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The Maroons of Jamaica

Maroons

The next conquistador to come to the mainland was Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, an explorer and slave-raider. In 1526 he tried to establish a settlement on the Atlantic coast at a site he called San Miguel de Gualdape, believed to have been near present-day Sapelo Sound in Georgia. “Ayllon’s expedition included 600 men, women, and children as well as the first-known contingent of African slaves brought to settle in the present-day United States.”

These slaves were likely skilled craftsmen rather than field-hands. The expedition failed; Ayllon himself died, and mutiny followed. Slaves set fire to the compound, and the area’s Guale Indians rebelled against the presence of the Spanish. Some of the white survivors managed to return to the Caribbean; however, some historians believe that the Africans from this expedition preferred to live among the Guales, becoming maroons.[1]Dunn, p.5.

Maroon groups remained independent in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, surviving by subsistence farming and periodic raids of plantations. These initial maroon groups dwindled, migrating or merging with settlers. Others may have coalesced to form the nucleus of what would later become the Windward Maroons. Over time, runaway slaves increased the maroon population which eventually came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior. Still, conflict with the British remained as maroons were captured and sent to Novia Scotia and eventually to Africa.[2]Dunn, p.7.

Maroons were Africans who escaped enslavement in the New World and established their own very Africanized communities. The Spanish brought many Africans into their colonies in every part of the New World including into Florida beginning with Ponce de Leon. Some escaped into the wilds and in some cases, joined with Native Americans who were the indigenous peoples who had been living in New World for centuries (not Seminoles, who came into Florida much later) . In Florida, there were maroon settlements along the east coast and in the interior dating back long before English-speaking whites came into the state. There were also some on the sea islands of Georgia and the Carolinas.

Maroon settlements in Jamaica are the focus here but the process was the same wherever Africans escaped into the wilds in the New World. It should be noted that maroons tended to remain isolated from black slaves as well as from whites. Maroon communities were numerous in the Bahamas especially on Andros Island where African slaves who were rescued at sea by the British navy after England outlawed slavery, were dumped to be on their own.

Maroon settlements in Jamaica are the focus here but the process was the same wherever Africans escaped into the wilds in the New World. It should be noted that maroons tended to remain isolated from black slaves as well as from whites. Maroon communities were numerous in the Bahamas especially on Andros Island where African slaves who were rescued at sea by the British navy after England outlawed slavery, were dumped to be on their own.[3]Dunn, p.1.

By about 1720, a strong group of maroons developed among the culturally Africanized group of three villages known as Nanny Town, under the spiritual leadership of a black woman called Nanny.Queen Nanny, also known as Granny Nanny, is the only female listed among Jamaica’s national heroes. She has been made immortal in songs and legends. She was known for her exceptional leadership skills, especially in guerrilla warfare, during the First Maroon War. 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.[4]Dunn, p.6.

There were maroon settlements in Florida. Thousands of black slaves were brought into Florida by the Spanish beginning in 1513 with Ponce de Leon. Many of these people escaped into the wilderness of Florida and made their own settlements sometimes close to Native American settlements (Not with Seminoles since they were not in Florida at that time. These were Indians who had been in Florida for over two thousand years.)

When St. Augustine was established in 1565 there were black people living free in Florida some of whom had never been enslaved. These Florida maroons tended to remain apart from other groups that moved into Florida including apart from escaped slaves and Seminoles who entered Florida in the late 1700’s. There were numerous maroon settlements in the interior of the state especially near major rivers. These communities have since disappeared…

On July 31, 1690, a rebellion involving 500 slaves from the Sutton estate in Clarendon Parish led to the formation of Jamaica’s most stable and best organized maroon group. Although some were killed, recaptured or surrendered, more than 200 remained free after the rebellion including women and children. They established an Ashanti -style community based in the eastern Cockpit Country. This group centered around Trelawny Town under the most famous of the maroon leaders called Cudjoe. The community incorporated outsiders following a strict probationary period. It should be noted that Cudjoe is an Akan name and is assigned to about a seventh of males in Akan-speaking cultures, including several Jamaican maroon leaders.[5]Dunn, p.7.

Maroon groups remained independent in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, surviving by subsistence farming and periodic raids of plantations. These initial maroon groups dwindled, migrating or merging with settlers. Others may have coalesced to form the nucleus of what would later become the Windward Maroons. Over time, runaway slaves increased the maroon population which eventually came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior. Still, conflict with the British remained as maroons were captured and sent to Novia Scotia and eventually to Africa.[6]Dunn, p.5.

At first, the Spanish had control of Jamaica, as they had everywhere in the New World, but the British took it in 1655. When that happened, the Spanish colonists fled. Free blacks, mulattoes, former slaves and some native Taino Indians coalesced into several groups in the Jamaican interior. During the first decade of British rule, these groups were active on behalf of the Spanish, but as it became increasingly obvious that the British would win, their position shifted. They signed a treaty with England.[7]Dunn, p.2.

References

References
1, 6 Dunn, p.5.
2, 5 Dunn, p.7.
3 Dunn, p.1.
4 Dunn, p.6.
7 Dunn, p.2.