Jamaican History & Culture – The Jamaican Maroons, Part II

The Maroons In Ambush On The Dromilly Estate In The Parish Of Trelawney, Jamaica | by F. J. Bourgoin

As provided for by the treaties of 1739 that ended the First Maroon War, the Maroons were instrumental in putting down the most serious slave rebellion in Jamaica’s history, Tacky’s Rebellion of 1760. In fact, it was a Maroon marksman, Davy, who shot Tacky, the leader of the revolt, and cut off Tacky’s head to guarantee payment of the bounty. Historian Edward Long in his 1774 History of Jamaica wrote:

Whether we consider the extent and secrecy of its plan, the multitude of the conspirators, and the difficulty of opposing its eruptions in such a variety of places at once,” this revolt was “more formidable than any hitherto known in the West Indies.

Long tells us about a time in 1760 when fifteen hundred slaves staged an uprising in Jamaica, which began in the parish of St. Mary’s and continued in other parishes for about 18 months. The uprising was really a series of revolts that have been grouped under the title of Tacky’s Rebellion.

The leader, Tacky, was an Ashanti slave overseer on the Frontier plantation, who some believe was a chief in his Ghana homeland before being transported to Jamaica. The rebels killed over 60 white people and destroyed thousands of pounds worth of property.  Over five hundred male and female slaves died during the revolt. Some were killed in battle while others were executed by the British in retaliation for the uprising and still others committed suicide. Another 500 were transported from the island to serve as slaves in British Honduras, Central America.  Colonists valued the total cost to the island at £250,000.

The Second Maroon War broke out in 1795. Many claimed the Maroons were encouraged by French agents and inspired by the formation of a black republic in Haiti. The public flogging of two Maroons convicted of stealing pigs from a white planter is, however, considered the casus belli that set off the conflict. Maroon efforts to incite slaves to revolt were mostly unsuccessful—slaves had developed a dislike for the Maroons, some of whom made their living hunting down and capturing runaway slaves for the government. Maroons had also fought on the side of planters in slave revolts. After fierce fighting, the British forced the Maroons back into the Cockpit Country, a 500-square-mile area in northwest Jamaica, which provided natural defences for Maroons communities.

The Cockpit Country, also known as “The Land of Look Behind,” is part of Jamaica’s great White Limestone plateau and has typical karst topography, with conical and hemispherical hills covered with scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above sinkholes, giving the area its name, “cockpits.” The name “The Land of Look Behind” refers to the custom of British soldiers—fearing ambush from Maroons—always looking over their shoulders as they passed through the area.

For about five months, the Maroons mounted raids on plantations where they seized food from the slaves’ provision grounds. They killed European residents they encountered and ambushed government troops as well. The Jamaican Legislature obtained a pack of hunting dogs from Cuba and used them to track down the Maroons.

Other Maroon communities did not join them in their uprising, however, and their supplies began to run low, and measles began to spread. And, although they had able leaders like Montague James, Leonard Parkinson, and James Palmer, they were outnumbered and outgunned by government forces led by General George Walpole. After a few months of fighting, the Trelawny Maroons surrendered and agreed to a truce on 21 Dec 1795, ending the conflict.

The British's peace terms allowed the Maroons to remain at liberty, but only so long as they surrendered by a certain date. However, due to a misunderstanding of the terms of the treaty (some blame British duplicity), not many Maroons formally surrendered before the designated date, thus placing their fate in the hands of the Legislature. That body then decided to deport the Maroons.

Sir John Wentworth, Governor of Nova Scotia | by Robert Field c. 1805

The British transported nearly 600 Trelawny Maroons, including men, women and children, to Nova Scotia on the ship, Dover, Mary and AnnThey landed in Halifax in July 1796, where they stayed for about four years. At first, they lived in tents and barracks on the Citadel’s grounds and on other Crown-owned property. Later, the Crown granted them lands at Preston, Nova Scotia and they subsequently moved there. In time, though, the Maroons became disenchanted with their lot. They had struggled to adapt to the harsh northern climate and unpalatable food and resented government attempts to convert them to Christianity. They did, after all, already have their own religion. They also wanted to be compensated fairly for the work they did for the Nova Scotia government and not be used as cheap labour. The Maroons often worked alongside White soldiers and labourers and demanded equal pay.

Here’s an extract from The Canadian Encyclopedia website:

Disputes arose within the Maroon community at Preston, or Maroon Town as it was also called. The majority wanted to leave Nova Scotia and return to Jamaica, but that was not allowed by the island government. Otherwise, they were willing to go anywhere that was warmer. They petitioned the government in April 1798, saying that “the Maroon cannot exist where the pineapple is not.” At the same time, they secretly communicated with General Walpole, by then a member of the British parliament, for support. They also sent a representative to London to carry petitions and to exert influence on their behalf.

Growing dissatisfaction eventually led most of the Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia to accept an offer from the Sierra Leone Company to resettle in a new British colony in Africa. After about a year’s delay, on 7 Aug 1800, 551 Maroon men, women and children set sail from Halifax on board the HMS Asia. They were bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone, in Western Africa. They arrived there on 30 Sep 1800 and volunteered to support the government against the 1792 Black Loyalist settlers who had rebelled. In Freetown, they perpetuated the memory of Jamaica by the creation of Trelawny Street. Besides, some of their descendants are said to have “squared the circle” by returning to their unforgotten island homeland, Jamaica.

The Black Loyalist settlers who rebelled in 1792 were former slaves of the American colonies who had been freed by the British during the American Revolution or who used the war as an opportunity to gain their freedom and came over to the British side, as did some already-free African Americans. Of these Black Loyalists, some joined the British Army while others served in non-military roles. When the war was lost, 3000 of them sailed to Nova Scotia. By 1790, many had become dissatisfied with conditions in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. And about 1200 of them accepted the offer of the anti-slavery Sierra Leone Company to resettle in Sierra Leone.

Back in Jamaica, the remaining Maroons continued as a semi-autonomous nation. The treaties of 1739 reinforced the cultural differences between them and the colonial slave and free black population. These treaties made them legally free with a unique Jamaican identity and with territories held in common. Between 1739 and the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the Maroons’ distinctiveness was further accentuated. During that time, they acted for the British as a sort of police force used to track down and capture runaway slaves and to put down slave rebellions. Even as late as 1865, Maroons played what had become their traditional role by helping the government to put down the Morant Bay rebellion led by Paul Bogle.

Moreover, the Maroons fought on the side of the British in several foreign wars, including expeditions in the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, numerous campaigns against the Spaniards in the Caribbean, wars against the Ashanti in Africa and in both World Wars.

Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons

Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons is now a national heroine of Jamaica with the title, The Right Excellent Nanny. Also, Nanny’s portrait graces the Jamaican $500 banknote. It is safe to say, I think, that Nanny is the single most influential force in Maroon identity.