The name Maroon comes from the Spanish word “cimarrones,” which means “mountaineers.” Jamaican Maroons are enslaved Africans imported during the Spanish period, and their descendants, who escape from their Spanish-owned sugar plantations when the British took the island from Spain in 1655. The Maroons fled to the mountainous areas of Jamaica, where the terrain made it difficult for them to be recaptured.
As the enslaved African population in Jamaica began to grow, more rebellion occurred against the slave masters and more slaves escaped to the mountains. This resulted in an increase in the Maroon population. In the mountains they created villages and a new way of life. They were divided into two groups, the Windward and Leeward Maroons. The Windward Maroons were situated in the eastern section of the island, and the Leeward in the west. Both locations were far from the sugar plantations the English had established around the island’s coastal regions. Despite the great distance between the Maroons and the planters, the two groups had repeated confrontations.
The Maroons viewed the planters as a danger to their peaceful way of life. The planters saw the Maroons as an unruly, rebellious group that threatened their economic survival. By the end of the eighteenth century, such misunderstandings were not wanting, and the result was the Second Maroon War of Jamaica. The Jamaican government decided to defeat the Maroons once and for all. They were seen as a constant threat by the government.
The First Maroon War began in 1728. The campaign against them made the Maroons more determined than ever. Under their leader called Cudjoe, the Maroons fought back. In 1739, the British and the Maroons made peace. The freedom of the Maroons was recognized and their land was given to them. The Maroons were to govern themselves. In return they would support the British government in Jamaica against foreign invasion, and help capture rebel slaves and runaways and return them to the plantations.
There were many years of peace between the Maroons and the British in Jamaica. But in 1795 the new Governor of Jamaica, Balcarres, decided to deal with some minor breaches of the peace treaty by a community of Maroons called the Trelawney Town Maroons. The plantation owners asked the governor not to take action. They felt that an agreement should be reached with the Maroons to maintain the peace of the town. The governor went against this advice, arresting several of the leaders of Trelawney Town. This started the Second Maroon War. 300 Maroons in Trelawney Town held out against 1500 troops and 3000 local volunteer troops. After five months of fighting, the undefeated Maroons were offered an agreement for peace.
When the Maroons surrendered their arms, the Governor reneged on the peace agreement offered. The Maroons were arrested and transported off the island to Nova Scotia, on the east coast of North America, and later went to Sierra Leone, West Africa. Leonard Parkinson, one of the Maroon leaders during the Second Maroon War, had a price on his head of £50, (about £2,500 today). Dead or alive.
Jamaica has several Maroon settlements in existence today. Accompong is the largest, with about 600 residents. Other major Maroon communities can be found in Moore Town, Scotts Hall, Trelawny Town and Charles Town. These villages are mostly located in the mountainous jungle region that is called '‘Cockpit Country’'.
Each year, the separate Maroon communities award a special day to the celebration of their history. The most important dates are:
January 6 – The Accompong Maroons celebrate Kojo Day, when the peace treaty was signed with the British.
June 23 – The Charles Town Maroons celebrate this day as their special day with activities taking place at their Asafu Yard in Portland.
August 1 – the Scott’s Hall Maroons celebrate the signing of their peace treaty with the British.
October 18 – The Moore Town Maroons celebrate Jamaica’s National Heroes Day as Nanny Day, to honor the Maroon leader.