How did slaves become Maroons in Jamaica?

Although slavery was extremely difficult to escape, there were successful attempts to resist slavery. One group that successfully managed this were the Maroons of Jamaica. But how did they free themselves from slavery? And should we consider the Maroons as heroes?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

– I can describe how Jamaican slaves became Maroons.
– I can analyse three sources to explain why the Maroons successfully resisted the British.
– I can justify whether or not we should consider the Maroons as heroes.

Maroon = A group of former slaves in Jamaica that had escaped enslavement, where they established their own towns and ways of life. It comes from the Spanish word cimaroon, which means “wild”.
Ceasefire = An agreement to stop fighting on both sides and make peace.

Think back to what you had learnt in our last lesson on slavery in the Americas. List three reasons as to why it would have been hard for slaves to escape slavery.

TASK ONE: How did Jamaican slaves become Maroons?

Read the information below on how Jamaican slaves became Maroons. Once you have finished, answer the following questions:

1) Where did the Maroons set up their new communities?
2) Why is ‘Nanny’ printed on a Jamaican $500 bank note today?
3) How did the British respond to the threat of the Maroons?
4) What was the Leeward Treaty?

How did Jamaican slaves become Maroons?

Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean, and was originally a Spanish colony that held Spanish slaves on plantations. When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, many slaves found their opportunity to escape the plantation during the chaos of war and flee into the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. For the first time, many of these slaves enjoyed freedom from slavery.

It was in these mountains where these now-former slaves (now called Maroons by the Spanish and British) set up their new towns and villages, away from the rule of the slave owner. These mountains were far away from the coast, and were therefore very difficult for the British forces to reach.

SOURCE A: An illustration of Maroon Town in the hills of the Blue Mountains.

Over the next hundred years, the Maroons posed a serious challenge to the British Empire in Jamaica. To Britain’s annoyance, the Maroons willfully assisted other slaves in escaping the plantations and helped them join their communities in the mountains. They were led by a woman known as ‘Nanny’ in the early 1700s. Historians know little about her, but her presence in helping thousands of slaves find freedom means that she has become a legend in Jamaican history today. Her story is so important that she can now be found on the back of a $500 Jamaica banknote.

SOURCE B: A modern day Jamaican banknote depicting Nanny of the Maroons.

The British were so concerned with the disruption the Maroons were causing that large British armies were sent to Jamaica to defeat them between 1670 to the 1730s. The idea was to recapture the Maroons and force them back into slavery. Yet they struggled to defeat the Maroons, and by 1739, the British had to accept defeat.

In 1739, the Leeward Treaty was signed by the British and the Maroons, agreeing to a ceasefire. The British recognised the Maroons as their own people, effectively giving them their freedom. The Maroons became the first enslaved people in the New World to fight for their freedom successfully.

SOURCE C: An engraving from 1801 showing the British Empire and the Maroons agreeing to a peace treaty.

TASK TWO: Why were the British unable to defeat the Maroons?

Using sources D, E and F below, complete the table on your worksheet to analyse why the Maroons were able to defeat the British and gain their freedom.

For each source, make sure to:
a) Say what you can see in the source, and;
b) Explain what you can infer from the source about why the Maroons were successful.

SOURCE D: From a website on Jamaican history, explaining the tactics the Maroons used to defeat the British.

The Maroons… were more successful in [slowing down] their opponent. They would raid the settlements of the English at rapid speed, after which they would quickly depart to inaccessible places, hilly and mountainous paths. They were more familiar with and knowledgeable about these conditions than the English were and this made chase very difficult and significantly contributed to their success in battle.

From the National Library of Jamaica archives.

SOURCE E: From a book on Jamaican history. Here, the author explains how the Maroons organised themselves.

The Maroons quickly established a very organised system of hierarchy (order) to successfully lead their people. Leaders in the Maroon communities would hold the title of Colonel. These colonels would be supported by various captains in their communities that would assist the colonels in leading their people to war. These communities were not chaotic, but were instead carefully planned and well led.

From Arnold Humphrey’s book, Resistance in the New World.

SOURCE F: Details of the Leeward Treaty, signed by the British and the Maroons in 1739. This gave the Maroons their first official freedom, but they had to give something to the Brits in return.

I. That all hostilities shall cease on both sides forever.
II. That the said Captain Cudjoe (the leader of the Maroons), the rest of his Captains, Adherents and Men, shall be forever hereafter in a perfect state of Freedom and Liberty...
IX. 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 British and returned to slavery].

TASK THREE: Should we consider the Maroons heroes?

Look again at Source F above. It shows that, in order to have their freedom, the Maroons needed to work with the Brits in the future and return any future runaway slaves to their owners.

Considering this, and everything else you have learnt today, answer the following question:

Should we consider the Maroons as heroes?

Use the sentence starter and the information below to help you answer your question. Remember to justify your answer! Use the word ‘because’!


We could consider the Maroons heroes because…

However, we could question whether or not the Maroons were heroes because…

In conclusion, I believe that…

Why the Maroons could be heroes:
– They were the first slaves to successfully run away from slave owners and fight for their freedom.
– They fought hard against the British.
– They successfully gained their independence.

Why the Maroons might not be heroes:
– They turned against other slaves in order to gain their own freedom.

If you want to know more about Maroon communities in Jamaica, you can watch the following video on how the Maroon people live today. It gives you a great idea as to how the Maroons survived in the mountains, and why it was so difficult for the British forces to defeat them in the 18th century.

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