Military Post Jodensavanne and the Cordon of Defense

To maintain order and safety within the colony, regional or rural militias (consisting of civil persons) were established. Every civil militia was assigned a specific region and the militia of that region was named a divisie (divison).[1] One such regional civil militia included a Jewish Division operating since 1671. Because Jodensavanne was situated in a frontier zone, a borderland between colonial settlements and a vast wilderness that was a perfect hiding place for Maroon communities that regularly threatened and raided plantations, it took more and more upon itself to fufil the role of a “paramilitary outpost, an informal garrison” that, although not part of the colony’s professional armed forces, functioned similarly”.[2] The Jewish civil militia was traditionally sworn by the Governor of the Colony.[3]  This militia fought outside invaders such as French privateer Du Casse in 1689, rebellious slaves and hunted down Maroon bands. In the fight against the Maroons the militia was aided by Indigenous who were valued scouts, guides, messengers and spies.[4]


In the beginning of the colony, slave uprisings were a relative modest phenomenon and pose no serious threat to the colony’s plantations. But a 1690 mutiny on a Jewish plantation just north-east of Jodensavanne whereby the owner Emmanuel Machado was killed, sparked a long period of large-scale rebellions culminating in the 1770s and 1780s, a period known as the Boni oorlogen (Boni Wars). These guerrilla attacks were a severe threat to the Jewish Nation.  To illustrate this, both the Jodensavanne and Cassipora Creek cemetery hold grave stones of Jews killed by an uprising of slaves or maroon attack. The epitaph of Emmanuel Pereyra’s gravestone at the Jodensavanne cemetery illustrates this clearly:
 

“O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs; / O God to whom vengeance belongs, / Shine forth!” /

Grave / of the fortunate / and curtailed young man / Emmanuel, son of Aron Pereyra, / who was killed by the / uprising Negroes / in the flower of his age / on the 4th of Av the year 5498 / which corresponds / to the the 21st of July 1738 / May his soul be bound up in the bundle of life /”.[5]

 

Also, a threat made in November 1771 by the famous Maroon leader Boni that he soon would attack and ruin Jodensavanne,  illustrates the constant threat the Jewish Nation faced.[6] The paramilitary character of Jodensavanne became more evident as these treats intensified, with the militia repeatedly having bushpatrols between the Jewish village and nearby plantations. Maroon attacks did not end in the eighteenth century, but as Aviva Ben-Ur noted that they “continued to menace the Jewish village into the ninenteenth century”.[7]

 

The colonial army increasingly became aware that militias alone were not sufficient enough in the fight against Maroon assaults. A professional army was needed as well as other defense mechanisms.  During the peak of the Boni wars, the colonial army noticed Jodensavanne’s strategic location and topography to be suitable in the fight against Maroons. In order to protect the Jewish village and plantations, the colonial

Government therefore commissioned in 1774 the construction of a “Cordon of Defense” or Cordonpad (Cordonpath) by means of African forced labor.[8] The defense line which was completed in 1778, originated at Jodensavanne (along the Suriname River) and ran partly inland through the Jewish settlement. From there it crossed the colony to the north-east and ended at the Atlantic Coast of Suriname. The Cordon of Defense was a ninethy four kilometers long and five meters wide briddle path consisting of different types of military posts located on “every half hour distance from each other”: capitains’ posts, officers’ posts and sergeants’ posts, while in between the posts were pickets. [9] In total 33 guard posts and 21 pickets had been constructed. Nowadays, the Cordonpath is still partly visible from the air as a straight line interrupted by pockets of wilderness. It holds remnants such as graves of officers, brick water wells and cisterns.

historical map of part of the military c

Historical map of part of the Military Cordon starting from Jodensavanne, 1798

Aerial views of parts of the cordonpath

Aerial views of parts of the Cordonpath: From Jodensavanne to the East (left); From the Cottica River to the Atlantic Ocean (right).

The Military Post Jodensavanne was the first military stronghold and repository of provisions of the Cordonpath.[10] It was tugged away in the north-west corner of Jodensavanne in the valley bordering the main quadrant of the Jodensavanne village. Soldiers stationed at the post could purchase provisions from inhabitants of Jodensavanne. In 1776 this outpost hold seventy four officers and soldiers, while this number dropped to eight in 1791.[11] According to an account in the Governor’s Journal of 6 and 23 August 1776, there were also several Redimusu soldiers stationed at the military post Jodensavanne.[12] The account narrated about a raid of Maroons in July 1773 on the Jewish plantation Wanica, whereby assistance was requested from the Redimusu  based at Jodensavanne.[13]

According to a 1873 description of the Suriname River by Zimmermann, the military post Jodensavanne which by then was already abondoned, consisted of the house of the Commanding Officer, a garrison, a repository, a bakery, a boathouse and houses for maried natives.[14] Other sources mention that by early 1780 the post featured a supply store and horse stall and was manned by a sergeant, corporal, and thirteen general officers, as well as a store clerk, baker, barn boy, lawnmower, and six enslaved men from nearby plantations.[15] Late eighteenth century property deeds of Jodensavanne, reveal that there were also houses of Jews situated near the road bordering the Cordonpath and the straight road leading to the military Post.[16] 

Aviva Ben-Ur notes that during the brief interludes of British rule (1799–1802, 1804–15), “the village’s paramilitary and patriotic functions had fully merged” and by the 1830s and 1840s “the village had become synonymous with a military outpost”.[17]

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Nowadays, the only testimony of the existence of this outpost are few remnants of clay brick foundations or structures as well as small heaps of clay bricks and loose bricks scattered around. Rectangular shaped sand heaps are an indication where once structures stood. The remnants are hidden in the forest and are normally beyond visual sight of tourists visiting Jodensavanne. Although in literature no mentioning is made of a separate burial ground for soldiers of the military post Jodensavanne, its existence is highly probable. Several archives mention the death of soldiers at Jodensavanne, the delivery of coffins for death soldiers at Jodensavanne, and the payment for renting a carpenter slave for making a coffin for a death soldier at Jodensavanne.[18] Since these deceased soldiers were not buried at the Jewish cemetery nor at the Creole cemetery, it is most likely that they were laid to rest at the military post.[19] In that case, this cemetery can be considered the fourth burial ground of Jodensavanne. Future archaeological investigations may reveal its existence.

In 2025-2016 History students of the Anton de Kom University of Suriname minoring archaeology conducted archaeological excavations at the military post without having prior knowledge that it was a military stronghold. The archaeological site was named “Kankantrie Site”, after the large Ceiba Tree located there.[20] The excavations were done as part of an Archaeological Fieldschool at Jodensavanne.
 

Most of the artifacts found were metal belt buckles, a musket ball, clay bricks, iron nails, roof tiles, metal door hinges, glass sherds, pipe stems, clay pipes, ceramics, metal, pottery sherds, buttons, coins, a comb, charcoal and a glass bead.[21]

[1] De Troepenmacht in Suriname, F.G.J. Bosschart 1900:28.

[2] Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society, Aviva Ben-Ur 2020:68.

[3] On February 16, 1736 the Governor paid a visit to the Jewish Nation to administer the oath of the Jewish militia amounting to 74 men under the Command of Captain D.C. Nassy, Lieutenant Isaac Arias and Ensign Ishak Carilho. Oud Archief Sur.Gouvernementssecretarie, Inventaris nr. 2, Scan 7-NL-HaNA_1.05.10.01_2_0015.

[4] Jessica Vance Roitman, 2014. Portuguese Jews, Amerindians, and the Frontiers of Encounter in Colonial Suriname.

[5] Remnant Stones, page 230, grave no. 325.

[6] Oud Archief Suriname, Gouvernementssecretarie, Inventaris nr. 11, Scan 533.

[7] Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society, Aviva Ben-Ur 2020:72.

[8] On March 17, 1777 the Governor ordered another 100 African captives to work on the Cordon. Oud Archief Suriname, Gouvernementssecretarie, Inventaris nr. 11, Scan 192.

[9] Pickets were small units of soldiers maintaining a watch for the maroons.

[10] For long the sergeants’ post Gelderland had mistakenly considered as the first military post of the Military Cordon. Post Gelderland was however not located along the Suriname river as many sources quoted, but more inland of Jodensavanne.

[11] De Troepenmacht in Suriname, F.G.J. Bosschart.

[12] In general official military head counts of the strenght of the different military post do not mention the number of Redimusu.The Redimusu were a battalion of free black soldiers also know as “Korps Vrijnegers” and “Korps Zwarte Jagers” (Black Rangers), Darson 2015.

[13] NA-SvS 207, gouverneursjournaal 6 en 23 augustus 1776 in Wim Hoogbergen 2015:189-190.

[14] Zimmermann G.P.H., 1877. Zimmermann called this mistakenly “military post Gelderland” which in fact was the military post Jodensavanne. Gelderland was located somewhat inwards form Jodensavanne.

[15] Nan, Sociëteit van Suriname, inv. nr. 370, Ses Maandelijkse Rapport van de werken van forteficatie der binnen landsen defencie in de colonie van Surinamen, p. 533.

[16] NL-HaNA, Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente Suriname, 1.05.11.18, inv.nr. 135, scan 7.

[17] Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society, Aviva Ben-Ur 2020:72.

[18] Ingekomen uit de kolonie, Stukken betreffende financiën, Stukken betreffende de garnisoensboekhouding, Soldijboeken: journalen, 1778; Ingekomen uit de kolonie, Stukken betreffende het bestuur, Ingekomen brieven en papieren, Van de Gouverneur en andere overheidspersonen, 1762 januari 9 - 1762 april 24; NL-HaNA_1.05.11.18_231_0842, 1831; NL-HaNA_1.05.11.18_231_0857, 1831.

[19] It was custom that death soldiers at military outposts were buried at the posts themselves. A number of soldier graves can be found along the Cordonpad.

[20] Kankantrie is the Sranan word for Ceiba Tree.

[21] Jodensavanne 2015 Archaeology Field School Report.