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The Jamaican Maroons are descended from Africans who fought and escaped from slavery and established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica during the long era of slavery on the island. African slaves imported during the Spanish period may have provided the first runaways, apparently mixing with the native Arawak people. Many slaves gained liberty when the English attacked Jamaica and took control in 1655. Subsequently runaways were referred to as "maroons."
When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled, leaving a large number of African slaves. These former Spanish slaves created three Palenques, or settlements. Former slaves organized under the leadership of Juan de Serras allied with the Spanish guerrillas on the western end of Cockpit Country, while those under Juan de Bolas established themselves in modern-day Clarendon Parish and served as a "black militia" for the English. The third chose to join those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live and intermarry with the Arawak people. Each group of Maroons established distinct independent communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica. They survived by subsistence farming and periodic raids plantations. Over time, the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior.
Their plantation raids resulted in the First Maroon War. The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward and the Windward tribes, the former led by Cudjoe in Trelawny Town and the latter led by his sister Queen Nanny (and later by Quao). Queen Nanny, also known as Granny Nanny (died 1700s) is the only female listed among Jamaica's National Heroes. She has been immortalised in songs and legends. She was known for her exceptional leadership skills, especially in guerrilla warfare, which was particularly important in the First Maroon War in the early 18th century. Her remains are reputedly buried at "Bump Grave" in Moore Town, the main town of the Windward Maroons. They are concentrated in and around the Rio Grande valley in the northeastern parish of Portland.
In 1739-40 the British governor Edward Trelawny signed a treaty with the Maroons, promising them 2500 acres (10 km²) in two locations. They were to remain in their five main towns Accompong, Trelawny Town, Charles Town, Scotts Hall and Nanny Town (now called Moore Town), living under their own chief with a British superintendent. In exchange, they agreed not to harbour new runaway slaves, but to help catch them. They were paid a bounty of two dollars for each returned slave.
This last clause in the treaty caused tension between the Maroons and the enslaved black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements. By the treaty of 1738, they also agreed to fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish, the other European powers in the region.
However, when a new Governor took power in 1795 and began to mistreat the Maroons, tensions between planters and Maroons grew. A Second Maroon War broke out. The Accompong Maroons remained neutral, and the British left them alone. The British fought with 100 Cuban dogs and brought in 5,000 troops. By the end of the war, the British Army had destroyed the other Maroon settlements in Jamaica; only Accompong remained. The Maroons surrendered on the condition that they would not be deported, but a year later, 568 Maroons were transported to Nova Scotia, Canada, where the Crown had provided land to Black Loyalists from the Thirteen Colonies for resettlement after the Revolutionary War.
Following their rebellion against the colonial government, in 1796 about 568 Jamaican Maroons from Trelawny Town were deported to Nova Scotia . The Jamaican government tired of the cost of maintaining order, had decided to rid themselves of "the problem". Immediate actions were put in place for the removal of one group of Maroons (Trelawney) to Lower Canada (Quebec); Upper Canada (Ontario) had also been suggested as a suitable place. The British decided to send this group to Halifax, Nova Scotia, until any further instructions were received from England. Two gentlemen, Messrs Quarrell and Octerloney, were sent from Jamaica with the Maroons as Commissioners.
On 26 June 1796, the Dover, Mary, and Anne sailed from Port Royal Harbour, Jamaica to Halifax. One arrived in Halifax on 21 July, the other two followed two days later, carrying a total of 543 men, women and children. The Duke of Kent and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in North America, impressed with the proud bearing and other characteristics of the Maroons, employed the group to work on the new fortifications at the Citadel Hill in Halifax. The Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Wentworth believed that the Maroons would be good settlers. He received orders from the Duke of Portland to settle them in Nova Scotia.
Following this the two commissioners responsible with credit of 25,000 Jamaican pounds from the government of Jamaica, expended £3,000 on 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land and built the community of Preston. Governor Wentworth was granted an allowance of £240 annually from England to provide religious instruction and schooling for the community. After the first winter, the Maroons, raised in an independent culture and not impressed with the apparently servile virtues of cultivating the soil, became less tolerant of the conditions in which they were living.
The British government decided to send the Maroons to its new colony of Freetown in present-day Sierra Leone (West Africa), which had been established for the black poor of London, as well as Black Loyalists from Canada who chose to join them. The Maroon survivors from Nova Scotia were transported to Freetown in 1800. Not surprisingly, exile to Africa was not an easy transition for the Trelawney Maroons. "By 1841, 90 per cent [sic] of the remaining Maroons in Freetown -- some 591 people --returned to Jamaica" to work for "Jamaican planters" who "desperately needed workers".
The Jamaican Maroons are still well remembered in Sierra Leone. Those who remained gradually merged with the larger Creole community, the descendants of various groups of freed slaves landed in Freetown between 1792 and about 1855. But some modern Creoles (or "Krios") still proudly claim descent from the Maroons. The Creole congregation of Freetown's St. John's Maroon Church, which was built by the Maroons in 1820 on what is now the city's main street, are especially vocal in proclaiming their descent from the Jamaican exiles.
To this day, the Maroons in Jamaica are to a small extent autonomous and separate from Jamaican culture. The isolation used to their advantage by their ancestors has today led to their communities being amongst the most inaccessible on the island.
Eleven Maroon settlements remain on lands apportioned to them in the original treaty with the British. These Maroons still maintain their traditional celebrations and practices, some of which have West African origin. Native Jamaicans and island tourists are allowed to be present at many of these events, while others are held in secret and shrouded in mystery. Singing, dancing, drum-playing and preparation of traditional foods form a central part of most gatherings. In their largest town, Accompong, in the parish of St. Elizabeth, the Leeward Maroons still possess a vibrant community of about 600. Tours of the village are offered to foreigners and a large festival is put on every 6 January to commemorate the signing of the peace treaty with the British after the Maroon War.
The Maroon heritage of Moore Town was relisted on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
At least some of the Jamaican Maroons were originally of the Akan people of present-day Ghana. They named their children according to Akan names in various forms, based on the day of the week on which a child was born: