Jamaica Great Houses

The Maroons

of Jamaica

The Maroons

Vestiges of Spanish Rule

The island of Jamaica remained under Spanish rule for nearly two centuries, from the first time Christopher Columbus set foot on its shores in 1494 until 1655 when the British arrived. During their rule, the Spanish enslaved the native Taino Indians, also known as the Arawaks, who quickly succumbed to the conditions of slavery and from diseases introduced by the Spanish conquerers. The majority died leaving the Spanish with limited options for supplementing their dwindling workforce, so they turned to the importation of African slaves, a practice that was replicated throughout the Spanish territories in the Caribbean and the Americas.

By 1530, slave revolts had broken out in Mexico, Hispaniola and Panama with many fleeing to create independent colonies. The Spanish called these free slaves "Maroons," a word derived from "Cimarron," which means "fierce" or "unruly". Ironically the name is also an apt description of a people marooned on lands far from home with no way to return home.

The British conquest of Jamaica in 1655, forced the Spanish to flee to the northern coast of Jamaica, and from there most Spanish colonists fled from the island, but some remained to form a resistance force to fight the British under the leadership of Don Christobal de Yassi. Many Spanish slaves took the opportunity to join the Maroons who had previously ran away from the Spanish masters and set up home bases in the interior mountains. Of the slaves that chose not to leave with the Spanish, some escaped to join the Maroons of their own volition, while others were encouraged to do so by the Spanish rearguard in order to help them hinder the progress of the British. Promises for future manumission made the suggestion palatable; the possibility of freedom making the endeavor worthy of the risk.

For the Maroons the idea of trading one master for another along with promises of manumission were sufficient incentive to impede the British efforts to drive the Spaniards from Jamaica. This led to the Spanish occupiers wrongly concluding that the Maroons were loyal to the Spanish crown. This notion eventually proved wrong when the first British governor of the island, Edward D'Oyley previously a lieutenant-colonel in General Robert Venables's regiment, built an alliance with a Maroon leader who was instrumental in routing the remaining Spaniards from the island. By 1660, the last of the Spanish had fled for Cuba.

Maroon Settlements and Alliances

There were initially four main polinks, or mountain farms, established by the maroons during the first ten years of English occupation. The main one was located in Lluidas Vale -- currently also known as Worthy Park -- under the leadership of a maroon leader named Juan Lubolo, later known to the English as Juan de Bolas. There were two to the west; Vermahalies under the command of a Maroon leader called Juan De Serras and another in Porus. A fourth existed to the east in the Blue Mountains where those maroons existed in relative seclusion and isolation and is believed to have coexisted and possibly cohabitated with the few remaining Taino Indians who had fled Spanish rule to the relative safety of the Blue Mountains.

With dreams of freedom evoked by Spanish promises of manumission, the early alliance between the Maroons and the Spanish were initially effective in thwarting the British, but as the promised arrival of large scale spanish reinforcements failed to materialize, so did the hope of ever gaining freedom, and so, Juan de Bolas decided an actual settlement with the British, who far outnumbered the remaining Spanish, was a much better bet compared to the options proffered by the Spanish.

Memorial in Lluidas Vale. Photo courtesy of Diana Thorborn
Juan de Bolas lived and hunted on the mountain range you are facing. He was the 17th century warrior and political thinker, and also, at first, a resistance leader against the English invaders of 1655. But, in a stunning reversal, he helped change the course of our history from a Spanish-speaking people to English Jamaica. Juan de Bolas (his African name was Lubolo) saw that the former Spanish masters, who were losing to the English, had secured for themselves the ability to flee to Cuba. This would leave the blacks in the lurch. So he sensibly put the survival of his people first. He made a treaty with the English. He was made a Colonel by the English and he helped to secure their victory. He was assassinated by others of the mountain guerillas who favoured the Spanish cause.

The tide turned against the Spanish during the period of 1659-1660 when de Bolas and his men led a force of British soldiers to the Spanish encampment in Ocho Rios, where they killed half the Spanish forces. This was the beginning of the end for the Spanish who eventually fled the island for Cuba in April 1660. Three years later in 1663, the English Governor signed the first maroon treaty, granting de Bolas and his people land on the same terms as British settlers, to be enjoyed with the same liberties and privileges of the English, with some conditions, one of which was that their children must be raised in the English tongue. Juan de Bolas was named Colonel of the Black Militia, and he and others under his leadership appointed Magistrates over the negroes. This treaty, though the first of its kind, was later superseded by the Treaty of 1739, signed after the first Maroon wars ended. The Treaty of 1739 is known in the history books as the first Treaty between the British and the Maroons, overshadowing the pivotal accomplishments of Juan de Bolas and his maroon warriors without whom Jamaica's history may well have been much different.

Not all Maroons however, agreed with the alliance forged between de Bolas and the British. Juan de Bolas was eventually killed in an ambush, probably by Vermahalies under Juan de Serras's leadership. In 1670 after the murder of five hunters and six settlers in Clarendon, bounties were placed on the heads of the leadership of the Vermahalies and the government decreed that settlers traveling more than two miles should be armed, and anyone caught trading with the Vermahalies would be punished as an accomplice.

The next 60 years saw escalating tension with the British who could not dislodge the Maroons from their mountain fortresses. It was around 1720 that things really began to heat up. Cudjoe was rising in power among the Maroons in the west, while Quao and Nanny took a separatist approach holding together parts of the Windward Maroons, but never joining forces under a single leader like their counterparts in the west.

By 1720, the Maroons went on the offensive raiding British plantations along the base of mountains, eventually erupting into a state of open warfare between the British and the Maroons from 1729 to 1739.

The Maroon Wars

of Jamaica

The Maroon Wars

Despite a declining population, the Maroons, occasionally augmented by a number of British owned slaves joining their ranks, dispersed across the island posing a serious challenge to the British for approximately 80 years.

Nothing paints a better picture than the words of someone who lived it; Philip Thicknesse, a British Lieutenant, who was given command of a party of soldiers that fell into an ambush by Maroons. For the remainder of this page, excerpts from the book Memoires and Anecdotes of Philip Thicknesse, will be used to describe in his own words, what was happening at the time.


"... In Governor Trelawney's time, there were two formidable bodies of wild Negroes in the woods, who had no connection with each other, the west gang, under the command of Captain Cudjoe; the east under Captain Quoha. (p.92)

The Maroons in the west are considered the Leeward group occupying locations such as Trelawny Town in St. James and Accompong in St. Elizabeth. Those with settlements in the east are considered the Windward group, occupying such places as Moore Town and Charles Town in Portland, Nanny Town in St. Thomas and Scotts Hall in St. Mary.

After the defeat of the Spanish by the British, the Maroons who had continued to help the Spanish, after de Bolas opted to side with the British, continued their attacks against the British. Employing guerilla-like strategies, they relied on surprise and speed as they launched attacks with speedy retreats, quickly melting into the hilly and mountainous surroundings of the interior. Their intimate knowledge of the terrain made pursuit by the British very difficult. These tactics would have been perfected over generations by the time of the full scale war in the 1730s.


"The mountains of the Island are exceedingly steep and high, much broken, split and divided by earthquakes, and many parts are inaccessible, but by men, who always go barefooted, and who can hold by withes, with their toes, almost as firmly, as we can with our fingers". (p.91)


"... it may be necessary to give some account of the state of that island, between the years 1730, and that of 1739, when under the government of Mr Trelawney; who made permanent peace with those black people. Such who are acquainted with that island will be surprised when they are told, that all the regular troops in Europe, could not have conquered the wild Negroes, by force of arms; and if Mr. Trelawney had not wisely given them, what they contended for, LIBERTY, they would in all probability have been, at this day masters of the whole country". (p.91)

The Maroons were clearly a formidable force sufficiently adept at warfare, to prompt a British officer in concluding that the island would have been lost had Governor Trelawney not brokered a deal with them. A state of open warfare continued for two decades until the Maroons were offered a peace treaty by the English that was signed by Cudjoe, the leader of the Leeward Maroons on March 1st, 1739. This agreement however, did not apply to the Windward Maroons who were not involved and were unaware of the signed agreement.


"... A straggling prisoner of Quoha's gang, being taken, he was sent to inform his brethren, with the conditions Mr. Trelawney held out to them, and which was accepted by Cudjoe long before Capt. Quoha, had heard any thing of it. (p.92)

The Windward Maroons continued their offensive until they too, were also offered a treaty by the English. This treaty, which was signed by Quao, a leader of the Windward Maroons on 23rd December 1739, created a divide between the two factions of the Windward Maroons; those led by Quao and another led by Nanny, perhaps the most celebrated leader of the Moore Town Maroons. Nanny eventually agreed to peace when she signed an agreement the following year in 1740, ending the hostilities in return for freedom, autonomy and a land grant of of 500 acres. Today, the village built on the land grant is called Moore Town (also known as New Nanny Town), located in the mountains above Port Antonio.


National Hero


Nanny was declared a National Hero in 1976, she is the only Maroon, and the only female, to have achieved such recognition. Her monument is located in Moore Town, Portland, Jamaica.


Nanny is reputed to have been a fierce fighter and strong leader during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. A small, slim woman with piercing eyes, her influence over the Maroons stemmed from internal strength and a connection to the supernatural. Legends portray her as possessing the supernatural powers of obeah. She was a chieftainess whose battle plans confounded the British, uniting her followers through their shared history by passing down legends and encouraging them to embrace the customs, music and songs that had come with the people from Africa.

Driven by a strong sense of right and a spirit of freedom, she disagreed with Quao's decision to sign the Treaty on behalf of the Windward Maroons. She saw the principles of the negotiated peace with the British as another form of subjugation. Nanny's history is shrouded in mystery, her existence and conquests have been questioned by some because of limited documentary evidence but the lack of documentation is not surprising, considering the Maroon culture and history was predominantly passed down verbally, and oral tradition is more difficult to fact check compared to one that is documented. There are some sources that suggest that the below account from Thicknesse's memoires speak to her existence. The reference to the "Old Hagg" in the following passage is believed by some to be a reference to Nanny.


Trelawney, with offers of submission upon the same terms, the laird had allured him, Cudjoe had accepted ; but said Quoha, when I consulted our Obea woman, she opposed the measure, and said, him bring becara for take the town, so cut him head off. But God knows what the poor laird suffered, previous to that kind operation. The old Hagg, who passed sentence of death upon this unfortunate man, had a girdle round her waste, 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...

The Leeward and Windward Maroon Treaties

The Treaties that were signed 1739 by the Leeward and Windward Maroons ended the first Maroon-British war but slavery lasted for another century beyond that. As part of the agreement, the Maroons were obligated to return runaway slaves to the British and fight on the side of the British during any insurrection. A mission which they executed willingly, and often times with cold brutality, over the next 100 years. Refusing to cooperate meant risking everything they had achieved over 80 years of war.

Additional reading:

The 15 Articles of the Leeward Treaty

  1. That all hostilities shall cease on both sides forever.
  2. That the said Captain Cudjoe, the rest of his captains, adherents and men, shall be forever hereafter in a perfect State of Freedom and Liberty, excepting those 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 cudjoe, and in friendship with us, according to the form and tenor of this Treaty.
  3. That they shall enjoy and possess for themselves and posterity forever, all the lands situated and lying between Trelawney Town and the Cockpits, to the amount of fifteen hundred acres, bearing Northwest from the said Trelawney Town.
  4. 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 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.
  5. 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 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 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.
  10. That all negroes taken since the raising of this Party by Captain Cudjoe's people, shall immediately be returned.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

The 14 Articles of the Windward Treaty

  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.

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