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The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny

Chapter 1: Introduction

By Karla Gottlieb. Africa World Press, 2000

Before exploring the roots of Jamaican marronage, it is important to review the framework from which it evolved. An alternative to slavery, escape offered Africans an empowering resistance to the ideology set forth by the colonial slavocracy. As Richard Price, a leading authority on Maroon communities in the New World, notes:
Throughout Afro-America, such communities stood out as an heroic challenge to white authority, and as the living proof of the existence of a slave consciousness that refused to be limited by the whites' conception or manipulation of it. (Price 1973, p. 2)

Mavis Campbell, a more recent authority on Jamaican Maroon society, sees the definition of marronage as the process of flight to erect black African hegemonies in the mountains of Jamaica or elsewhere in the New World, and as the creation of a New Jerusalem, where they could live in liberty, however precarious, and where they could live within the matrix of their cultural imperatives. (Campbell 1977, p. 392) The history of marronage in Jamaica, then, should not be limited to an analysis of the practical reasons slaves wanted to run away. The very act of being of a Maroon was an act of ideological defiance that questioned the validity and survivability of the colonial slave system. The study of marronage is an important aspect of black history, because it offered Africans and Afro-Americans a unique opportunity to create their own societies outside the control of plantation America, [so that] it adds a dimension to our plantation-bound vision of black history and culture. (Kopytoff 1978, p. 288)

Around 1728, Queen Nanny emerged as the primary general, leader, and obeah woman of the Windward Maroons, her reign extending until around 1740, shortly after the Maroons signed a peace treaty with the British. This period, particularly from 1728-1734, was representative of the Maroons in their greatest glory. (Cary 1970, p. 20) In order to understand the context of Queen Nanny's emergence as a central figure in Jamaican history, it is important to have rudimentary knowledge of Maroon history in Jamaica and an understanding of the specific African ethnic groups that influenced the Maroon identity.

Christopher Columbus happened upon Jamaica in 1494, although it was not until 1509 that the Spanish actually began creating settlements there. (Campbell 1977, p. 393) Spanish colonization of the island lasted about 150 years, a period in which the entire population of Arawak Indians was savagely decimated, their population reduced from approximately 60,000 in 1509 to approximately 60 in 1655. (Campbell 1990, p. 9 and 14) Most historians describe this period of Spanish rule as chaotic, unproductive, and wrecked by mismanagement. One Jamaican historian explains that at the time, The island was badly defended, poverty stricken, underdeveloped, and underpopulated; the Government officials were indolent and demoralized, money was scarce and trade was falling off. (Robinson 1969, p. 16) Another scholar notes: The Spaniards were disappointed in the country's lack of gold, and Jamaica became a neglected appanage [sic] of the Columbus family, poor and sparsely populated. Its chief value to Spain was as a supply base, the main occupation of its settlers cattle-ranching. (Black 1966, p. 7) As the Spanish had not exploited Jamaica's agricultural potential, the economy there was not plantation-based. Thus, the African slaves in Jamaica were not confined to houses and plantations; they were sent out into the interior of the country to herd wild cattle and to hunt wild boar. Therefore, they developed knowledge of the country's interior, knowledge which would prove to be extremely valuable to their military endeavors.

Spain retained control of Jamaica as a colony until 1655. On May 10 of that year, Great Britain, cognizant of the sorry state of affairs in Jamaica and wishing to expand its holdings in the West Indies to increase the economic potential of their empire, invaded Jamaica and easily took over the island. (Robinson 1969 p. 16) Under the command of Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, the British entered Kingston harbor with thirty-eight ships and 8000 soldiers. They quickly occupied the main town, and the Spanish governor soon surrendered. (Robinson 1969 p. 16) This invasion, part of Oliver Cromwell's Western Design, was aimed against Spain. (Black 1966, p. 7) With the exception of a small group of resisters, most of the Spaniards fled to Cuba; most of their slaves did not. These Africans, having an extensive knowledge of the terrain, fled to the hills and forests and formed the foundation of what would later become the eastern contingent of the most threatening opponents of the British in Jamaica, the Jamaican Maroons. 1   The Leeward Maroon community formed later, most of its population coming from slaves who escaped from plantations later, during rebellions. 2  

Foreseeing the disaster that the Maroons would later cause the British, Major-General Sedgwicke of the British forces wrote the following caveat to Secretary Thurloe in England on March 12, 1656, only one year after the British invasion:

Concerning the state of the enemy on shore here, the Spaniard is not considerable, but of the Blacks there are many, who are like to prove as thorns and pricks in our sides, living in the mountains and woods, a kind of life both natural, and I believe acceptable to them. There scarce a week passeth without one or two slain by them, and as we grow secure, they grow bold and bloody... Be assured they must either be destroyed or brought in upon some terms or other, or else they will be a great discouragement to the settling of a people here. 3  
The African population proved in fact to be thorns and pricks in the sides of the British and were much more of a threat to them than were the Spanish. A census conducted of the island of Jamaica in the year 1611 by the Abbot of Jamaica concluded that there were 1,510 inhabitants consisting of 558 slaves, 523 Spaniards, 173 children, 107 free Blacks, 75 foreigners, and 74 Arawak Indians. 4   Half a century later, other observers noted that the ratio of slaves to Spaniards was about the same. The African population already outnumbered the Spanish at the time of the invasion, and after the invasion they vastly outnumbered them as the Spanish fled to Cuba. The Africans, both free and slave, preferred to live free in the mountains rather than to leave the island with the Spanish and remain slaves, or to descend into the towns and become slaves to new British masters.

The few Spaniards that remained held out against the British and attempted to retake the island; this group, led by Don Christoval Ysassi Arnaldo who was named Governor of Jamaica by the Spanish king, retreated to the mountains and made attacks on the newly formed British settlements. 5   The former African slaves of the Spanish also established themselves in the mountains, in separate settlements from the Spanish, and were quite prosperous because of their knowledge of the terrain and their agricultural and hunting abilities. The Spanish completely relied on their former slaves for food, for showing them trails, for developing their crops, for hunting, and for staging invasions on the British settlements. Records show that nearly every attack on British settlements involved Africans. 6   In short, a population that had once enslaved the Africans was now dependent on them for survival. In his letters to the King of Spain, Ysassi constantly stressed the fact that the former slaves were loyal to Spain and would do anything he said. 7   In reality, the ex-slave community was enjoying their newfound freedom and establishing viable, lasting communities and polities. They would help the Spanish, but only when it was in their best interest. Their populations were increased by slaves who escaped from newly established English settlements. This group of slaves, along with a few Spaniards, began to seriously harass the British and proved to be an elusive and dangerous enemy. While news of their successes spread through the newly founded colony, more slaves felt encouraged to run and they joined the Spanish fugitive slave communities; others established their own separate Maroon communities.

A leader emerged among one group of the original Spanish Maroons, known by his African name as Juan Lubola or Lubolo. The Spanish knew him as Juan de Bolas. Originally Lubola and his followers were aiding their former masters against the British. However, in a move that was viewed as treachery to the other island Maroons, Lubola signed a treaty with the British that granted him and his followers land and freedom. Under this agreement he became a Colonel and magistrate (with power over his people for everything except life and death) in exchange for helping the British in the fight against the Spanish and other fugitive slaves. After Lubola went over to the British, Ysassi realized that the Spanish did not stand a chance of defending themselves without the help of Lubola's people, and agreed to leave the island. 8   Lubola was made the Colonel of the Black Militia of the island and assisted the British in several raids on different Maroon communities. As might be imagined, other Maroons were outraged with this alliance and began a series of raids on plantations to show their discontent. 9   The largest group of Maroons that preferred to remain fugitive were known as the Vermahalles Negroes, 10   under the direction of Juan de Serras. They were very effective in their raids against the British, and the Governor of Jamaica, D'Oyley, attempted on several occasions to sue for peace, offering the fugitives 20 acres of land a piece plus freedom if they would turn themselves in; none chose to respond to his reputedly generous offer. Instead, this offer made them realize how much power they had because they were so feared by the British, and thus promoted even more daring raids. Lubola, now the official bloodhound of the British, was sent out to his former people to endeavor their reduction. 11   This was the opportunity to enact their vengeance the Maroons had been waiting for, and they did so by creating an ambush for Lubola where he and his people were cut to pieces. 12   Although the British continued their attempts to subdue them, the Maroons retreated to the northern part of the island and continued to exist, and grow, and fight off the British for 83 more years. These Spanish Maroons became the nucleus of the Windward Maroons. 13  

Originally, the Maroon population after the British invasion of 1655 was loosely structured and spread across the entire island. Maroon communities existed in communication with other Maroon settlements and were located in remote and mountainous areas where access was difficult and virtual invisibility possible. As the British began to populate the island and set up plantations in many areas, the Maroons gradually became cut off from each other, and communication from group to group became more difficult. Maroon historian Barbara Kopytoff notes, ... the Spanish Maroons initially had villages in both the eastern and western interior of the island, but that later (no date given) they all joined in the East. Dallas confirms that they settled in the East. 14   Two distinct groups emerged, the Windward Maroons on the eastern side of the island in the upper reaches of the Blue Mountains, the highest peaks of Jamaica, and on the west side, the Leeward Maroons, in an inhospitable group of small, steep mountains known as the Cockpit Country. 15   As previously noted, the origins of these two groups were different - the nucleus of the Windward Maroons was the Spanish Maroon establishment, while in the west, a slave rebellion in the late 17th century provided most of the population, including the father of their most formidable leader, Kojo (or Cudjoe). 16  

From their beginnings in 1655 until they signed treaties with the British government in the late 1730's, the Jamaican Maroon population increased in several ways. The means which provided the most numbers of new converts was through slave revolts, when slaves would rise up as a group, in numbers up to two or three hundred, and leave the plantations. 17   These rebellions happened more often when the news of Maroon military successes against the British reached the plantations. These desertions and insurgencies became so serious that in 1734, the colonial government petitioned the King of England for help, stating,

... the evil is daily increasing and their success has had such influence on our other slaves that they are continually deserting to them in great numbers and the insolent behavior of others gives us but too much cause to fear a general defection, which without your Majestie's gracious aid and assistance must render us a prey to them. 18   [Italics added]

Individual and group escape, either by African slaves newly arrived or by veteran or Creole 19   slaves was another means by which the Maroon population was increased, and incidents of these escapes also increased as the Maroons had more successes. As Kopytoff suggests,

Many slaves escaped with the specific goal of joining a maroon group; some were actively recruited; some went to find friends or relatives who had previously escaped; and some sought a band whose fame had spread among slaves, or one whose ethnic identity they shared. 20  

The Maroons, in order to survive, but also as a means of tearing down the slave system, would regularly raid plantations and come away with guns, ammunition, food, livestock, and slaves (particularly female slaves) that they had freed. Yet another way of augmenting the population was through the deserters of the British army of volunteers, known as the Black Shots, which consisted mostly of free Blacks and Mulattoes. An observer in 1733 described these types of desertions as such:
...Wild Negroes surrounded them [the volunteer Black army] and fir'd very briskly upon them... Several of them call'd to Captain Williams and it is supposed they are Party Negroes who have deserted. They call'd to our Negroes and Inquir'd after their Wives and acquaintances; and bid them tell them how well they live and if they will go to them they shall live so too, at the same time asking our Party Negroes to come to them persuading them not to fight for the white Men. 21  
The allure of free Maroon life to free Black people living in a slave society with the constant threat of being re-enslaved was enticing. There is no doubt that many Africans deserted the ranks of the slavers to join the Maroons. Newspaper advertisements of the time indicate that a great many number slipped away quietly. 22  

The final way that the Maroons increased their population was through natural reproduction. Although the birth rate among the Maroons was higher than among the enslaved African population, nonetheless this was not the primary way their numbers increased, with most numbers coming from slave rebellions and desertions. There was always a shortage of women in the Maroon communities; numerous raids were reported with the soul purpose, it seemed to the planters, of acquiring women. An anonymous writer noted in 1776, In plundering they were industrious in procuring Negro women, girls, and Female children. 23   Ten and twenty years after the signing of the treaties, the Maroon population decreased significantly, showing that natural reproduction was not the primary means by which the population was growing. 24   Life among the Maroons was not easy, and it was difficult to have and support many children.

Among the people who joined the Maroons, the ethnic population was varied and diverse. Slaves had been imported from the Gold Coast (modern Ghana), from other ethnic groups of West Africa, from the Congo, and even from Madagascar, and all of these populations were known to have escaped from slavery to the mountains. However, once they were established in Maroon communities, one ethnic group proved to be dominant, providing the primary language, leadership, culture, and religion. All of the major recorded leaders of both the Windward and Leeward Maroons come from one particular ethnic group from the Gold Coast, and their language is still spoken among certain Maroons. The ethnic group and the language are both known in Jamaica as Koromantee or Coromantie. However, this name does not exist in modern day Ghana with the same meaning. This name was assigned to Twi, Ashanti, Akan, and Fanti peoples who were brought to an area called Koromantee in Ghana, near Cape Coast, before being shipped into slavery in the New World. 25   There is no ethnic group or language known as Koromantee in Ghana, but in Jamaica the name signifies both. The Koromantee were known to be fierce and ferocious fighters with a will to resist, survive, and be free. Almost all slave rebellions in Jamaica from 1655 to the 1830's were led by Koromantees. In fact, the Koromantees became so notoriously rebellious that the British government considered a bill to impose additional taxes on the import of Koromantee slaves in an attempt to limit the numbers of them that came into the country, and the French did in fact ban them from their colonies in the West Indies. 26   They made up a significant percentage of all Maroon settlements, although figures vary from between 20% to 80%; the records were not accurately kept, therefore these numbers are estimates. However, no matter how small their numbers were, they always proved to be leading forces, providing both language and leadership to the communities of which they were members.

The Maroons of Jamaica preserved many aspects of the language and culture of the Akan and Ashanti peoples of the Gold Coast. They also retained many of the matrilineal and matrifocal aspects of these cultures. Kinship was passed down through the mother's side of the family. 27   Women had ritual roles of queen of a group of rebels, and also served as spiritual leaders. 28   Another important role that women played in Maroon communities was through their enormous contribution to agriculture. On this point historians do not disagree; women were responsible for producing nearly the entire agricultural output of the Maroon communities. One historian notes that without women's contributions in the area of agriculture, the Maroons would have been a much less powerful and pervasive force in Jamaica's history. In general, women would raise crops and men would hunt wild hog and raid plantations for supplies, food, and more people. 29   However, there are also legends of great warrior women who raided plantations and freed slaves, wielding huge knives with which to cut off the heads of the British. 30  

According to almost all historians, women were revered, respected, and honored in Maroons societies. One writer remarked that any abuse of maroon women was invariably met with the most serious consequences. 31   However, there is one account of Maroon life as observed by a white Jamaican planter which sharply contrasts all other portrayals, as it attempts to portray the Maroons as misogynistic and cruel. 32   Bryan Edwards, a colonial historian, claims that he visited a Maroon settlement and witnessed first hand the atrocities committed towards the women there. In 1796, he reported:

The labours of the field, however, such as they were (as well as every other species of drudgery) were performed by the women... the Maroons, like all other savage nations, regarded their wives as so many beasts of burthen [sic]; and felt no more concern at the loss of one of them, than a white planter would have felt at the loss of a bullock. Polygamy too, with their other African customs, prevailed among the Maroons universally. Some of their principal men claimed from two to six wives, and the miseries of their situation left these poor creatures neither leisure nor inclination to quarrel with each other. This spirit of brutality, which the Maroons always displayed towards their wives, extended in some degree to their children. 33  
Another colonial historian, writing much later, in 1931, noted women's more powerful place, stating, Men and women alike are hard-working, though it may appear that the women work harder than the men. The women are rather independent and loathe to remain at home and depend entirely on the earnings of the man. 34  

Other scholars, notably Filomina Chioma Steady and Kenneth Bilby, document how the Jamaican Maroons have preserved the matrifocal aspects of their Akan traditions, and have focused on the valuation of women and their contribution to Maroon survival. 35   They argue that women formed the central core of Maroon society, emphasizing that,

Women as a group represented the most stable element in the somewhat loose, shifting federation which made up Windward Maroon society. In a very real sense, they may be seen as the main source of stability and continuity within the group. Owing to the military nature of the society, women and children came to comprise a stable core tied to the village and the land immediately around it, while the men were formed into a sort of transient integument, a peripheral military force... [The women] were the true denizens of Maroon settlements. 36  
Another Jamaican historian, Lucille Mathurin, writes that much of the strength women had in Maroon communities came from their position within traditional Ashanti or Akan culture. She notes that the Ashanti culture ... contained, among much else a tradition of warrior nations, and a history of proud and respected women. This sort of heritage produced rebels, and ensured that there would always be women among the rebels. 37   Women were crucial to Maroon settlements as they formed the foundation of the societies.

The historical aspects of the Jamaican Maroon communities described above will be useful in order to better understand the context from which Queen Nanny emerged as an important figure. To this end, the characteristics of Windward Maroon towns and societies will now be considered. Important qualities of Maroon towns which distinguish them from other rural Jamaican towns include the importance of and respect given to ancestors, the central role of history in the creation of cultural identity, and the significance of the supernatural in daily life. These elements are derived from an allegiance to their Ashanti and/or Akan past. As David Dalby notes,

The Maroons ... have for three centuries maintained their historical allegiance to the Ashanti, the principal ethnic group represented among the Coromantee in Jamaica, and have retained numerous West African, especially Ashanti, elements in their language and culture. 38  
The Maroons, like their Ashanti forebears, hold ancestors to be very important and live their daily lives so as not to offend their ancestors; it is believed they are sentient beings whose influence can still be felt. Progenitors are revered and almost worshipped. Their importance in the creation of today's life is recognized, and they are treated with dignity, reverence, and respect. The ancestors are living beings and must be spoken of as such. Another related aspect of Maroon life is the importance that the past has for them. The Maroons use their unique history as a force which guides and directs them. The past is a source of pride, it is what makes Maroons who they are and it must be taught and shared. Historically, the Maroons experienced a growing sense of pride with each British defeat. 39   Maroon history creates identity and it is what makes the Maroons special and different from the rest of the Jamaican population.

The Maroons, more so than other Jamaicans, have preserved their African heritage along many channels but most especially with regards to religion and the supernatural. To the earliest Jamaican Maroons, the belief in obeah, a kind of supernatural force, influenced and determined their actions. Head men, chiefs, and generals would always traditionally have a spiritual advisor, an obeah man or woman who directed them and helped them with important decisions. After having lived among the Maroons at Moore Town for more than twelve months, ethnohistorian Kenneth Bilby noted,

By this time, it was apparent to me that the complex of ideas and beliefs concerning the supernatural was intimately tied to Maroon identity; indeed, it seemed the primary defining element underlying notions of Maroon uniqueness, and it was precisely because it lay under the surface that this uniqueness was not readily discernible to casual visitors to Moore Town. 40  
Bilby had been surprised at first that the supernatural elements of Maroon culture appeared to be hidden to the outside viewer, and in fact he questioned whether they really existed or not. Later he surmised that they were hidden precisely because they were so important. The amount of power in obeah that a person has is known to the modern Maroons as Science.

Having established certain characteristics about the Maroons that are derived from their common Akan or Ashanti ancestry, it is necessary now to move forward to look at a definition of that society through its history of warfare with the British. This history, as previously mentioned, is a source of pride which forms the continuing definition of identity. The Maroons successfully fended off the mightiest empire in the world, Great Britain, for more than eighty years. The colonial government continually asked for more troops to be sent in from Great Britain to fight the Maroons, and they were, thousands at a time. 41   The Maroons were successful against the British on every occasion, even though the British had sophisticated weapons of war. 42   The story of the Maroons is unique in history. How several hundred escaped slaves with no uniforms, no supply of guns and ammunition except those that they were able to steal or obtain covertly, no steady supply of food, and no secure living place, could fend off the best soldiers of an empire that had an almost endless supply of sophisticated heavy artillery including portable swivel guns, a seemingly endless supply of new soldiers, as well as a wealth of material resources, is a historical feat that probably could never be duplicated. 43   An example of just how powerful this group of several hundred people were is made clear through an entry recorded in the Jamaica archives which states that in August of 1734 a total of 27 plantations were abandoned on the Windward side of the island. 44   The fact that a handful of people could force 27 different plantation owners, complete with families and hundreds of slaves, to leave the land they had bought is an amazing achievement.

The Maroon Wars have been studied for their remarkable contributions to the art of guerrilla warfare. 45  

The Maroon Wars were conducted by a people who would not be enslaved. They were fierce fighters and master strategists. Even the colonial planters, who were hateful of the Maroons and of Black people in general, had in the end to concede that they were confronted with a superior fighting force. Edward Long, the planter who wrote The History of Jamaica in 1774, and whose contemptuous words have been cited earlier, in fact calls the Maroons' achievements ..the amazing efforts of an handful of brave men, and further states,

[The midland parts of the island are] so defensible, by acclivities, woods, and difficult passes, that an army of the best regular troops would not find it an easy task to dislodge a very small band of well-provided and intrepid opponents. We have some proof of this, from the tedious and expensive war, carried on for many years, with a contemptible gang of Negroes, called the wild Negroes, who kept possession of these recesses, and held out against forty times their number, though unsupported during the time with any fresh supply of arms or ammunition, except what were sold to them by the Jews; and at length were able to put an end to the struggle by a treaty of peace, the more honourable to them, as it confirmed the full enjoyment of that freedom for which they had so long and obstinately contended. 46  
Long recognizes their military achievements, yet he belittles and fails to understand what their marronage means by saying that a treaty of peace with the British earned them their freedom; in fact they had achieved it themselves and had maintained freedom for more than eighty years in the various Maroon communities.

It could be said that the Maroon Wars continued without cease from the arrival of the British in 1655 until the signing of the last treaty in 1740. 47   However, after this date, notably in 1795 with the Trelawny Town War, there were still uprisings and rebellions. During the 85 year period of rebellion against the British, there were periods of relative peace and others that were marked by more intense fighting. During this nearly century-long struggle, the desperate state of the British is punctuated by numerous letters from the colony to the King. One such letter stated,

... Wee [sic] are not in a condition to defend ourselves, the terror of them [the Maroons] spreads itself every where and the ravages and barbarities they commit, have determined several planters to abandon their settlements... 48  
There was real fear that the wars with the Maroons would cause the British to give up Jamaica; indeed, the threat of the Maroons was so great and growing daily, so much so that it forced many planters to leave the island altogether.

The major slave revolts of the 17th century, the precursors of the Maroon Wars (as these escaped slaves joined the Maroons in the mountains), occurred in 1673 at Lobby's plantation, 49   in 1685, and in 1690. 50   This last rebellion proved critical because, even though only a small band of 30-40 people escaped the slaveholder's retaliation, this group ended up being the leadership core of the Leeward Maroons. Between 1690 and 1724, there are not many records detailing the battles between Maroons and the colonists. Some historians say that the Maroons were quieter during these periods, that they had retreated higher into the mountains to re-group, organize, and prepare; others claim that we simply have no record of the activity that happened during this period, but that there was action. Starting in 1724, records of skirmishes with Maroons begin to increase. Especially helpful are the memoirs of an officer in the British army named Philip Thicknesse, 51   who recounts in detail specific battles with the Windward Maroons. These anecdotes, even those written by the British, invariably speak of massive victories by the Maroons. In 1730, three major expeditions were mounted against the Windward Maroons. The Maroons proved to be completely elusive, and as one historian notes, The military expeditions were often ineffectual if not disastrous for the English, and success, when it came, usually meant destroying a settlement rather than killing Maroons 52   In fact, during the entire decade of the 1730's, the time of the most intense fighting, only about 100 Maroons were recorded as killed. For the British, this same period of time represented the loss of thousands of lives. 53  

The site of the decisive battle of the Maroon Wars, and the only one that records the Maroons suffering significant losses, occurred in Nanny Town in 1734. 54   Captain Stoddart led the British against the Maroons, and his attack is described by 17th century historian Edward Long as such: 55  

In the year 1734, Captain Stoddart .... executed with great success, an attack of the Maroon windward town, called Nanny, situate [sic] on one of the highest mountains in the island. Having provided some portable swivel guns, he silently approached, and reached within a small distance of their quarters undiscovered. After halting, for some time, he began to ascend by the only path leading to their town. He found it steep, rocky, and difficult, and not wide enough to admit the passage of two persons abreast. However, he surmounted these obstacles; and having gained a small eminence, commanding the huts in which the negroes were asleep, he fixed his little train of artillery to the best advantage, and fired upon them so briskly, that many were slain in their habitations, and several threw themselves headlong down the precipice 56  
There has been some feeling among modern historians that this description is an exaggeration. Although there is truth to it, and the original Nanny Town was destroyed in 1734, some say that it was destroyed after the Maroons had left. There were a significant number of Maroons who survived this attack because they established a new settlement at New Nanny Town, or Moore Town, several miles away. Nanny Town was, as mentioned, constructed at the top of a very steep mountain, with a narrow path (as Long described above) that would provide space enough for one person only. With this construction, the Maroons were virtually immune to attack by a greater force. The British could mount the path only one at a time, single file, so that the Maroons would be able to isolate them and kill them one by one as they came up. This strategy, along with other clever military devices, including camouflage and a network of long distance communication, were some of the ways by which the Maroons won their war with the British.

The elements that are important in the formation of a definition of Windward Maroon identity described above appear to be quite related one to the other. History, the importance of ancestors, the supernatural, the legend of Queen Nanny, and the Maroons' military achievements all stem from the same locus within the collective conscious of the Maroon people. It is not possible to talk about one without including the others. Thus, in concluding our discussion of Windward Maroon history, it is necessary to briefly look at the influence and importance that Queen Nanny has for everyday Maroon life. The dialectic of Maroon history has created in Queen Nanny a national heroine and a legend. Many researchers note that she appears as the single most influential force in Maroon identity; there is a pride about Nanny and her accomplishments, her power, and her uniqueness in the history of Jamaica that pervades all discussions of her. For the Maroons, Queen Nanny is more than a mere leader or Queen; in keeping the Ashanti traditions, she has become what is known as a first mother, an ancestral queen who is seen as the mother of all her people. 57   The Windward Maroons of Moore Town see themselves as having a common heritage in the person of Queen Nanny, their common ancestress. The people of Moore Town were reported in 1981 as describing themselves as the yoyo or progeny of Queen Nanny. 58   As Brathwaite notes, in keeping with Ashanti tradition, Nanny as Queen Mother ... is regarded as the mother of everybody in the state... 59   Although Queen Nanny is not technically a Queen Mother, she has filled that role among the Windward Maroons.

Queen Nanny is wrapped up in myths and legends, many of them surrounding fertility and the giving of food. Nanny as an historical leader is not limited to history books and textbooks; she is alive and is spoken of as if she were part of the living Maroon community. Queen Nanny is buried in New Nanny Town (Moore Town), and two glasses are put on her grave site so that she may drink if she gets thirsty. One observer, an anthropologist from Boston College, noted this phenomenon in 1931 and wrote,

They claim that Nanny, the historic and celebrated woman general of the former Maroons, who carried on a lot of weird practices and thus was able to escape from her enemies at all times, was buried on a certain hill in the village, near which the soil has never been tilled, nor homes erected. They further claim that vessels were placed by the graveside so that Nanny might convert them to her own use whenever she desires to refresh her spirit, which vessels may be seen to this day. Such superstition I suppose is a part of the legacy inherited from their ancestors. 60  
Since this 1931 observation, the practice of leaving Queen Nanny glasses from which to drink from is still adhered to and her grave site is treated as a sacred spot.

Queen Nanny's significance to the people of Moore Town can be seen in her persistence within the everyday language that is spoken. As previously mentioned, this great leader, unlike even the most renowned other military leaders of the Maroons, has numerous things named after her - there is the Nanny bird, Nanny Thatch (a particular kind of house), Nanny Pot, as well as the Nanny River and of course Nanny Town. 61   In addition to these tangible objects that bear her name, phrases referring to Queen Nanny are also commonly heard in Moore Town. For instance, in Moore Town, if one is acting unreasonable towards another, one might be told, Granny Nanny didn't catch bullets for you alone. 62   At another time, the present Colonel of Moore Town, C.L.G. Harris, was commenting on the determined and forthright nature of a particular Maroon, and said, We sometimes say she is the reincarnation of Nanny. 63   Nanny is used in everyday language through these expressions, but more importantly she is repeatedly singled out as being the most important means by which the Windward Maroons achieved their independent status. Certain phrases are often repeated to outsiders, including the fact that Maroons were never slaves and that Granny Nanny and our grandparents fought for freedom.64    Queen Nanny as she existed in history, through actual writings and not through oral histories or legends, will be analyzed in the following chapter, in order to understand this persona who has reached a legendary status within the Maroon communities.


1 It should again be noted that at this time the term Maroon was not used. The escaped Spanish slaves were called a variety of names including fugitive Negroes, Negroes in rebellion, or Karmahaly Negroes. (Campbell 1977, p. 395) It was not until the 1730's that literature began reflecting the use of the word Maroon. return

2 Kopytoff 1973, p. 29. return

3 Thurloe 1656, p. 605. return

4 Kopytoff 1973, p. 6. return

5 Campbell 1990, p. 15. return

6 Kopytoff 1973, p. 6. return

7 In a letter to the King in August 1657, Ysassi wrote that all the fugitive slaves areunder my obedience. (Campbell 1990, p. 18) This was a gross distortion of the truth; a year later he received news that his obedient troops had defected to the enemy. return

8 Robinson 1969, p. 56. return

9 Campbell 1990, p. 24. return

10 They were also known by the British as Vermaxales, Vermahallis, Carmahaly,Karmahaly, and Vermaholis Negroes. (Kopytoff 1978, p. 290 and Campbell 1990 p. 25) return

11 Campbell 1990, p. 25. return

12 Long 1774, p. 339. return

13 It is interesting to note the impact that being descendants of the Spanish Maroonshad on the Windward Maroons. They were fierce in their determination to hold on to their lands; they had been in possession of these lands already for 83 years by 1739 and were not ready to give them up at the conclusion of the Maroon Wars with Britain. The Leeward Maroons were descendants of a more recent slave rebellion, and were quicker to sign a peace treaty with the British. The Leewards were more recently escaped from slavery and they wanted as little as possible to do with the British. (Farika Birhan, Lecture at Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, New York 1992) return

14 Kopytoff 1978, p. 289. return

15 Kopytoff 1978, p. 290. return

16 In the majority of texts, this Leeward Maroon leader's name is written as Cudjoe. However, because Cudjoe is an Anglicization of the African name, for the purposes of this paper the name shall be written with its African spelling, Kojo. return

17 As shall be seen later, after the treaties, Maroons were obliged to turn in any runawayslaves who came to their communities, so that they could not increase except by natural processes. return

18 Address of the Governor etc. to the King, 1734, p. 41. return

19 Creole, to early Jamaicans, meant anyone born in Jamaica regardless of whether they had African blood or not. Creole slaves, slaves born in Jamaica, were considered by the planter class to be tamer and safer because they were ostensibly less African and more British. return

20 Kopytoff 1978, p. 295. return

21 Council Book of Jamaica, Draper to Hunter 1733, p. 294. return

22 Kopytoff 1983, p. 30. return

23 Cited in Kopytoff 1973, p. 79. return

24 Kopytoff 1978, p. 295. return

25 Campbell 1990, p. 44. return

26 Long 1774 vol. II, p. 470. return

27 Now, however, in modern day Maroon communities, some researchers have recorded that both mother and father's contributions to a child are deemed equally important to a child's make up. (Bilby and Chioma Steady 1981, p. 461) return

28 Morrissey 1989, p. 154. return

29 Morrissey 1989, p. 155. return

30 Shwarz-Bart 1973. return

31 Campbell 1977 p. 404. return

32 It should be noted that two of the earliest white historians to write about theMaroons, Edward Long in 1774 and Bryan Edwards in 1796, were highly contemptuous of the Maroons, first of all because they were Black people and secondly because they dared to rebel against the British. These writers, especially Edwards, continually portray the Maroons as lazy, cowardly, savage semi-humans who avoided real combat with the British and instead resorted to cowardly guerrilla warfare. Edwards refers to the Maroons skulking about the skirts of remote plantations, murdering whites 2-3 at a time, and says it is a dastardly method of conducting the war. (Edwards 1796, p. 233) With regards to their view of women within the Maroon communities, then, it is necessary to maintain some perspective. Long goes so far as to claim that a Hottentot (i.e. African) woman could marry an Orangutan and it would be no dishonor to that simian. (Long 1774, p. 124) return

33 Edwards 1796, pp. xxx-xxxi. return

34 Thompson 1931, p. 473. return

35 Bilby and Chioma Steady 1981, p. 452. return

36 Bilby and Chioma Steady 1981, pp. 455-456. return

37 Mathurin 1975, p. 3. return

38 Dalby 1971, p. 36. return

39 Scott 1968, p.47. return

40 Bilby 1979, p. 18. return

41 Campbell 1990, pp. 59-61. return

42 Major Charles Aarons, lecture at Berkeley High School, Berkeley, California, March1994. Major Charles Aarons is the Deputy Chief of Moore Town, under Colonel C.L.G. Harris. According to Aarons, his job politically is to do what I see fit for the well being of the people. Besides this political post, Aarons is a renowned herbal healer, a lecturer, and a representative for the Windward Maroons. He visited the United States in March and April of 1994, giving lectures on the Maroons and on curative herbs, in Miami, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, and San Francisco, California. I conducted a series of private interviews with Major Aarons during his lecture tour in San Francisco, a tour which was arranged jointly with Farika Birhan. return

43 Edwards 1796, p. 232. return

44 Campbell 1973, p. 46. return

45 Farika Birhan, private interview, San Francisco, California, March 1994. Farika Birhanis the official representative of the Maroon community of Western Jamaica. She is also a lecturer, poet, community activist, and journalist. She performs community outreach for the Maroons in the United States, and she is the public relations ambassador for Maroon summits. Lecturing widely on the Maroons throughout the United States, Sister Farika was in San Francisco during March and April of 1994. It was during this time that I conducted a series of interviews with her and Major Aarons. return

46 Long 1774, p. 124. return

47 Campbell 1973, p. 46. return

48 Address of the Governor etc. to the King, 1734, p. 41. return

49/span> This group, like other rebel slave groups, destroyed the party sent against them, thusdiscouraging other British attacks and encouraging slaves to flee and join them. return

50 Kopytoff 1973, pp. 28-9. return

51 Please see Appendix H for portrait of Philip Thicknesse. return

52 Kopytoff 1973, p. 59. return

53 Kopytoff 1973, p. 59. return

54 Scott 1968, p. 3. return

55 Long's description can be found word for word in Bryan Edwards' Observations on the Disposition, etc. (1796) Edwards notes, The preceding Section consists chiefly of an extract from the History of Jamaica, by Edward Long, Esq. published in 1774, whose account I have chosen to adopt, rather than offer a narrative of my own, for two reasons; first, because I have no other to add; and, secondly, because its adoption exempts me from all suspicion of having fabricated a tale... (Edwards 1796, p. 535) return

56 Long 1774, p. 340. return

57 Brathwaite 1976, p. 13. return

58 Bilby and Chioma Steady 1981, p. 458. return

59 Brathwaite 1976, p. 13. return

60 Thompson 1931, p. 478. return

61 Brathwaite 1976, p. 17. return

62 Martin 1973, p. 159. Legend has it that Nanny was able to catch the bullets theBritish fired at her and then send them back again. This legend will be discussed further in Chapters III and V. return

63 Martin 1973, p. 158. return

64 Martin 1973, p. 155. return