London: Printed for J. Johnson & J. Edwards, 1796. First edition. Total of 81 engraved plates, including a frontispiece and 4 fold-outs, from drawings by Stedman. Several of the plates were engraved by William Blake. Engraved vignette on each title page. Leather over boards. Quartos. xviii, 415 and iv, 411 pages. Both volumes very good to near fine. Both were rebacked some time ago, retaining original boards. Gilt-stamped and title spines with five raised bands. Bindings sound, with minor extremity rubs. Foxing to plates, frontispiece has a repaired tear at top edge, occasional leaves have discreetly repaired edge tears. There is a small strip of clear tape to the exterior middle of each board. Armorial bookplate of one Thomas Lloyd Esq. on each front pastedown. A handsome, sturdy, and complete set.
This work gives a detailed description of the flora, fauna, and inhabitants of Surinam and is well illustrated with plates and a few maps. But it differs from travel narratives of the period in that it also graphically describes and depicts the brutal mistreatment and pain of slaves on the colony's plantations.
Capt. Stedman went to Surinam as a soldier, in support of a mission to aid local troops fighting groups of escaped Negro slaves known as Maroons. The Dutch had imported tens of thousands of African slaves into the colony because the indigenous population was too sparse to supply the necessary labor. Slaves who escaped coastal plantations would flee inland, join together in groups, and then attack the plantations using guerilla tactics to secure provisions and to free female slaves.
William Blake engraved 12 of the plates, several of which show the cruel treatment of slaves. While Stedman himself advocated reform rather than abolition, Blake and the publisher, Joseph Johnson, both opposed slavery and the slave trade, and it is likely that Blake emphasized elements in the engravings that could be harnessed by abolitionist groups.
One of the Blake-engraved plates is the allegorical image titled "Europe Supported by Africa and America." It depicts the three continents represented by three women of different skin colors. African and America are shown with bands around their arms, symbolizing slavery, yet they are physically supporting Europe between them.
List of subscribers at front of volume I. Both volumes individually indexed, each with list of plates and Errata at rear. A lovely set of an important work.