THE AUTHENTIC AND ORIGINAL HISTORY OF THE JAMAICAN MAROONS (445 hits)
Origins of the Jamaican Maroons
The Jamaican Maroons are often described as enslaved Africans and persons of noticeable African descent who ran away or escaped from their masters or owners to acquire and preserve their freedom. The word maroon is commonly believed to be derived from the English equivalent of the Spanish word Cimarron (wild). The origins of the Maroons date back to 1655 around the time when Tainos and Africans who were freed by the Spanish took to remote parts of the island for refuge from the English invasion and to establish settlements. From the second half of the seventeenth century to the mid eighteenth century the Maroons developed into a formidable force that significantly challenged the system of enslavement imposed by the English. Though great controversy surrounds the terms of the treaties that they signed with the English, their role in undermining institutionalized slavery and cultural traditions are prominent parts of the history and heritage of Jamaica.
The Maroons and their fight for Freedom
The English took possession of the island from the Spanish in 1655, however, fighting between the two continued for a period of approximately five years. During this period, the Spanish had managed to secure the help of some of the Maroons (natives and Africans) in order to reclaim possession of the island, but their efforts to recapture it ultimately proved futile. Despite the resulting decline of the Maroon population, they posed a serious challenge to the English especially as the system of enslavement expanded and an increasing number of British owned enslaved Africans fled the plantations and joined existing Maroon communities.
The Maroons used various strategies to maintain their freedom and undermine the constant threat which the English posed. They would escape to mainly the Cockpit Country, that is, inaccessible and remote parts of the island where it was hilly and densely vegetated and established communities, which were frequently disrupted by the English. The Maroons have been divided into two groupings based on their location, windward and leeward. The Windward Maroons were those located in the East of the island, while the Leeward Maroons were those occupying the Western part of the island. The Leeward Maroons include locations such as Trelawny Town in St. James and Accompong in St. Elizabeth. Among the Windward settlements are Moore and Charles Town in Portland, Nanny Town in St. Thomas and Scotts Hall in St. Mary. Even with these groupings, the Maroons were organized into different bands. Such organization facilitated their mobilization.
In fighting for and maintaining their freedom, both the Leeward and Windward Maroons displayed highly skillful tactics, which proved to be most challenging for the English. Richard Price has given a vivid description of this: “To the bewilderment of their European enemies, whose rigid and conventional tactics were learnt on the open battlefields of Europe, these highly adaptable and mobile warriors took maximum advantage of local environments, striking and withdrawing with great rapidity, making extensive uses of ambushes to catch their adversaries in crossfire, fighting only when and where they chose, depending on intelligence networks among non-maroons (both slaves and white settlers)” (Senior 2003, p.308).
The Maroon Wars
The English and the Maroons were engaged in two wars throughout the period of struggle between them. Maroon oral history suggests that The First Maroon War as it is called began around 1655, spanning approximately 84 years, while records from the colonial archives suggest that its duration was about 10 years (Dunkley 2013, p.154). The War emanated from the fight between the English and the Spanish over control of the island, which lasted for 5 years. After the defeat of the Spanish by the English, the Maroons who had helped the Spanish continued to confront the English. The War took an irregular course, occurring intermittently, and both the English and the Maroons struggled to suppress each other. However, the Maroons, as many, if not most historians have concluded, were more successful in suppressing their opponent. They would raid the settlements of the English at rapid speed, after which they would quickly depart to inaccessible places, hilly and mountainous paths. They were more familiar with and knowledgeable about these conditions than the English were and this made chase very difficult and significantly contributed to their success in battle.
In 1734, the English managed to capture a major Maroon settlement, Nanny Town, which dealt a blow to the Windward Maroons. Nonetheless, this did not ensure their defeat or suppression. Carey Robinson has noted that, within a forty year period of the first struggle between the Maroons and the English, “the Assembly was to pass 44 acts and spend £240,000 in its attempts at suppression”. Also, Bryan Edwards, prominent planter/ historian of the time wrote that “. . . . . they plundered all around them, and caused several plantations to be thrown up and abandoned, and prevented many valuable tracts of land from being cultivated, to the great prejudice and diminution of His Majesty’s revenue, as well as of the trade, navigation and consumption of British manufacturers: and to the manifest weakening, and preventing the further increase of the strength and inhabitants in the island” (Robinson 1974, p.38). The Maroons were persistent in fighting and so were offered to sign a peace treaty by the English. It was the first Maroon treaty and was signed by the fierce Leeward Maroon leader, Cudjoe, on 1st March 1739.
This treaty that Cudjoe signed did not apply to the Maroon community in its entirety as the Windward Maroons were not involved in the process and were possibly unaware of such occurrence. They maintained their defense, however, not long thereafter (four months) they were also offered to sign a treaty by the English. The English had made five attempts at getting them to sign this treaty (Carey 1997, p.344) which was eventually signed by the Windward Maroon leader, Quao, on 23rd December 1739. As a result of a divide between the Windward Maroons, another treaty was signed a year later by Nanny, perhaps the most celebrated leader of the Moore Town Maroons.
Both the Leeward and Windward Maroon Treaties served to grant the Maroons ‘freedom’, pacify them, and remove a major obstacle to the institution of slavery that the English created.