to be reticent about their drums and drumming, reasons that stretched across centuries, continents, ethnicities, and racial divides. For example, the Capuchin missionary Girolamo Merolla described his reaction to drumming in 1682. He lived and worked in Songo, a Central African state about 150 miles southeast of Angola, part of vast region of closely-related societies. He wrote that drums were "commonly made use of at unlawful Feasts and Merry-makings, and [were] beaten upon with the Hands, which nevertheless makes a noise to be heard at a great distance." These drums, he continues, were also used for military signaling, for invoking the other world, and for sending off the dead properly. Merolla claimed that he often went to break up such "Hellish Practices, But the People always ran away as soon as I ever came up to them, so I could never lay hold on any to make an Example of them."(15) Although Merolla had definite ideas about controlling African practices he found threatening ("Hellish"), he had only limited agency.

Europeans were aware from the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade that drums were powerful tools of state among many West African peoples, but could not quite comprehend how this was so. English planters in the West Indies early associated African drum and horn music with slave resistance, but the prevalence of these laws indicates that Europeans were resisting and accommodating West African practices as well. In 1688, Hans Sloane, the physician to the governor of Jamaica, observed that slaves on the island "formerly on their Festivals were allowed the use of Trumpets after their Fashion, and Drums. . . . But making use of these in their Wars at home in Africa, it was thought too much inciting them to Rebellion, and so they were prohibited by the Customs of the Island." Barbados followed suit in 1699, banning drums, horns or "any other loud instruments." Masters were to conduct weekly searches of slave quarters, and any of the named instruments found were to be burned under threat of a fine. In 1711, and again in 1722, St. Kitts passed laws which banned the slaves "from communicating at a distance by beating drums or blowing horns." In 1717, Jamaica codified its earlier policy forbidding "the gathering of slaves by the beating of drums and blowing of horns."(16)

Planters passed laws against drums and drumming several times, and in various forms, indicating that their control was less than absolute. European fears were straightforward. They feared drums as loud signals that could lead men on a battlefield so they banned loud instruments, ignoring quieter ones in their laws. They understood the ways of military and state drumming which they shared with Africans, but they failed to comprehend how African Americans were able to represent themselves and their agendas in their music rather than just signal with it.

One particular type of West African court music -- that radiating from a Kwa ethnic base centered in the region from Eastern Nigeria to Modern Ghana -- was more than a set of signals. It functioned as an immanent and immediate means of representing and communicating ideas in a repeatable form, somewhat like a spoken language. Most Kwa languages are tonal; that is, words can be differentiated on the basis of pitch change. Kwa drummers, able to rely in part on pitch patterns, could produce musical representations akin to a language rather than being a fixed corpus of signals. On the other hand, Mende and West Atlantic languages found to the north of the Kwa regions, as well as Central African languages to the south, are often tonal, but not "tonemic," that is, words cannot be distinguished on the basis of pitch, but pitch still forms an aspect of correct pronunciation.(17)

Although North American rice planters knew well the attitudes of Caribbean planters toward African drums and drumming, the instruments were not banned at first in South Carolina. In fact, African slaves were often used as drummers in the militia. Peter Wood suggests that African militia drummers were so prevalent in South Carolina that the job was seen as unattractive by "race conscious Europeans."(18)

The early accommodation to Africans' drumming in South Carolina was an uneasy tolerance, though. The planters feared it. In 1730, according a Charleston planter, a group of slaves "conspired to Rise and destroy us" at a dance which featured drumming. The alleged revolt was found out and quelled before the slaves were able issue a call to arms, however. A newspaper article from 1736 reported a foiled uprising in Antigua which involved "Coromantee" (Western Kwa) and colony-born factions of slaves. The Coromantee leader announced his intention to stage an uprising "in open Day-light, by a Military Dance and Show, of which the Whites and even the Slaves (who were not Coromantees nor let into the Secret) might be Spectators, and yet ignorant of the Meaning." The "meaning" was delivered by "Drums beating the Ikem Beat." This plan was also found out, and many slave executions ensued.(19)

Rather than banning drums, however, South Carolina and Georgia rice planters simply did not purchase many Kwa males who -- being preferred in the wealthier and more established sugar colonies -- were scarcely available in the low country anyway. Mende/West Atlantic and Central African slaves were both preferred and available before 1740. Owners constantly sought out about fifteen to twenty percent of their slaves from the more northerly Windward Coast of the Mende region, where rice was grown as a staple. Certain ethnicities from this area were thought to be more suitable candidates for skilled trades and household duties as well. For field work, slaves from the Kongo/Angola coastal region and its hinterlands were favored. About forty percent all South Carolina slaves were from this region during the years preceding 1740.(20)

A notice in a South Carolina Gazette from 1733 demonstrates one way that African Americans creolized Kongo/Angolan culture in the Americas under the constraints of slavery. The notice offered a £10 reward for the return of Thomas Butler, who had run away from the Vander Dussen plantation upriver from Charleston. Thomas was known in the area as "the famous Pushing and Dancing Master." For an owner, especially one as intolerant as Vander Dussen seems to have been, to refer to a slave as "master" seems ironic and unusual.(21) It is doubtful that Butler was the master of any dancing skill of which his owner also partook. Nor is it probable that planters sent their children or slaves to such a master to learn dancing--especially not a style which included "Pushing" as a major feature. This was not ballroom dancing. Butler was, however, not only a master of "Pushing and Dancing," he was "famous" for it.

Butler's skill was most likely not of his own invention. John Storm Roberts discusses the mid-nineteenth century popularity Brazilian form of musical martial art called capoeira de Angola, which was practiced by young men, often from Central Africa. The art could best be described in two words as pushing and dancing. Capoeira uses musical bows, which are percussive string instruments, to set a tempo which disciplines the movements of two dancers who combat each other in a highly ritualized and graceful manner. The musical bow is a much quieter instrument than a drum and can be quickly made from a flexible green tree limb, a length of string or cord, a small stone, a gourd and a striking stick (see fig. I).(22) The sound is percussive rather than melodic. Perhaps the roots of this pushing and dancing martial art lay in trying to keep traditional combat skills honed with no weapons available and drums proscribed. Such intensely purposeful dancing, performed by a master, would surely bring about the attention of planters, but not necessarily their comprehension of what the dance was representing.

Angolan and Kongolese warriors in Africa also had a form of "Pushing and Dancing." Hand-to-hand combat was still a viable military skill in the early eighteenth century, though finally being superannuated by firearms -- for which, noted the feared warrior Queen Njinga, "there was no remedy." Kongolese and Angolan techniques of unarmed combat were learned in the form of a martial art set in time to drum music. In short, the skills were encoded in a form of dance. Not all soldiers learned these techniques. Specialists, called imbare (singular kimbare or quimbare) and often drawn from slave populations, were recruited to learn the art. According to John Thornton, this specialized form of dance, called sanga in the Kikongo language, and sanguar in Ndongo, valued hand-to-hand combat skills, the use of sticks and other weapons, as well as "the ability to twist, leap, and dodge to avoid arrows or the blows of opponents." The skills, which brought renown to the imbare, were displayed at public exhibitions which impressed not only Africans, but Portuguese, Italian and Dutch observers as well. Thornton notes how a Kongolese state delegation in Brazil amazed observers there with an exhibition of leaping and fighting skills in 1642.(23)

By the eighteenth century, Central African armies had developed mass-mobilization infantry tactics as a result of a century of civil war. The importance of sanga as a military form was waning. The Americas, however, were rife with evidence of its retention. It may often have been more important as a ritual than as a military tactic, but it may have yet had its uses in the latter arena. Ritualized stick fighting and dancing like that found in Central Africa persisted all over the "new world." One of these dances, called kalinda, was a highlight of Caribbean slave festivals, although viewed ambivalently by planters. Brazilian slaves may have kept their unarmed combat skills honed in capoeira. A related martial art/dance form, maculelê, existed alongside capoeira in Bahia. In it, two dancers used sticks called grimas as musical instruments and as weapons against each other, both at the same time: to miss a beat was to receive a blow. In Cuba, the Kongolese tradition of music and dance was also closely associated with military traditions. In the United States there is a tradition of "knocking and kicking." Thompson's observations about baton twirling take on wider significance here in the realm of cultural ways (as opposed to his focus on concrete expressions), for as a relative of kalinda and rara, baton-twirling ca be situated as a part of this complex system of musical, social, religious, and military ways.(24)

In a world where overt possession of weapons was limited or banned, the representation of social knowledge and military skills via rhythmic patterns of drumming and movement could be highly valuable. It was no coincidence that two of the most-frowned upon activities in which a coastal lowlands slave could engage after 1740 were reading and particular forms of music--namely, the loudest forms, drums and horns. But in trying to control the knowledge that Africans had access to, Europeans only considered their own ways of expressing powerful knowledge. In their worries about loud signaling instruments, the planters missed the purpose of Thomas Butler's art--and many other African military ways--even gracing Butler with the moniker "famous master."

Three years after the Antigua conspiracy, and six years after Thomas Butler's escape, South Carolina planters' worst nightmare came true, "an intestine Enemy the most dreadful of Enemies." About twenty slaves, all sharing a common Central African cultural background, "surpriz'd a Warehouse belonging to Mr. Hutchenson, at a Place called [Stono]; they there killed Mr. Robert Bathurst and Mr. Gibbs, plunder'd the House, and took a pretty many small Arms and Powder."(25) The slaves had--unarmed--effectively taken over a small arsenal. Guns and ammunition were no doubt their immediate aim, but how did they obtain them? Perhaps the last thing that the two armed sentries experienced was the combat version of Thomas Butler's "famous Pushing and Dancing," deadly hand-to-hand fighting tactics which the slaves were able to maintain even under the direct observation of planters who feared just such an enemy.

After thus arming themselves, the slaves marched southward with "Colours displayed and two Drums beating." When their ranks had swollen to between sixty and one hundred slave defectors, they stopped, still not far from Charleston, and "set to Dancing, Singing and beating Drums" for the purpose of calling more slaves to join them. This drumming, true to Central African traditions, was in the form of an announcement, a signal, rather than a Kwa 'language.' By this time, the planters had recovered sufficiently to respond with force. A pitched battle ensued in which more than twenty whites and twenty slaves were killed before the slaves scattered. Many runaways were captured and shot during the following weeks, but the insurrection was not considered quelled for at least a month.(26)

The evidence at Stono points to ways of doing battle that were not pan-African, much less universal. The manner of fighting and the indications of how power was expressed through music point to Central Africa, but the expressions themselves were tailored to the slavery. In line with Frazier, the expressions were not African, but in line with Herskovits, the ways of expressing correlated to Central African ways. By shifting the focus inquiry to the path between underlying structures and concrete cultural expressions, it becomes possible to discern how Africans from diverse regional backgrounds came to understand each other in ways that were broadly "African" rather than "Coromantee," "Mende," or "Angolan."

Local planters had been quibbling relentlessly over the codification of new slave restrictions until the results of the Stono insurrection made cooperation imperative. In 1740, the new slave code was rushed through the Assembly. At the same time, South Carolinians stepped up hostilities toward the Spanish in St. Augustine, who offered freedom to any slaves who could escape there. Among its strictures, the new slave code prohibited "wooden swords and other dangerous weapons, or using or keeping of drums, horns, or other loud instruments which may call together, or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs or purposes." Perhaps the wooden swords were the sticks used in kalinda and maculelê. The musical historian Dena Epstein has observed without elaboration that musical instruments were classed in the same category as dangerous weapons.(27) The planters' reaction, with its focus on specific material objects, underscored their lack of understanding. The new restrictions were analogous to taking pens, paper and books from the literate. Such an action could have definite effects, but it would not render the literate population illiterate. The planters' worst (and perhaps only) fear was that of a power which they clearly apprehended, but had no way of comprehending.

African American drumming at Stono was an act of self-determination based on an autonomous agenda. It was a culturally specific means toward an end Africans enslaved in South Carolina probably shared with the rest of humankind, the pursuit of freedom, in the sense of autonomy, for one's self or group. To speak of only of "slave" resistance and accommodation in this case seems an odd twisting of the facts. In the case of drumming and music, the planters were the ones reacting defensively to ways not their own. Perhaps that is why Dena Epstein claims, arguing from a different perspective, that "[i]rrational though it may have been, the fear of drumming as a signal of insurrection persisted up to the outbreak of the Civil War."(28) Indeed, South Carolina's laws against drums stayed on the books until Emancipation, and enforcement seems to have been fairly thorough. Couper's nineteenth-century ban on beating drums around the dead thus rested on something much broader than a simple religious belief. It rested on a long tradition of European resistance and accommodation to African ways. Though slavery was harsh, the planters' power was by no means absolute. The Hegelian master/slave dialectic begins to look like very thin description when there was so much more to African identity in North America than could be encompassed by the term "slave."

Fiddles and the Jali Tradition

After 1740, mentions of drums being played by slaves virtually disappear from colonial records in South Carolina and Georgia. Curiously, drums seem to have been replaced by fiddles. From a single runaway violinist before the Stono uprising, the number of escaped lowlands fiddlers reported in the South Carolina Gazette steadily increased during the years before the American Revolution and then abruptly disappeared during the war, with the next runaway fiddler not being noted until 1790 ().

Why was there an upsurge in runaway fiddlers? Violin playing provided slaves with access to some key aspects of planter culture. Charleston was noted as a musical center before the Revolution. Violins were instruments of high culture to the planters, and possession of a musical ensemble was a sign of status. Violinists were in demand for dances and entertainment. Well-known in European folk and elite traditions, the instrument was not thought of as a threat like drums were. In addition, slaves with experience on the instrument could be hired out, bringing extra income to their owners, and occasionally, to themselves.(29) Such slaves would have access to casual conversations of the planters, no doubt a source of valuable information. More importantly, they would have an amount of local mobility. Together, these two job features provided key opportunities for potential runaways, opportunities which were not available to field hands.

Fiddling must be learned; the violin requires guidance, practice and skill even to be played in tune, much less played well. How did slaves come to possess proficiency on the instrument? The skill had to be learned at some point. It is doubtful that many plantation owners would afford the double luxury of a paid white violin tutor for a slave while at the same time losing valuable labor time. The first violin lesson book to be published in the colonies did not appear until 1769, and it was not widely distributed, perhaps never even making it to the market. It would have been incomprehensible without both musical and verbal literacy. Literate slaves would be more likely to possess a religious texts or a hymn book with no musical notation provided by an itinerant evangelist than an expensive violin manual.(30)

Slaves most often learned the art of fiddling from each other. An eighteenth-century description from Santo Domingo maintained that

. . . many [slaves] are good violinists. That is the instrument they prefer. Many certainly play it only by rote, that is, they learn by themselves, imitating the sounds of a tune, or they are taught by another Negro, who explains only the position of the strings and the fingers, with no thought of notes.(31)

Novice fiddlers anywhere had to learn from someone who already knew how to play tunefully. If enslaved violinists learned from each other, then some of their knowledge must have come from Africa. The only part of the slaving areas where bowed instruments were prevalent was the Mende/Western Atlantic region, the same area where the rice-cultivators preferred by the coastal planters lived. This preference became even more pronounced after the Stono uprising, as Central Africans were no longer desired.(32)

Information from runaway notices on nine slaves from the rice planting region between 1730 and 1790 shows most of them displayed some potential status marker (see Table I). None, however, could be ascertained as African-born. Where were the Mende/West Atlantic violinists? Their playing and teaching took place mostly in a world of which Europeans only skimmed the surface. Although low country slave-owners may have preferred Mende/West Atlantic African-born slaves over other African ethnicities for non-cultivation jobs, American-born slaves were more generally preferred for these jobs and any others which required substantial contact with planter society.

Planters found American-born, or "creolized" slaves to be more predictable than African-born slaves. They were also less prone to running away -- unless, perhaps they had acquired some useful knowledge about how to get by, as it seems the runaway fiddlers had. Having grown up on the plantations, creolized slaves were much more enculturated into that way of life than immigrant Africans could ever be. They learned the music which Europeans wished them to play with the same facility with which they learned the methods and techniques of African teachers. They undoubtably knew more about planter ways than first-generation African immigrants, both from the greater propinquity that their creole status was likely to provide and from the plantation being the site of their natal culture.

Expressing Anglo-American music in creolized African ways produced something which could accommodate slave and planter communities alike. One example of this would be the African-styled "jigs" and "reels" which began to be found during the eighteenth century. The best, albeit a later one, was a recollection of youth written in 1876 by Henry W. Ravenal, in which he was invoking an older world, one which was fading even when he was a child. He wrote of Christmas festivities of his boyhood at his family's South Carolina plantation home, which they had built in 1716:

The jig was an African dance, and a famous one in old times, before more refined notions began to prevail. However, it was always called for by some of the older ones who remembered its steps. . . . For the jig the music would be changed. The fiddle would assume a low monotonous tone, the whole tune running on three or four notes only (when it could be heard,) The stick-knocker changed his time, and beat a softer and slower measure. Indeed, only a few could give the "knock" for proper effect.(33)

This was not only African-derived music, it was probably a re-invention of the drum music so feared by the planters: though the form (drumming) was banned, an underlying value of the enslaved musicians (public representation) was expressed in a new creolized way that was simultaneously (but not synonymously) European and African.

{short description of image}
FIGURE 2. Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, Musiciens d'un Calinda. Ink and wash drawing, Jamaica, ca. 1760. Notice the position of the fiddler's left hand, reaching over the neck like it was a drum rather than under it. The bow is also more arched than most, like a Central African musical bow. Du Simitière Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia 1785.

The low repetitive monotone of the violin, using only three or four notes of indefinite pitch, could have easily been an encoding of a banned drum style. Throughout West and Central Africa, drummers play with two hands, two sticks, or most often, one hand and one stick. In the last configuration, the drummer plays with one hand open and a drumstick in the other hand. By manipulating the tension of the drumhead with the open hand, a drummer could produce a number of distinct pitches that would be repeated and built up into a rhythmic pattern. Similarly, the fiddler's "three or four note" repetitive figures were played with an open left hand controlling the pitch and a stick, the bow, in the right. Bows, when bounced on a string, even respond (tactilely but not audibly) in much the same manner as sticks against drumheads. Central Africans have many stringed instruments which are struck by sticks to produce changeable but indefinite-pitched percussive sound. Among them are the musical bows used to accompany capoeira, and another instrument shaped much like a violin with no strings, both of which can be traced to Central African sources (see fig. I).(34)

Additionally, several sources note that sometimes while a fiddler played, a second person would take a sturdy pair of straws--or in one case, knitting needles--each about eighteen inches in length, and, facing the fiddler's left shoulder, strike the strings of the violin between the fiddler's bow and his left hand. The practice of having a second musician play percussion on a stringed instrument was prevalent in Latin America, too, where the percussionist played on the wooden parts of guitars or "creole harps" with sticks as another player used the strings. This treatment of a single instrument as two functionally discrete instruments also has Central African precedents. The "beating straws" technique has even found its way into white string band music.(35)

Again, it is the way, not the instrument (nor, in the case of white string bands, even the person playing), that illustrates what is African in creole cultural situations. Both Central African and Mende ways could be expressed simultaneously--in a way that Europeans understood differently as their own. The underlying value placed on music might not be a very illuminating Africanism. The expression of that music on violins played with bows, hands, knitting needles and straws was definitely original, an act of creation designed to meet particular exigencies. But the transformations of widely-held beliefs about music into innovative instrumentations can be traced to Central African, Mende, and European ways of playing, discernable even when so thoroughly intertwined as they were in eighteenth-century South Carolina.

While drums were banned, the violin functioned well for quietly representing African drumming traditions that were so feared, but little understood, by planters. The polymeter rhythms of banned drums were stored in the distinctive pulse of the stick knockers and the fiddler's three or four note rhythmic pattern. In order not to give away their purpose, the patterns were beaten softly, as the planters feared only the loudness of instruments, showing no comprehension of the music's other ways of representing power.

The jig itself, when danced by whites, was always done in pairs, and took place in the center of a ring of people. A woman would enter the ring, doing a shuffling dance while gracefully waving a handkerchief over her head, and a man, again in Ravenal's words,

[would follow with] his whole soul and body thrown into the dance. The feet moved about in the most grotesque manner. . . . It was hard work, and at intervals of five or ten minutes, he was relieved by another jumping into the ring with a shout and shuffling him out.(36)

The mock-confrontational shout of the entering male, and his "shuffling" of the other man out of the ring again evokes the ritualized combat of capoeira and the image of Thomas Butler's pushing and dancing. Perhaps the renowned slave would have enjoyed the irony of these pushing and dancing masters unknowingly imitating the most deadly aspect of the music they sought to ban.

Violins obviously did not simply substitute for drums in the years following the Stono Revolution. The Mende/Western Atlantic fiddle had a different set of capabilities for representation than did drums. Stringed instruments, whether bowed or plucked, were part of the jali (griot) tradition, which existed throughout the slaving regions of Africa, but generated from a hearth area in the Mende/West Atlantic regions, as opposed to the court drumming traditions which were most developed further south, in the Kwa and Kongo/Angolan regions. Thus, in the playing of jigs and reels on a classical European instrument, the violin, we can see ways of representing that have roots simultaneously leading back to northern, western, and central sub-Saharan Africa as well as Europe.

The court tradition, which manifested itself in the drumming and dancing that so intimidated planters, was a means of directly representing and displaying power. Drummers and dancers were agents, representing an immanent fighting or political force. The meaning of the drumming message was known only to insiders, though outsiders apprehended its power. Court drumming was an ephemeral, instantaneous means of mass communication and representation, perhaps the original form of broadcasting. Like a voice, as soon as the representation is uttered it is gone. But also like a voice, its expressive power extends beyond the semantic content of the words alone.

Whereas court music represented power, jali songs described and explained it. The music of the jali tradition, to continue the analogy with other media, is more like a text. It is an editable, manipulable, analyzable medium which can be recalled in the same form. The songs were not documents of the past so much as a means of encoding information. Usually what they encoded was some sort of legitimation of, or recipe for power and its use. The way violins were used was as a jali form of storing powerful traditions, namely, court drumming patterns and the rhythms of military dance. These stored forms could be reconstituted as direct manifestations of power. They were an effective way of transmitting knowledge across time.

"Turkish" Military Music in the Revolution

Descriptions of music during the American Revolution show that slaves from the coastal lowlands were able to maintain their aptitudes toward drumming throughout the three-and-one-half decades since it had been prohibited. The number of runaway African drummers from South Carolina noted in print boomed from one during the previous forty years to twenty between 1775 and 1780. All were Charleston slaves; and all but one, the "Negro Bob" who drummed for the South Carolina revolutionaries, joined Hessian regiments which promised freedom in exchange for military service. At least eighty-two people from the colonies joined the Hessian forces during the Revolution. Of these eighty-two, fifty-two were drummers, and thirty-five of the latter were black. Twenty-seven of the recruits, or about one-third of the total, were from the Charleston plantation area. Twenty-four of the Charleston recruits were black, of whom nineteen were employed as drummers, two as fifers and three as laborers. Only one of the Hessians could be identified as African-born.(37)

Military drummers for the American revolutionaries were drawn from the rank and file. Their drumming was used mostly for sending field directions, and was in a state of disarray for much of the war. No particular facility on the drums was required to become a military drummer for the revolutionary forces. The main task was to send loud, simple coded instructions by means of rudimentary drum patterns. If Hessian troops had operated under the same standards as the revolutionaries, the reason for the large proportion of African drummers could simply be written off as an interest in doing something which had been previously prohibited.(38)

Europeans, however, considered German military bands to be the best in the world from the 1750s until the turn of the century. German military units were participants in the craze for "Janissary" music which had been slowly sweeping westward through Europe from 1720 onwards. However, the British did not adopt the style until the 1790s. During the American Revolution, English regiments continued with traditional fife-and drum field units and hautboy military bands as the norm. The skill requirements for drumming in such a corps were not much different than those for American drummers.(39) This provides an explanation for why men skilled in African drumming traditions found such ready positions in Hessian, rather than in English or American regiments.

In theory, the Janissary style was derived from Turkish military music. For instruments it used several large drums, tambourines, and high-pitched flutes and reeds. But Europeans confronted Janissary music not in alliance, but as enemies, so the borrowing was second-hand. In Europe, Africans became the preferred musicians for Janissary corps, especially as drummers. They were acclaimed as such and changed the drumming pattern from the Turkish form to what a regimental leader labeled "modern cross-handed drumming." They were dressed as flamboyantly as possible, and their marching was actually a stylized form of cadenced dance that drew on the same sources as kalinda, rara and baton twirling. It involved leaping and contortions as well as the throwing and catching of drumsticks and the adroit handling of batons and jangled sticks, all skills maintained by the culturally conditioned transformations of Africans' military values. Regiments would compete to have the best and wildest Janissary units.(40) Virtuoso skill was a requirement, and could not be had on short notice. It took years of practice. It was exactly these roles which creole Africans from the low country stepped into when they joined Hessian forces.

The parallels between the "Janissary" performance and the violin music described above include stick work, agile dancing, rhythmic virtuosity, and strict adherence to time. The similarities to African forms of court and military music include all of the above plus the court function of immediate representation. Unlike the holiday jigs, Janissary performance communicated an immanent force rather than an encoded and abstracted representation. But without the encoded 'text' or 'recipes' which were stored and represented in jigs and fiddling, creolized enslaved Africans would have been less likely to fill spots as Hessian drummers when the opportunities arose to 'read these texts aloud' as displays of a present power.


The Revolution had disastrous effects on planter society in the coastal lowlands. The region from Savannah to Charleston was lost to British and Hessian forces in the worst defeats of the war for the revolutionaries. Plantations were plundered, families fled and slaves escaped during the conquest and occupation of the rice-growing districts. Coastal plantation society, and the institution of slavery which supported it, never fully recovered from the effects of the Revolutionary War. Slavery itself was becoming an institution under siege. In 1808, the importation of slaves was banned. Although some Africans were still imported illegally, the nineteenth century saw the completion of the transition from Africans enslaved in America to an African-American society largely bound in slavery. During this period, African ways of representing the world mingled inextricably with each other and European-American culture to produce something new. The roles of African-American women changed as they suddenly became primary remaining source for new slaves, as well as being the main source of cultural ways transmitted to a new generation.

The cultural expression of power through music began to take new forms. Spirituals were developed which sought to replace the secular music of violins. The religion of revivals was immensely attractive to slaves, with its message of equality, and it offered a new forum for expressing opposition to slavery. Spirituals provided a major vehicle for expressing this power within and against the confines of slavery. Like fiddling, this expression was not always in opposition to European culture: parallels between the two cultures opened up the spaces where enslaved African Americans could frame and pursue autonomous agendas with the least amount of resistance from Anglo-Americans. Continuities crossed generations to pass into the spirituals, too, as even a brief listen to the polyrhythmic clapped accompaniment to Sea Island hymn singing demonstrates.

There was more to African culture in the low country and elsewhere in the Americas than that part which was in the institutional confines of slavery. It was a world not only in resistance to or accommodation of the world of the slaveholders, even though from the planters' perspective all that could be seen was what appeared to be in accord with their world. A close study of what the planters were themselves unconscious of reveals that the world they thought they owned was not always what they thought it was. African culture in the Americas was more than simply a reaction to bondage, but it was not a simple transfer of the "African" to "America" either. Focusing on synchronic transformations of beliefs into expressions allows glimpses of this creolizing world even through the distorted lens left by planters' records. The stories of how these transformations themselves changed over time provide us with keys not only to the history of African American identities, but to all the many American identities that have long struggled both to comprise and pull apart the whole.

Music is only one means of representing an internal world externally, albeit one which has left a substantial record. The study of cultural transformations, or ways, can be applied to other domains as well, yielding new insights into cultures poorly represented by few or biased textual sources. Language, religious practices, agricultural and economic practices, folkways--all can take an infinite number of fantastically creative (or dull!) manifestations. Most of the time, what they represent is a value or belief which is not unique to the particular culture, even if the expression itself is. The concept of transforming an underlying belief or value into a specific, historically discernible manifestation offers a means of understanding how people from different cultural backgrounds negotiated their realities; literally, how they made sense of their worlds. It also offers a means of filtering out some of the biases in source materials, as these cultural indicators take place unconsciously and leave traces in documents in ways which can be teased out even in the face of severe prejudices and omissions.

Scholars will still argue over whether the destructive effects of slavery obliterated a usable African past. To answer the question would spoil the sport. The bigger issues that such questions pry into lie in how to explain a society in which both seemingly paradoxical scenarios are possible. Such are the questions which the Herskovits-Frazier problem sought to address: Could any culture (African or European) survive the ordeal of slavery unchanged? Did slavery have the ability to destroy anyone's culture completely? The Herskovits-Frazier problem has been resolved, and the answer for creole cultures is, of course, "both and neither." Rather than trying to reduce the answer, this article has sought to explain a small part of how such a paradox has come to exist. In doing so, a space opens in which it becomes possible to inquire for what such a creolized African past was used.


1. For a study of cultural creolization that distinguishes pidginzation and creolization from each other and from related process, see Richard Cullen Rath, "African Music in Seventeenth-century Jamaica: Cultural Transit and Transition,"William and Mary Quarterly 50 (1993): 700-726. For the demographic, historical, and linguistic factors defining creolization, see Phillip Baker and Chris Corne, "Universals, Substrata and the Indian Ocean Creoles," in Substrata Versus Universals in Creole Genesis: Papers from the Amsterdam Creole Workshop, April 1985, ed. Pieter Muysken and Norval Smith (Amsterdam, Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1986), 165-67; Derek Bickerton, Roots of Language (Ann Arbor: Karoma, 1981), 2-4; Derek Bickerton, Language & Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 105-29; John Holm, Pidgins and Creoles, 2 vols. (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1: 6; Peter Mühlhäusler, Pidgin and Creole Linguistics (Oxford, New York: Blackwell, 1986), 8; Richard Cullen Rath, "Creolization Hypertext Project" (unpublished software, in author's possession); Jeff Siegel, Language Contact in a Plantation Environment: a Sociolinguistic History of Fiji (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987) 16; Ronald Wardaugh, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992) 59.

2. Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures (Paris: Mouton, 1957). The most accessible (and entertaining) history of generative grammar is Randy Allen Harris, The Linguistics Wars (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). The structuralist (i.e., pre-generative grammar) approach transformations is best represented by Chomsky's mentor, Zellig Harris. See Zellig Harris, Methods in Structural Linguistics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951); Zellig Harris, Papers in Structural and Transformational Linguistics (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1970). Important programmatic shifts in generative grammar are marked in Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1965); Noam Chomsky, Rules and Representations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980); and Noam Chomsky, A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory, MIT occasional papers in linguistics, 1 (Cambridge: M.I.T. Working Papers in Linguistics, 1992) esp. 1-8. The last describes the approach to transformations used in this article.

3. On "languages" and "communities" as unruly objects of study that are undefinable in any but "fuzzy" terms, see William Labov, "Is there a Creole Speech Community?," in Albert Valdman and Arnold Highfield, eds., Theoretical Orientations in Creole Studies (New York: Academy Press, 1980), 369-70, 382, 384-85; Noam Chomsky, Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use (New York: Praeger Scientific, 1986), 18-36, esp. 25; W. N. Francis, Dialectology, an Introduction (London and New York: Longman, 1983), 1-7; Frank Parker, Linguistics for Non-Linguists (Austin: Pro-ed, 1986) 115; and Lawrence M. Davis, English Dialectology, An Introduction (University: University of Alabama Press, 1983), 1-3. For the importance of the Wittgensteinian ideas of fuzzy sets and "private languages" see Eleanor Rosch and Carolyn B. Mervis, "Family Resemblances: Studies in the Internal Structures of Categories," Cognitive Psychology 7 (1975): 573-603; Saul A. Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: an Elementary Exposition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982) and Noam Chomsky, "Explaining Language Use," Philosophical Topics 20 (Spring 1992): 205-32.

4. Jack P. Greene, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London and New York: Verso, 1991); Edward Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1989), tr. J. Michael Dash. Linguistic models are discussed below.

5. W. E. B. Du Bois, review of Life and Labor in the Old South by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in Book Reviews by W. E. B. Dubois (Millwood, N.Y: KTO Press, 1977), ed. Herbert Aptheker; Richard Cullen Rath, "Echo and Narcissus: The Afrocentric Pragmatism of W. E. B. Du Bois at the Turn of the Century," Journal of American History 84 (Sept. 1997): 461-95; Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941; Boston: Beacon Press, 1958); E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States (1939; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948); Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: a Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).; Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: a Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959); Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South (New York: Vintage, 1956); Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Social and Economic Conditions of Negroes in the United States, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of the Census, BLS Rpt. no. 332 and Current Population Reports, Series P-23, no. 24. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll; the World the Slaves Made (New York: Random House, 1974).

6. John W. Blassingame, the Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, rev. & enl. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979/1972); Herbert George Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Vintage Books, 1976).

7. Mintz and Price, Birth of African-American Culture, 9-10, 20-21, 52-53. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903; New York: Bantam, 1989) 181-82; Frazier and Herskovits were in some ways reacting against Du Bois's pioneering synthesis. See Du Bois, Book Reviews, 182-83, 207-8 and Rath, "Afrocentric Pragmatism of W. E. B. Du Bois," 492-93n74.

8. Barbara Kopytoff, "The Development of Jamaican Maroon Ethnicity," Caribbean Quarterly XXII (1976), 33-50; Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: the "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Daniel C. Littlefield, Rice and Slaves : Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Charles W. Joyner, Down by the Riverside: a South Carolina Slave Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985); Patricia Jones-Jackson, When Roots Die : Endangered Traditions on the Sea Islands (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987); John Michael Vlach, By the Work of Their Hands: Studies in Afro-american Folklife (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Michael Mullin, Africa in America (Champaign, Ill.: University of Ill. Press, 1992); Roger D. Abrahams, Singing the Master: the Emergence of African American Culture in the Plantation South (New York: Random House, Pantheon Books, 1992); and Ira Berlin, "From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African-American in Mainland North America," The William and Mary Quarterly. 53, no. 2 (1996): 251-88. Berlin has redefined "creole" to refer to successful African and African American cultural brokers or intercultural mediators. For strong substratiost positions see Winifred Vass, The Bantu Speaking Heritage of the United States (Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1979); Joseph E. Holloway, ed., Africanisms in American Culture (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1990); and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana : the Development of Afro-creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992). For critiques of Mintz and Price, see John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680 (Cambridge, 1992), 183-234; Rath, "African Music in Seventeenth-Century Jamaica;" Douglas B. Chambers, "'He is an African but Speaks Plain': Historical Creolization in Eighteenth-Century Virginia," in The African Diaspora, ed. Alusine Jalloh and Stephen E. Maizlish (College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press, 1996), 100-133; and Paul E. Lovejoy, "The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion under Slavery," Studies in the World History of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation 2, no. 1 (1997): <>. Lovejoy mistakenly construes Mintz and Price as arguing against African culture being transferred to the Americas. He compounds the error by having Mintz and Price's synthesis of Herskovits and Frazier stand in for a "creolization school" of historians who reject the idea of an African substrate.

9. Mintz and Price, The Birth of African-American Culture, 46, emphasis in original.

10. For a discussion of universals of this type, which the author calls "near" universals, a subset of "statistical" universals, see Donald E. Brown, Human Universals (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991) 42-45.

11. Robert Farris Thompson, "Kongo Influences on African-American Artistic Culture" in Holloway, ed., Africanisms in American Culture, 161-162, 182nn59, 60.

12. The fairest, most accessible evaluation of the various theories of creole genesis is in Wardaugh, Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 72-77. For Bickerton's theories see Bickerton, Roots of Language; Bickerton, Language & Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 105-29; and Derek Bickerton, "Creole Languages," Scientific American 249 (1983): 166-21. For debates between Bickerton and the substratists, see Pieter Muysken and Norval Smith, eds., Substrata Versus Universals in Creole Genesis: Papers from the Amsterdam Creole Workshop, April 1985 (Amsterdam, Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1986); or any issue of the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Linguistics.

13. The single exception is Frances Karttunen and Alfred W. Crosby, "Language Death, Language Genesis, and World History," Journal of World History 6, no. 2 (1995): 157-74. For a particularly clumsy proposal of an innate cultural faculty analogous to the language endowment, see Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (New York: W. Morrow and Co, 1994). Pinker, a cognitive scientist working on language, demonstrates the dangers of treating the relationship between language and culture as an analogy from the linguistics, rather than the cultural side.

14. Georgia Writers Project, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (Athens, Georgia: Brown Thrasher Books, University of Georgia Press, 1986, reprint of 1st edition from University of Georgia Press 1940), 180; Lydia Parrish, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands (1942; Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992). Johnson's words were written as "'he use tuh beat duh drum tuh duh fewnul, but Mr Couper he stop dat. He say he dohn wahn drums beatin roun duh dead.'" I have paraphrased in order to defer issues of dialect misrepresentation in the WPA and Federal Writer's Project collections. Edgar W. Schneider, American Earlier Black English: Morphological and Syntactical Variables (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 1-16, 42-53. Slaves' names often reflected their place of origin or where they were purchased. The Ndembu, or Dembo area of Central Africa comprised a politically unstable periphery of the Kingdom of Kongo, making Dembo most likely a captive imported from that region. For Ndembu, see Thornton, Africa & Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680, Cambridge University Press, 1992, xxxi-xxxiii. For naming a slave after a region see Newbell Niles Puckett, "Names of American Negro Slaves," in Alan Dundes, ed., Motherwit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore (New York: Garland Publishing, 1981, 1st ed. Prentice Hall, 1973), 159. For Couper, see Malcom Bell, Jr., Major Butler's Legacy (Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 398. Couper lived until 1866, managing the family's plantation. His sons were both killed in the Civil War, and his father had died in 1850, before Johnson was born. Thus, Dembo was most likely drumming while he was enslaved.

15. Girolamo Merolla, A Voyage to Congo: and Several Other Countries, Chiefly in Southern-Africk, in A Collection of Voyages and Travels, ed. Awnsham Churchill, vol. 1 (London: Printed for A. and J. Churchill, 1682/1704), 651-756. For Songo, see Thornton, Africa and Africans, xxxv.

16. Dena Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War (Chicago: 1977) 58-60,62.

17. On the uses of drums, see J. H. Kwabena Nketia, "History and Organization of Music in West Africa," in Essays On Music and History in Africa, ed. Klaus Wachsmann (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 17-22; J.H. Kwabena Nketia,, African Music In Ghana (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), 47-48, 103 J.H. Kwabena Nketia, The Music of Africa (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974), 167-70; Meki Nzewi, "Traditional Strategies for Mass Communication: The Centrality of Igbo Music," in Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology (Los Angeles: University of California, 1984) 5: 318-28; R. S. Rattray, Akan-Ashanti Folk-Tales (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), 133-34. Kwa languages are spoken from the Ibo region of Eastern Nigeria to the westernmost area of present-day Ghana. According to glottochronologists, a single Kwa language began to fragment about 8,000 years ago, and now the Eastern and Western language branches are only marginally related. All of then are tonemic, however. At the center, Yoruba speakers using nine tones. To the west of this tonal "hearth," Western Kwa languages generally have two to four tones. Mende/West Atlantic groups to the northwest have non-tonemic pitch distinctions, while to the south pitch is a style element of Central African pronunciation, but few words are distinguished there by tone. See William E. Welmers, African Language Structures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

18. Records in the British Public Records Office, Trans. XIII, 196; South Carolina Commons House Journals 1702, 64-65 1707-08, 53; all cited in Peter Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York: Norton, 1975), 125.

19. For the Charleston "conspiracy" see Pennsylvania Gazette, October 29-November 5, 1730; also Boston Weekly Newsletter, October 22 1730 (cited from Wood, Black Majority, p 299). The letter itself was dated August 20, 1730 in both papers. For a general account of Antigua, see David Barry Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels : A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985). While drumming was not an issue at the actual inquest, the fact that it was reported so in the North American press underscores Anglo-American elites' fears in this regard. See Pennsylvania Gazette, March 10-17, 1737; March 17-24, 1737.

20. Holloway, "The Origins of African-American Culture," in Africanisms in American Culture, 4-11; Peter H. Wood, Black Majority, 334-39; Littlefield, Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina, 109-135.

21. South Carolina Gazette, May 19-May 26, 1733. Wood, Black Majority, 244-45 for remarks on Vander Dussen's (also spelt as Vanderdussen) temperament.

22. For capoeira, see John Storm Roberts, Black Music of Two Worlds (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972), 27-28; John Lowell Lewis, Ring of Liberation : Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). For musical bows, see Jos Gansemans, Barbara Schmidt-Wenger, Musikgeschichte in Bildern: Zentralafrika (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1986), 127-31; Gerhard Kubik, "Capoeira Angola and Berimbau," in Angolan Traits in Black Music Games and Dances of Brazil: a Study of African Cultural Extensions Overseas (Lisboa: Junta de Investigacoes Cientificas do Ultramar, 1976), 27-36.

23. John K. Thornton, "The Art of War in Angola," Comparative Studies in Society and Culture 30 (Apr. 1988): 362-65.

24. For kalinda see Roberts, Black Music of Two Worlds, 26-27, 115-116, 123, 157; and Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 24, 28, 30-38, 82, 92, 94, 135. For batons see Thompson, "Kongo Influences on African-American Artistic Culture," 162-3, 182-3. For Cuba see Odilio Urfe, "Music and Dance In Cuba," in Africa in Latin America, ed. Manuel Moreno Fraginals (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1984), 170-188, esp. 173, 176, 181, 183, 185. For "knocking and kicking" see G. Daniel Dawson's liner notes in Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho, Capoeira Angola: Salvador, Brazil, sound recording (Washington D.C.: Folkways/Smithsonian, 1996). For maculelê, see Bira Almeida, Capoeira, a Brazilian Art Form: History, Philosophy, and Practice, 2nd ed. (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1986) 46-47n8, 159.

25. "Extract of a Letter from South Carolina Dated October 2," Gentleman's Magazine 10 (1740):127-29, cited in Michael Mullin, ed. American Negro Slavery: A Documentary History (Columbia S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1976), 85; South Carolina Commons House Journals, (Columbia: 1907-46, 1951-62), 1739-41, p. 84, cited in Wood, Black Majority, 321; "Account of the Negroe Insurrection in South Carolina" in Allan D. Chandler and Lucien L. Knights, eds., Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, , 26 vols, Atlanta 1904-16: XXII, part 2, 233; cited in Wood, Black Majority, 314-20.

26. Peter Wood refers to the twenty slaves who formed the core of the revolt as "Angolans." Wood, Black Majority, 314. John Thornton presents military, contextual and religious evidence indicating that the core group was from the closely related Kingdom of Kongo. John K. Thornton, "African Dimensions of the Stono Rebellion," American Historical Review 96 (1991).

27. Wood, Black Majority; South Carolina, Laws, Statutes, etc. The Statues at Large South Carolina, ed., Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord. Columbia: Printed by A.S. Johnston, 1836-41, VII (1840): 410; A Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia, Including the English Statutes of Force..., compiled, digested, and arranged, by William A. Hotchkiss, by Authority of the Legislature of Georgia, Savannah: J.M. Cooper, 1845, 813; all cited in Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 59, 60, 62.

28. Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 60.

29. For musicians as status symbols to planters and Charleston as a musical center see Raoul F. Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976), 54-55; for the demand for slave musicians see Tilford Brooks, America's Black Musical Heritage (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 164-68; for "hiring out" see Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 80.

30. Francesco Geminiani, An Abstract of Geminiani's Art of Playing on the Violin (Boston: John Boyles, 1769), 1, 5-6, 10. Only one copy is known to exist, in the John Carter Brown Library. That copy consists of pages from three or four different sets which had been combined to make a single set (any duplicates removed) and re-bound long after the original publication. The library obtained it from a British bookseller, where it had perhaps been shipped to complete the printing of the musical notation embedded within the text. Thanks to Daniel Slive for interpreting the binding and paper. On what slaves might be likely to read, see Samuel Davies, The State of Religion in Virginia, Particularly among the Negroes, 2nd ed. (London: R. Pardon, 1757).

31. Moreau de Saint-Méry, Médéric Louis Élie, Déscription Topographique, Physique, Civile, Politique, and Historique de la Partie FranÇaise de l'Isle Saint-Dominingue (Philadelphia:Chez l'Auteur, 1797), 1:51; the "rough translation" of the cited passage into English is made by Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 116.

32. For increased imports from Mende/Western Atlantic groups after Stono see Creel, A Peculiar People.

33. Henry William Ravenal, "Recollections of Southern Plantation Life." Yale Review, 26 (June 1936): 768-69, also 750, 774-75. Also see Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, 77-87, 114-17, 120-24.

34. The pattern of drummers holding a stick in the right hand if only one stick is used is found throughout West and Central Africa. It is most pronounced North of the Kongo/Angola region. In The Kongo/Angola region, playing with two hands--or less often, with two sticks--predominates, but when the stick is held in one hand only, the right hand is almost universally chosen. Perhaps this has more to do with handedness than regional distinctiveness, but it nonetheless transfers well to violin-playing. For seventeenth century visual evidence of this, see the reproductions in Gerhard Kubik, Westafrika: Musikgeschicte in Bildern, vol. 11 (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1989), 47, 49, 67, 69, 73, 79, 84, 99, 113, 114; and Gansemans, Zentralafrika, 17, 19, 51, 62, 68, 71, 95, 99, 108, 123, 165-67. For a seventeenth-century Central-African musical bow see the oil painting by Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, about 1687; for violin-shaped stringless instruments played with a stick see Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, Istorica, Descrizione de' tr' Regni Congo, Matamba et Angola (Bologna: Per Giacomo Monti, 1687), 200. Both can be found in Gansemans and Schmidt-Wenger, Zentralafrika, 15-27, 127-31.

35. David C. Barrow "A Georgia Corn Shucking," Century Magazine 24 (1882), 878; cited in Roger D. Abrahams, Singing the Master: The Emergence of African American Culture in the Plantation South (New York: Random House, Pantheon Books, 1992), 103, n 40, p 186; Nettie Powell, A History of Marion County, Georgia (Columbus, GA: Historical Publishing Company, 1931), 33; cited in Abrahams, Singing the Master 186; William C. Handy, Father of the Blues (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 5; cited in Abrahams, Singing the Master, 103, n 40, p 186. For the prevalence of related practices in Latin America and the Caribbean, see Isabel Aretz, "Music and Dance in Continental Latin America, with the Exception of Brazil," in Africa in Latin America, ed. Manuel Moreno Fraginals (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1984), 197. For "beating straws" in Anglo-American fiddling in Alabama, see Joyce H. Cauthen, With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow: Old-time Fiddling in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989).

36. Ravenal, ibid. The ring and the shuffling step and their implications as pan-Africanisms are discussed at length in Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America. Thornton (personal communication, 3/10/93) has found similar accounts of this behavior as depicted by Italian missionaries to Kongo in the 1690s, q.v. Marcellino d'Atri, L'anarchia congolese, fol 335 of the original MS (p. 158 of Carlo Tosso's edition) and Luca da Caltanisetta's MS, fol. 60, (p. 290 of Romain Rainero's edition). Neither of the accounts he provides were military displays. Again, the functional divide between forms of entertainment and forms of training may not have existed, and finding the activity in one domain cannot be construed as mitigating its existence in the other, as there is ample evidence for both.

37. Compiled from La Brew, Index of Black Musicians from the Colonial Period, 115-22. The author lists two men, Prince Lewis and Ketto, among the Hessian recruits whose race was unknown. The names "Prince" and "Cato" were almost exclusively used among slaves, so these two were listed as being of African descent in the compiled totals.

38. For American military drumming see Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution, 8-9, 128-50; also Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1983), 65.

39. Henry George Farmer, The Rise and Development of Military Music (1912; Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), frontispiece, 66, 70-78; Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution, 35-39, 122; LaBrew, Black Musicians of the Colonial Period, in which appear between pages 122 and 123 three foldout contemporary illustrations of members of Hessian regiments who served in the American war. All three depict African drummers. See also ibid. 99-122.

40. Henry G. Farmer, "The Turkish Influence in Military Music," in Handel's Kettledrums and Other Papers on Military Music (London: Hinrichsen Edition, Ltd, 1950), 46; cited in Raoul F. Camus, "The Military Band in the United States Army Prior to 1834" (Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University: New York, 1969), 130.