"Breaking on the Rack" Punishment, Surinam, 1770s

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This record was last updated on 27 Aug 2011

Image Reference

John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a Five Years' Expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam . . . from the year 1772, to 1777 (London, 1796), vol. 2, facing p. 296. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)

A young free black carpenter being beaten on the rack. Stedman witnessed this scene in 1776. The man (on the orders of white authority) had been accused of stealing a sheep and shooting an overseer who discovered the theft. This method of torture was intended to keep the victim alive long enough to endure extreme pain before his eventual death. In this case, the victim's left hand was cut off before he died as additional punishment for theft and to serve as an example to others. This and other engravings are found in the autobiographical narrative of Stedman, a young Dutchman who joined a military force against rebellions of the enslaved in the Dutch colony. The engravings are based on Stedman’s own drawings and were done by professional engravers. For the definitive modern edition of the original 1790 Stedman manuscript, which includes this and other illustrations see Richard and Sally Price, eds. Narrative of a five years expedition against the revolted Negroes of Surinam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988); the above scene is described by Stedman on pp. 546-549 of the Price edition.