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Joanna was an eighteenth-century slave in the Dutch colony of Suriname and companion of John Gabriel Stedman, the European author of a widely read narrative.

Joanna was born on the Tenburg (later called Fauquembergue) sugar plantation on the Commewyne River, the daughter of the enslaved housemaid Seerie, and the white Dutch manager, Anthony Tielenius Kruythoff. Joanna was the second of the couple’s five children. Her mother tongue was Sranan, the Creole language spoken by the slaves, but her father also taught her to speak Dutch. Kruythoff also taught Joanna how to read and write. Seerie, however, refused to baptize all of her children and remained kept faith in Afro-Surinamese gods.

In 1768, Kruythoff tried to purchase Seerie and her children from the new plantation owner. He became ill soon after and drew up a will ordering his executor to arrange for emancipation for all of them. The purchase collapsed, however, and in 1769 Kruythoff returned to the Netherlands, leaving his family enslaved. He died soon after.

By early 1772, the plantation foundered under the punitive regime of the new manager and all of the Fauquembergue slaves (including Joanna and her family) were rented out to local families in Paramaribo, the capital. In April 1773, Seerie arranged a place for Joanna with Captain John Gabriel Stedman who had recently arrived from the Netherlands to fight a Maroon group. Joanna would keep house and serve as “wife” to Stedman in return for payment to her owner and a small fee to Seerie.

Stedman interspersed his military expeditions with living with Joanna and their son, Johnny, born in November 1774. Though he was not always faithful to her, he wrote fondly of her in his journal. They helped each other develop language skills and cared for each other when sick.

In August 1775, Stedman borrowed 1,800 guilders to purchase Joanna and Johnny’s freedom. Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to complete the purchase a year later, Stedman managed to obtain Johnny’s freedom but left mother and son with his creditor before he departed for the Dutch Republic in April 1777.

Joanna lived on in Paramaribo, serving Stedman’s creditor, Mrs. Godefroy. She died still enslaved in November 1782. In 1784, Johnny was sent to live with his father. Stedman’s journal reveals that Johnny grew up with much affection from his father, but that he drowned as a young sailor on an English frigate. Stedman’s thoughts circled around his Suriname years for the rest of his life, culminating in the 1796 publication of his Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, illustrated by William Blake. The narrative included a sentimental tale of his intimacy with Joanna, noting her beauty and virtues. Later, abolitionists used the story of Joanna and episodes of violence to criticize Stedman’s defense of slavery and to support their cause.

Read the full, original biography by Natalie Zemon Davis in The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

View complete story (pdf)


Davis, Natalie Zemon. "Joanna." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography , edited by Ed. Franklin W. Knight. , edited by and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. . Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t456/e1085 (accessed Thu Sep 05 11:29:23 EDT 2019).

Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Edited by Sara Salih. London: Penguin, 2000. First published 1831.

Stedman, John Gabriel. Dagbok öfwer Sina Fälttåg i Surinam. Translated by Samuel Ödmann. Stockholm: Johann Pfeiffer, 1800.

Stedman, John Gabriel. “Joanna – compiled [by Lydia Maria Child] from Stedman’s Surinam.” In The Oasis, edited by Lydia Maria Child, pp. 63–105. Boston: Benjamin Bacon, 1834. http:// www.archive.org/details/narrativejoanna00chilgoog.

Stedman, John Gabriel. The Journal of John Gabriel Stedman, 1744–1797. Edited by Stanbury Thompson. London: Mitre, 1962.

Stedman, John Gabriel. Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam: Transcribed for the First Time from the Original 1790 Manuscript. Edited by Richard Price and Sally Price. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Stedman, John Gabriel. Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1796. https://books.google.com/books/about/Narrative_of_a_five_years_expedition_aga.html?id=6r8WAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

van Lier, Rudolf A. J. Frontier Society: A Social Analysis of the History of Surinam. Translated by M. J. L. van Yperen. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971.

Adapted by

James Almeida and Steven J. Niven

Contributing Institutions

Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.

Key Events

c. 1755

Born on the Tenburg plantation in Suriname to the Dutch estate administrator and an enslaved housemaid.


Her father tried to purchase and free the whole family, but the purchase fell through. He left them behind and, still enslaved upon his return to the Netherlands the following year, he died soon thereafter.

Late 1760s

Joanna trains as a seamstress and begins to sew and clean at the big house.


The plantation fails under new management and the owners move all of the slaves to the capital, Paramaribo, to rent them out to others. Joanna becomes a maid in the household of the secretary to the Court of Policy.

April 1773

Her mother arranges a place for Joanna to keep house and serve as a “wife” for Captain John Gabriel Stedman, who had recently arrived from the Netherlands to fight a Maroon group.

November 1774

The couple has a son called John or Johnny. The three of them live together as a family in a cottage that Stedman built on a plantation/military base.

August 1775

Stedman borrows 1,800 guilders from Elisabeth Danforth Godefroy, an elderly Christian widow and plantation owner, to purchase Joanna and Johnny’s freedom.

April 1777

Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to repay the loan a year later as his service in Suriname is ending, Stedman manages to obtain Johnny’s freedom without charge but sells Joanna to Godefroy in exchange for cancelling his remaining debt (half of the original purchase price). Godefroy also agrees to free Joanna in her will. Stedman then departs for the Dutch Republic.

Summer 1778

Joanna writes to Stedman but this seems to have been the end of their correspondence.

January 1780

Joanna presents her son, John, for baptism, with Mrs. Godefroy as godmother. Joanna still refuses to convert.

November 1782

Joanna dies still enslaved, Mrs. Godefroy having outlived her.


Johnny is sent to live with his father, by now living in England with a wife.


Stedman publishes an account of his time in Suriname entitled, Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, with illustrations by William Blake. It would soon be translated into five languages for further circulation.


Stedman dies.


American abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, publishes Joanna’s story excerpted from Narrative and is critical of Stedman’s failure to free Joanna.