A Brief History of the Trelawny Town Maroons



by David Ingleman


The First-Time Maroons


The people who would become the known as the Trelawny Town Maroons first attracted the attention of the British plantocracy in 1690, when a group of about 400 enslaved Africans escaped from bondage. In the ensuing decades, the Maroons used guerilla tactics to inflict a string of military defeats on the British. Maroon activities, and persistence, stymied efforts to “settle” the Jamaican interior. In 1739, the British were finally forced to sue for peace. The resulting treaty established Treawlny Town as the seat of power for the 1,500 acre domain.

Kojo making peace in 1739.


An Uneasy Peace


The Trelawny Town Maroons remained at peace with the British for more than half a century. However, by 1795 many grievances had piled up, culminating in treaty and sovereignty infringements that convinced the Trelawnys to wage war on all things colonial.




Trelawny Town, circa 1795.


The Second Maroon War


The armies and casualties were lopsided. About 250 Maroon warriors inflicted stunning defeats on the British military, whose forces numbered in the thousands. While the British casualties were in the hundreds, the Maroons lost none to combat. At the same time Maroon raiding parties operated at will, burning and looting numerous plantations. Utterly frustrated after several months of ceaseless plantation raids and military convoy ambushes, the British again offered terms of peace to the Maroons.


Leonard Parkinson, hero of the Second Maroon War.


Maroon Ambush

The Trelawnys accepted the conditions of the treaty, on one condition. Suspicious of the Crown’s intentions, the Trelawnys negotiated a guarantee that they would not be deported from Jamaica. In the Maroon oral history, they were then enticed to leave their mountain stronghold at the offer of a friendship feast, sponsored by the Governor of Jamaica. However,  when they arrived for the feast, they were put on ships and deported en masse to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Few Trelawny Town Maroons escaped this fate.


Exodus


The conditions in Halifax were never agreeable to the Maroons and in 1800 most of the Maroons set sail for Freetown, Sierra Leone. Upon arrival, they became influential members of the country and contributed to the development of Sierra Leone’s culture. Many bought land and in 1822, they constructed the Maroon Church in Freetown. Despite their success in Sierra Leone, they continually petitioned the British government to be allowed to repatriate to Jamaica.


Post card showing "Maroon town in Freetown" (Courtesy Gary Schulze) 


Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, the British, started their own construction activities.  Fearful of future Maroon or slave insurrections operating out of Kojo’s old mountain stronghold, the British wiped away the evidence of the Maroon occupation of Trelawny Town, and replaced it with extensive military fortifications as symbol of imperial might. Construction included the swimming pool and a well that are still in use today, and the parade ground that is now a football field.


Mr. Cameron, standing by the old well


Return of the Maroons


The abolition of slavery in the 1830s eliminated the threat of future slave revolts and changed the way the British dealt with Maroons. Understanding this, in 1837 two-hundred Maroons in Sierra Leone unsuccessfully petitioned the British government for help in returning to Jamaica. Not willing to remain in exile any longer Mrs. Mary Brown, her family and friends bought their own ship and sailed back to Jamaica. 


By 1841, labour was in short supply in Jamaica. Realizing this opportunity, another 64 Maroons were able to travel to Jamaica as indentured servants. Given their ages, it is clear that many of these Maroons had never before seen Jamaica, or could not possibly remember any details first hand. However, a minority of the returnees, including Mary Brown, was alive in 1796 and likely had vivid memories of war and deportation.


These intrepid Maroons must have been disappointed when they found their homeland still in active use by the British military. Some integrated into other Maroon communities and others returned to Sierra Leone. However, a little more than a decade later, the Maroon Town Barracks was abandoned.


When the soldiers left, Maroons and other Jamaican peasants moved into the old cantonment, which would soon become known as Flagstaff. Many of the present day residents of Flagstaff claim Maroon ancestry, and say that they are descendent the immigrants from Sierra Leone. In fact, when one compares the surnames from the immigration list of 1841 with present surnames in the community, there are striking correspondences.


Flagstaff Today


Physical evidence of Kojo's original Maroon community has long since been covered over and even the grand structures of the British military barracks are now little more than ruins. However, the people of Flagstaff retain a rich oral history that at times both confirms and challenges the so-called "official" written history of the Maroons.


The population of Flagstaff today, including the satellite communities of  Schaw Castle, George's Valley and Browns Town, about 1,000. Many people still grow traditional Maroon crops, such as arrowroot, banana, plantain, yam, coco, dasheen, and manage forest plants for use in herbal medicines. Their farms and homes are located along the old Maroon trails and military roads and commingle with historic sites still clearly visible on the surface.


The Trelawny Town Maroons maintain friendly correspondence with other Maroon groups across Jamaica and derive great pride in their inspiring history. Now, with the Trans-Atlantic Maroon Connection Project, they have begun to reach out to Maroon descendants around the globe.


Flagstaff from Gun Hill



Recently, the community of Flagstaff, working through the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee, opened an eco-heritage tourism project. Visitors to Flagstaff are invited to walk in Kojo's footsteps and soak up the rich heritage. The tour focuses on their unique heritage resources and highlights the area's biodiversity, which include several endemic species, found no where else in the world.  


Further Reading


Agorsah, E. Kofi, ed.
Maroon Heritage: Archaeological Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives. Kingston: Canoe Press, 1994.


Bilby, Kenneth.
True-Born Maroons. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2006.


Carey, Bev.
The Maroon Story: The Authentic and Original History of the maroons in the History of 
Jamaica. 1490 – 1880. St. Andrew: Agouti Press, 1997. Reprint, 2001.


Dallas, Robert Charles.
The History of the Maroons from Their Origin to the Establishment of Their Chief Tribe at Sierra Leone, Including the Expedition to Cuba for the Purpose of Procuring Spanish Chasseurs and the State of the Island of Jamaica for the Last Ten Years with a Succinct History of the Island Previous to That Period. Vol. 1 and 2. London: Cass, 1803, Reprint, 1968.


Edwards, Bryan. 
The Proceedings of the Governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in Regard to the Maroon Negroes: Published by Order of the Assembly. Connecticut: Negro Universities Press, 1796, Reprint, 1970.


An Historical Survey of the Island of Saint Domingo Together with an Account of the 
Maroon Negroes in the Island of Jamaica; and a History of the War in the West Indies in 1793 and 1794. London: John Stockdale, 1801.


Long, Edward.
The History of Jamaica, or General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That 
Island: With Reflections on Its Situations, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, 
Commerce, Laws and Government. Vol. 2. 3 vols. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1774. Reprint, 1970.


The History of Jamaica, or General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That 
Island: With Reflections on Its Situations, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, 
Commerce, Laws and Government. Vol. 1. 3 vols. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1774. Reprint,1972.


Robinson, Carey.
The Iron Thorn: The Defeat of the British by the Jamaican Maroons. Kingston: LMH
Publishing, 1993.

Schuler, Monica
'Alas, Alas, Kongo: A Social History of Indentured African Immigration into Jamaica, 1841-1865. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1980.

13 comments:

  1. Wow, rich history. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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    1. yes very interesting so i enjoy this story(history) ;)

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    2. `very interesting so far i enjoy

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  2. Great work!. I am looking for a Marjorie Gabay who lived in maroon town 1900 she married david mcghie they had a son Caleb mcghie. does anyone have any information.

    kvrose27@yahoo.com
    Thanks

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  3. It is truly amazing history - I was in the actual place on 02/01/2016 -

    I did not at that time know the fantastic history of the place - Today 04/01/2016 I am reading about a place that I walked and talked / sat in - without know any of its history -

    Well, on 27/12/2015, I was 75 years old and I an eternally grateful to fate that having returned to Jamaica in 2012, my quest for knowledge of my country - should be rewarded in this wonderful manner.

    The mother of my dear friend Majorie Headley (Ms), lives on one side of the football / cricket / military parade ground -

    This place really needs an information board that gives a condensed history of the place -
    All My Very Best for 2016

    BLS / aka / Boysie Dent

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  4. I was there fro Treaty Day and loved the place. The function was well organized ad well supported despite the rain. keep up the wonderful work of collecting and sharing our rich history.

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  5. FANTASTIC I LIVE IN JAMAICA THIS IS NOW ON MY NEXT PLACE TO VIST .

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  6. Replies
    1. that is it
      The Trelawny Town Maroons remained at peace with the British for more than half a century. However, by 1795 many grievances had piled up, culminating in treaty and sovereignty infringements that convinced the Trelawnys to wage war on all things colonial.

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  7. It's truly a pleasure reading this material about a heritage I am researching. I would like to know where I should search to find more information about the Trelawny Maroon identified only as Johnson. He was mentioned as one that lead attack upon the plantations during the Second Maroon War 1795/96. I'd like to know what happen to this warrior. I am researching my ancestor that appeared as a free mulatto in the Duplin Co., NC USA 1800 census. My belief is he was a descendant of the Trelawny maroons. I found his birth in a slave registry of 1782 which also indicated he was a runaway. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. The official Slave Registry from 1807 to 1838 are now on line. Check the UK National Archives at Kew, London. That's where I found my African ancestors records. demercadot@gmail.com

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  8. Very interesting.Just finished reading "Rough Passages" about this period in Jamaica/Sierra Leone history.

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