The Jamaican Maroons

Maroon Town in the parish of St. James jamaica.jpg


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.

The Leeward Treaty, which contained fifteen (15) articles, was as follows:

                                I.            That all hostilities shall cease on both sides forever.

                             II.            That the said Captain Cudjoe, the rest of his Captains, Adherents and Men, shall be for ever hereafter in a perfect State of Freedom and Liberty, excepting thoe who have been taken by them, or fled to them within the two Years last past, if such are willing to return to their said Masters and Owners, with full Pardon and Indemnity from their Masters and Owners for what is past. Provided always, That if they are not willing to return, they shall remain in Subjection to Captain to Captain Cudjoe, and in Friendship with us, according to the Form and Tenor of this Treaty.

                           III.            That they shall enjoy and possess for themselves and Posterity for ever, all the Lands situate and lying between Trelawney Town and the Cockpits, to the Amount of Fifteen hunded Acres, bearing North- west from the said Trelawney Town.

                           IV.            That they shall have Liberty to plant the said Lands with Coffee, Ginger, Tobacco and Cotton, and breed Cattle, Hogs, Goats, or any other stock, and dispose of the Produce or Increase of the said Commodities to the Inhabitants of this Island. Provided always, That when they bring the said Commodities to Market, they shall apply first to the Custos, or any other Majistrate of the respective Parishes where they expose their Goods to Sale, for Licence to vend the same.

                              V.            That Captain Cudjoe, and all his Adherents, and people not in subjection to him, shall all live together within the Bounds of Trelawney Town; and that they have Liberty to hunt where they shall think fit, except within three Miles of any Settlement, Crawl or Pen. Provided always, That in casethe Hunters of Captain Cudjoe, and those of other Settlements meet, then the Hogs to be equally divided between both Parties.

                           VI.            That said Captain Cudjoe and his Successors, do use their best Endeavours to take, kill, suppress or destry, either by themselves or jointly, with any other Number of Men commanded by that Service by his Excellency the Governor or Commander in Chief for the Time being, all Rebels wheresoever they be throughout this Island, unless they submit to the same Terms of Accomodation granted to Captain Cudjoe, and his Successors.

                         VII.            That in case this island be invaded by any foreign Enemy, the said Captain Cudjoe, and his Successors herein and after named, or to be appointed, shall then, upon Notice given, immediately repair to any place the Governor for the Time being shall appoint, in order to repel the said Invaders with his or their utmost Force; and to submit to the Orders of the Commander in Chief on that Occasion.

                      VIII.            That if any White Man shall do any Manner of Injury to Cptain Cudjoe, his Successors, or any of his People, they shall apply to any commanding Officer or Magistrate in the Neighbourhood for Justice; and in case Captain Cudjoe, or any of his People, shall do any Injury to any White Person, he shall submit himself or deliver up such Offenders to Justice.

                           IX.            That if any Negroes shall hereafter run away from their Master or Owners, and fall into Captain Cudjoe’s Hands, they shall immediately be sent back to the Chief Majistrate of the next Parish where they are taken; and those that bring them are to be satisfied for their trouble, as Legislature shall appoint.

                              X.            That all Negroes taken since the raising of this Party by Captain Cudjoe’s People, shall immediately be returned.

                           XI.            That Captain Cudjoe, and his Successors, shall wait on his Excellency, or the Commander in Chief for the Time being, every Year, if thereunto required.

                         XII.            That Cptain Cudjoe, during his Life, and the Captains succeeding him, shall have full Power to inflict any Punishment they think proper for Crimes committed by their Men among themselves (Death only excepted) in which Case, if the Captain thinks they deserve Death, he shall be obliged to bring them before any Justice of the Peace, who shall order Proceedings on their Trial equal to those of other free Negroes.

                      XIII.            That Captain Cudjoe with his People shall cut, clear, and keep open, large, and convenient Roads from Trelawney Town to Westmoreland and St. James, and if possible to St. Elizabeth’s.

                       XIV.            That two White Men to be nominated by his Excellency, or the Commander in Chief for the Time being, shall constantly live and reside with Captain Cudjoe and his Successors, in order to maintain a friendly Correspondence with the Inhabitants of this Island.

                         XV.            That Captain Cudjoe shall, during his Life, be Commander in Trelawney Town, after his Decease the Command to devolve of his Brother Captain Accompong; and in case of his Decease, on his next Brother Captain Johnny; and, failing him, Captain Cuffee shall succeed, who is to be succeeded by Captain Quaco,and after all their Demises, the Governor or Commander in Chief for the Time being, shall appoint from Time to Time whom he thinks fit for that Command.

[Excerpted from The Maroons of Jamaica1655-1796 (Mavis c. Campbell]

The Windward Treaty comprised fourteen (14) articles:

  1. That all hostilities shall cease on both sides for ever, Amen.
  2. That the said Captain Quao, and his people, shall have a certain quantity of land given to them, in order to raise provisions, hogs, fowls, goats, or whatever flock they may think proper, sugar canes excepted, saving for their hogs, and to have liberty to sell the same.
  3. That four white men shall constantly live and reside with them in their town, in order to keep a good correspondence with the inhabitants of this island.
  4. That the said Captain Quao, and his people, shall be ready on all commands the governor, or the commander in chief for the time being, shall send him, to suppress and destroy all other party or parties of rebellious negroes, that now are or from time to time gather together to settle in any part of this island, and shall bring in such other negroes as shall from time to time run away from their respective owners, from the date of these articles.
  5. That the said Captain Quao, and his people, shall also be ready to assist his Excellency the governor for the time being, in case of any invasion, and shall put himself, with all his people that are able to bear arms, under the command of the general or commander of such forces, appointed by his Excellency to defend the island from the said invasion.
  6. That the said Captain Quao, and all his people, shall be in subjection to his Excellency the governor for the time being; and the said Captain Quao shall, once every year or oftener, appear before the governor, if thereunto required.
  7. That in case any of the hunters belonging to the inhabitants of this island,   and the hunters belonging to Captain Quao, should meet in order to hinder disputes, Captain Quao will order his people to let the inhabitants hunters have the hog.
  8. That in case Captain Quao, or his people, shall take up run away negroes that shall abscond from their respective owners, and shall be paid for so doing as the legislature shall appoint.
  9. That in case Captain Quao, and his people, should be disturbed by a greater number of rebels than he is able to fight, that then he shall be assisted by as many white people as the governor for the time being shall think proper.
  10. That in case any of the negroes belonging o Captain Quao shall be guilty of any crime or crimes that may deserve death, he shall deliver him up to the next magistrate, in order to be tried as other negroes are; but small crimes he may punish himself.
  11. That in case any white man, or other the inhabitants of this island, shall disturb or annoy any of the people, hogs, flock, or whatever goods may belong to the said Captain Quao, or any of his people, when they come down to the settlements to vend the same, upon due complaint made to a magistrate, he or they shall have justice done them.
  12. That neither Captain Quao, nor any of his people, shall bring any hogs, fowls, or any stock or provisions, to sell to the inhabitants, without a ticket from under the hand of one or more of the white men residing in their town.
  13. That Captain Quao, nor any of his people, shall hunt within three miles of any settlement.
  14. That in case Captain Quao should die, that then the command of his people shall descend to Captain Thomboy; and at his death to descend to Captain Apong; and at his death Captain Blackwall shall succeed; and at his death Clash shall succeed; and, when he dies, the governor or commander in chief for the time being shall appoint whom he thinks proper.

[Excerpted from Laws of Jamaica Volume I]

Subsequent to the ratification of both treaties, the Maroons had a relatively peaceful existence until July of 1795, when the Second Maroon War broke out.  This arose from mounting grievances the Trelawny Town Maroons had with the British. But, what ignited the war was the flogging of two Maroons who were convicted of stealing pigs by a runaway slave they had returned to the authorities in adherence with one of the articles of the Treaties. These Maroons, it is believed, were angered by the conviction and flogging as they felt that they should have been the ones to try the accused and punish them. Besides, they felt undignified because the flogging was done by a runaway slave they had handed over to the authorities (Sherlock and Bennett 1998, p.145). The British authorities tried to quell the rebellion by meeting the Maroons, but this proved to be unsuccessful as they were dissatisfied with the demands of the British.  As a consequence they continued the war.

Governor Lord Balcares ordered the Maroons to capitulate by 12 August, but, only a small number of the older Maroons did. The others persisted and brought about considerable damages and losses upon British property and troops (Sherlock and Bennett 1998, p.147), but eventually surrendered to the British on the 6th March 1796 for the reason they were significantly outnumbered by British troops, hunted by specially trained dogs from Cuba, and other Maroons. Moreover, it is said that they were inveigled into capitulation through proposal of another treaty by the Governor. The end of the War was officially declared on 16 March 1796, and on 6th June, over 500 Maroons were deported to Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada (Senior 2003, p.309).




The Maroons and Jamaican Heritage

Arguably, the most outstanding feature and personage of Maroon existence that is a part of the heritage of Jamaica is the settlements they established during the period of enslavement, and Nanny—one of the leaders of the Windward Maroons.

Maroon settlements that have survived include: Accompong in St. James, Moore and Charles Town in Portland, and Scot’s Town in St. Mary. These communities still, to a great extent, maintain the culture of their forbearers, despite some amount of assimilation into the wider Jamaican society.  The communities have their own leaders who are referred to as colonels historically.  Their traditions are predominantly African based, especially from the Akan region. It is common view that most of the original Maroons were Coromantees, natives of the Akan region. Among these traditions are: the Ambush Dance, Myalism, and an African based Pidgin language (Senior 2003, 309). Other elements of their traditions include jerk pork, and the use of rum and pigs for rituals.

 Cudjoe, Quao, Accompong and Kofi among other Maroon leaders are often mentioned in discussions of Maroon history, and celebratory activities. However, only the female Maroon leader, Nanny has acquired a superior position in the heritage of Jamaica. Nanny is known for her elusive presence, fierceness in battle, and Obeah skills that have attracted much attention. Nanny’s existence has often been questioned because of her elusiveness and incredible Obeah works she performed has also attracted debate. Nonetheless, there are accounts which speak to this. In Memoirs and Anecdotes of Phillip Thickness Late Lieutenant Governor, for instance, reference is made to Nanny as, “The Old Hagg. . . had a girdle around her waist with (I speak within compass) nine or ten different knives hanging in sheaths to it, many of which I have no doubt, had been plunged in human flesh and blood” (Gottlieb, 2000, 25). Today, Nanny is the only Maroon leader who has ascended to the rank of National Hero, the most significant recognition given by the country, and one that has earned her a spot on the Jamaican five hundred dollars ($500) note.


Campbell, Mavis C. The Maroons of Jamaica 1655- 1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal. Massachusetts: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, 1988.

Carey, Bev. The Maroon Story. St. Andrew: Agouti Press, 1997.

Dunkley, D. A. Agency of the Enslaved: Jamaica and the Culture of Freedom in the Atlantic World. Maryland: Lexington Publishers, 2013.

Gotlieb, Karla. A history of Queen Nanny: Leader of the Windward Maroons. New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2000.

Robinson, Carey. The Fighting Maroons, Jamaica. William Collins and Sangster, 1974.

Senior, Olive. Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publisher, 2003.

Sherlock, Phillip & Bennett Hazel. The Story the Jamaican People. Kingston & Princeton: Ian Randle Publishers & Markus Weiner Publishers, 1998.

The Laws of Jamaica Volume I. Alexander Aikman, 1792.