The History of the Maroons of Jamaica

The enslavement of African communities was a common thing between the 1480s and 1880s. Many Africans, almost 12.5 million, were transported from Africa to Europe, America, and their colonies. As this number continued to increase, leading to only around 10.7 million survivors, there was also the emergence of resistant groups that tried to fight for their freedom. Escaped enslaved Africans discovered various hideouts where they stayed in hiding until they were able to break free for their freedom. This led to the formation of Maroon communities in the Caribbean and America’s- who were able to act as the African liberators from the colonial masters and slavery chains. As such, we try to find out the origin of Jamaica’s Maroons and their liberation wars.

The Origin of The Maroons of Jamaica

The Jamaican Maroons are described as enslaved Africans or noticeable African descendants who escaped from their colonial masters looking for their freedom. Their name “Maroon” is believed to be an English translation of the Spanish word “Cimarron” to mean “wild”. The Jamaican Maroons we're certainly not wild people, but they we're Africans who resisted the status quo- and were prepared to fight to gain back what was taken from them- their freedom.

The Maroons' origin can be traced back to 1655 when Tainos and Africans were freed by the Spanish and taken to remote parts of the island for refuge from the invading British power. From the second half of the 17th century to the mid-18th century, the Tainos and Africans, who later developed into a Maroon settlement, formed a significant force that challenged the enslavement system of the English.

Even though there were great controversies that surrounded the treaties they signed with their English masters, the Maroons' role in challenging the institutionalized slavery and cultural settings has played a significant part in Jamaica's history and heritage.

The Maroons’ Freedom

In 1655, the British took possession of Jamaica from the Spanish, which led to the war between the two powers for about five years. Within this time, the Spanish managed to secure the help of the Maroons, who tried to repossess the island in vain. This was due to the declining Maroon population that had a great challenge to the English power, especially as the English enslavement system continued to expand. However, more enslaved Africans fled to the plantations and joined the already existing Maroon communities.

On the plantations, the Maroons strategized different mechanisms to fight the increasing threat posed by the British authorities. They would hide in the Cockpit Country- inaccessible remote parts of the island that were hilly and densely vegetated- and established new communities. However, these communities were constantly disrupted by the English.

The Maroons later divided into two groups depending on their locations. The Windward Maroons occupied the East side of the island and their settlements consisted of Moore and Charles Town in Portland, Nanny Town in St. Thomas, and Scotts Hall in St. Mary. The Leeward Maroons settled on the West side of the island in locations such as Trelawny Town in St. James and Accompong in St. Elizabeth. However, this division did not matter a lot as the Maroons remained organized in bands that facilitated their mobilization.

Both the Leeward and Windward Maroons employed skilful tactics to fight and maintain their freedom. These ambushing mechanisms proved to be a challenge to English. For instance, these freedom fighters used rigid and conventional methods they learned in open battlefields of the Europeans. They also took advantage of the island’s topography, stroke and withdrew with great rapidity, extensively ambushed their adversaries in the crossfire, and fought only when they chose, based on the intelligence networks among non-maroons.

The Maroon Wars

The Jamaican Maroons and the English fought two wars during their struggles for independence. The First Maroon War started in 1655 and lasted for about 10 years. This war was caused by the fight between the Spanish and the English over Jamaica. When the Spanish were defeated by the English, the Maroons continued to oppose the English, leading to an irregular course of the war. Both the English and the Maroons tried to defeat each other, but the Maroons managed to suppress their enemies with their tactful fighting skills.

In 1734, Nanny Town, a major Maroon settlement, was conquered by the English, this was a heavy blow to the Windward Maroons. However, this did not make the Maroons surrender to their enemies, and were offered a treaty to sign by the English. This was the first Maroon treaty signed by Cudjoe, the fierce Leeward Maroon leader, on 1st March 1739 and contained 15 articles.

The treaty, however, did not represent the entire Maroon community as the Windward Maroons were not part of the signing. They continued with their opposition for about another four months, until the English offered them a treaty which was signed by their leader Quao on 23rd December 1739 and contained 14 articles. The ideological differences between the two Maroon groups led to another treaty being signed by Queen Nanny, the most celebrated leader of the Moore Town.

Both treaties resulted in the peaceful existence of the Maroons until July 1795 when the Second Maroon War erupted. The war was caused by the accumulating grievances the Trelawny Town Maroons had against the British authorities. It was also fired by the flogging of two Maroons who were convicted of stealing pigs by a runaway slave, they had handed to the British authorities according to the articles. Although the British tried to calm the angry Maroons, the Maroons felt disrespected and dissatisfied by the demands, leading to the second war.

The war led to massive damage to British property and troops, but the Maroons later surrendered since they were significantly outnumbered by the British troops, hunted by trained dogs from Cuba, and even fellow Maroons. It is also believed that the rebelling Maroons were tricked into signing another treaty by Governor Lord Balcares. The war was officially ended on 16 March 1796. Besides, over 500 Maroons were deported to Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada on 6th June 1796.

The Present Jamaican Maroons

The settlements established by the Maroons during their enslavement period and Queen Nanny’s position among the Windward Maroons forms the most outstanding feature and personage of Jamaica's heritage. Some of the settlements that have survived the wars include Accompong in St. Elizabeth, Moore and Charles Town in Portland, and Scotts Hall in St. Mary. Additionally, the present day Maroons still observe the culture of their forefathers, despite some being assimilated into the wider Jamaican society.

The Jamaican Maroons also have their leaders known historically as colonels. It is also believed that most original Maroons were Coromantees- African-based natives of the Akan region. Their traditions include the Ambush Dance, Myalism, the African-based Pidgin language, and other elements such as jerk pork and the use of rum and pigs for rituals.

Popular leaders mentioned in the Maroon history include Cudjoe, Quao, Accompong, and Kofi, with Nanny being the only female leader that owns a superior position in Jamaica's heritage. Queen Nanny is respected for her elusive presence, battle fierceness, and Obeah skills that have much attention. Today, Nanny is the only leader among the Maroon society that has reached the National Hero recognition, a position that has earned her a spot on the Jamaican $500 note.

The Bottom Line

The Jamaican Maroon communities have faced numerous odds since their independence. They remained organized with strong leaders like Queen Nanny, who have helped to maintain their autonomous and African culture. Their liberation stories highlight Africans who against all the odds were prepared to fight for their freedoms which remain until today. In celebration of our freedom fighters, why not  take a look at our Maroon mug collection and reconnect back to your roots and find your African day names now!

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