Jamaican Maroons were escaped African slaves who had run away from Spanish owned plantations when the British took the Caribbean Island of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. They fled to the mountainous areas of Jamaica, where it was difficult for their owners to follow and catch them. There they formed independent communities as free men and women.
The Spanish called these free slaves “Maroons,” a word derived from “Cimarron,” which means “fierce” or “unruly.”
Between 1655 and 1807, the British imported over 700,000 Africans to work their sugarcane plantations. As the enslaved population grew, there were more rebellions by the slaves. Some of the rebel slaves disappeared into the mountains and joined the Maroon communities.
These communities eventually split into two branches, the Windward Maroons in the east, led by Queen Nanny and the Leeward Maroons in the west, led by Cudjoe (Kojo). Some accounts even indicate that Nanny and Cudjoe were siblings, whilst others question that idea.
By the 1720 they were actually at war with the British army. They used guerrilla warfare to hold out against the British forces. They kept troops at bay with tactics such as camouflaging themselves in trees, and using animal horns, called abeng, to blow coded messages, instead of engaging in direct combat.
The Windward Maroons were based in the forested interior of the island, in the heart of the Blue Mountains. During the First Maroon War, Queen Nanny shared the leadership of the Windward Maroons with Quao (Kwau). Under the leadership of Nanny and Quao, the Windward Maroons carried out the bulk of the fighting against the British colonial authorities during the 1730s.
Jamaican Maroon treaties
Unable to defeat the Maroon communities through military means, the British sued for peace in 1739. Despite the fact that Maroons had not submitted in defeat, the British managed to come up with extremely exploitative terms as though they themselves had been victorious.
As part of the peace treaties, one signed with Cudjoe on 1 March 1739 and another subsequently signed with Quao in 1740, Maroons agreed to hunt down and return future runaway slaves and, amongst other things, aid the suppression of internal and external threats.
In return, the British recognised Maroon freedom, granted the communities land in the interior and allowed Maroons to sustain themselves through small-scale trading at markets supplemented by the hunting.
The Leeward Treaty, which contained fifteen (15) articles, was as follows:
- That all hostilities shall cease on both sides forever.
- 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.
- 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 hundred Acres, bearing North- west from the said Trelawney Town.
- 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 Magistrate of the respective Parishes where they expose their Goods to Sale, for Licence to vend the same.
- 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 case the Hunters of Captain Cudjoe, and those of other Settlements meet, then the Hogs to be equally divided between both Parties.
- That said Captain Cudjoe and his Successors, do use their best Endeavours to take, kill, suppress or destroy, 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 Accommodation granted to Captain Cudjoe, and his Successors.
- 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.
- That if any White Man shall do any Manner of Injury to Captain 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.
- That if any Negroes shall hereafter run away from their Master or Owners, and fall into Captain Cudjoe Hands, they shall immediately be sent back to the Chief Magistrate of the next Parish where they are taken; and those that bring them are to be satisfied for their trouble, as Legislature shall appoint.
- That all Negroes taken since the raising of this Party by Captain Cudjoeï¿½s People, shall immediately be returned.
- 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.
- That Captain 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
[Excerpt from The Maroons of Jamaica1655-1796 (Mavis c. Campbell]
The Windward Treaty comprised fourteen (14) articles:
- That all hostilities shall cease on both sides for ever, Amen.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- That in case any of the negroes belonging to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- That Captain Quao, nor any of his people, shall hunt within three miles of any settlement.
- 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.
[Excerpt from Laws of Jamaica Volume I]
Parting of ways
After the 1740 treaty Quao and Nanny parted ways. Nanny took her supporters east to what would later become Moore Town on the eastern fringes of the Blue Mountains, while Quao took his people west to central Jamaica, and formed a community in a town that later came to be known as Crawford’s Town on the western edge of the Blue Mountains. However, in about 1746, the white superintendents appointed by the British governors took control of Crawford’s Town, and replaced Quao as the Maroon leader of that community. The new leader was another Maroon officer, Edward Crawford, after whom the town was eventually named.
The Maroons played a large part in the suppression of the 1760-1761 rebellion that started in Saint Mary parish. The rebellion is commonly referred to as Tacky’s rebellion because it was started by a slave named Tacky. There the Maroons along with British soldiers hunted down and killed rebel slaves.