The History of the “The Maroons”
June 2, 2010 Leave a comment
The Jamaican Maroons were runaway slaves who fought the British during the 18th century, and the name is still used today for their modern descendants. During the long years of slavery Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, maintaining their freedom and independence for generations. Some of the Jamaican Maroons were captured and taken to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1796, and later exiled from there to Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa.
When the British captured Jamaica in 1655 the Spanish colonists fled leaving a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Taínos. The Maroons intermarried with Amerindian natives, establishing independence in the back country and survived by subsistence farming and by raiding plantations. Over time, the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior
Their plantation raids resulted in the First Maroon War. The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward and the Windward tribes, the former led by Cudjoe inTrelawny Town and the latter led by his sister Queen Nanny (and later by Quao). Queen Nanny, also known as Granny Nanny (died 1733) is the only female listed among Jamaica’s National Heroes, and has been immortalised in songs and legends. She was known for her exceptional leadership skills, especially in guerrilla warfare, which were particularly important in the First Maroon War in the early 1700s. Her remains are reputedly buried at ” Bump Grave” in Moore Town, the main town of the Windward Maroons who are concentrated in and around the Rio Grande valley in the northeastern parish of Portland.
In 1739-40 the British governor in Jamaica signed a treaty with the Maroons, promising them 2500 acres (10 km²) in two locations. They were to remain in their five main townsAccompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, Nanny Town, living under their own chief with a British supervisor. In exchange, they agreed not to harbour new runaway slaves, but rather to help catch them. They were paid a bounty of two dollars for each returned slave. This last clause in the treaty naturally caused tension between the Maroons and the enslaved black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements. Originally, Jamaican Maroons fought against slavery and maintained their independence from the British. However, in the treaty of 1738, they were also paid to return captured slaves and fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish.
However, when a new Governor took power in 1795 and began to mistreat the Maroons tensions between planters and Maroons grew and a Second Maroon War broke out. The Accompong Maroons remained neutral and the British left them alone. The British fought with 100 Cuban dogs and brought in 5,000 troops. By the end of the war, the other Maroon settlements in Jamaica had been destroyed, and Accompong alone remained. Despite the fact that the Maroons surrendered on the condition that they would not be exported, just a year later 568 were taken to Canada.
Deportation to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone
In 1796 about 600 Jamaican Maroons from Trelawney Town were deported from Jamaica to Nova Scotia following their rebellion against the colonial government. The Jamaican government tired of the cost of maintaining order, had decided to rid themselves of “the problem”. Immediate actions were put in place for the removal of one group of Maroons (Trelawney) to Lower Canada (Quebec); Upper Canada (Ontario) had also been suggested as a suitable place. However, it was eventually decided that this group be sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, until any further instructions were received from England. Two gentlemen, Messrs Quarrell and Octerloney, were sent from Jamaica with the Maroons as Commissioners.
On 26 June 1796, the Dover, Mary, and Anne sailed from Port Royal Harbour, Jamaica to Halifax. One arrived in Halifax on 21 July, the other two followed two days later bringing in total 543 men, women and children. The Duke of Kent and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in North America, impressed with the proud bearing and other characteristics of the Maroons, employed the group to work on the new fortifications at the Citadel Hill in Halifax. The Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Wentworth believed that the Maroons would be good settlers. He then received orders from the Duke of Portland to settle them in Nova Scotia. Following this the two commissioners responsible with credit of 25,000 Jamaican pounds from the government of Jamaica, expended £3,000 on 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land and built the community of Preston. Governor Wentworth also was granted an allowance of £240 annually from England to provide religious instruction and schooling for the community. After the first winter, the Maroons, raised in an independent culture and not impressed with the apparently servile virtues of cultivating the soil, became less tolerant of the conditions in which they were living.
The British government decided it would be better to send them to Freetown in Sierra Leone (West Africa) rather than try to persuade them to farm in a cold climate of Canada, and the survivors were deported there in 1800. Not surprisingly, exile to Africa was not an easy transition for the Trelawney Maroons. “By 1841, 90 per cent [sic] of the remaining Maroons in Freetown — some 591 people –returned to Jamaica” to work for “Jamaican planters” who “desperately needed workers” (Fortin 23).
The Jamaican Maroons are still well remembered in Sierra Leone today. Those who remained gradually merged with the larger Creole community, the descendants of various groups of freed slaves landed in Freetown between 1787 and about 1855. But some modern Creoles (or “Krios”) still proudly claim descent from the Maroons. The congregation of Freetown’sSt. John’s Maroon Church, which was built by the Maroons in 1820 on what is now the city’s main street, are especially vocal in proclaiming their descent from the Jamaican exiles.
The Maroons today
To this day, the Maroons in Jamaica are to a large extent autonomous and separate from Jamaican culture. The isolation used to their advantage by their ancestors has today led to their communities being amongst the most inaccessible on the island. In their largest town, Accompong, in the parish of St. Elizabeth, the Leeward Maroons still possess a vibrant community of about 600. Tours of the village are offered to foreigners and a large festival is put on every January 6 to commemorate the signing of the peace treaty with the British after the Maroon War.