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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Accompong Maroons / Leeward Maroons (Jamaica)

The Caribbean island of Jamaica is one of the four major islands which make up the Greater Antilles chain in the Americas, the westernmost group of West Indies islands in the Caribbean Sea. Three waves of human migration affected the island prior to the arrival of the Spanish and the creation of the first Spanish Colonies at the end of the fifteenth century AD.

These were the Guana Hatabey hunter-gatherer people who reached the island between 5000-4000 BC, the Saladoid, an Arawak people, who arrived from early South America around AD 300, and then the Taino who got there around AD 600. The first group seem to have been entirely replaced by the second, while the second was accepted but enslaved by the third. Even the hard-fighting Taino, however, were no match for the military power of Europeans who arrived at the end of the fifteenth century AD, in the form of the Spanish empire.

An epidemic, either of swine influenza or smallpox, had already struck the islands of the Antilles chain in 1492 - of which Jamaica was a part - and would result in the general disappearance of the native population on most Caribbean islands within fifty years. In 1510 the Spanish established a governorship of 'Spanish' Jamaica, but this would face increasingly hostile actions by other Europeans as swashbuckling piracy took hold in the Caribbean Sea. In 1655, England launched an amphibious operation in the Caribbean which resulted in the capture of Jamaica and Hispaniola.

However, the sudden removal of Spanish controls over the island as a whole rather than the main towns which were the initial point of interest for the English meant that deliberately-freed Taino survivors and African slaves were able to flee to a remote mountainous region in the centre of western Jamaica which became known as the 'Cockpit Country'. There they established themselves in a fortified village which in time became known as Accompong.

This name came from one of their mid-eighteenth century leaders but it stuck, and this mixture of Taino survivors and Africans become known as Maroons or Accompong Maroons. They remained unconquered by the new English rulers of the island who referred to them as Leeward Maroons (differentiating them from the Windward Maroons), or more simply as Maroons, and they fought fiercely to retain their freedom. Peace was agreed between the two sides in 1739, which granted the Maroons limited self-government. A couple months later Great Britain entered into a similar treaty with the Windward Maroons, although today's Jamaica has not yet addressed the subject of Maroon independence.

Today the Accompong Maroons still inhabit the Cockpit Country of western Jamaica and still claim their independence. The Maroons are governed by a colonel, formerly a lifetime position but now an elected position with a term of office which lasts for five years. There are no Jamaican police: the Maroons police themselves. There are no ground-based telephones, running water has only recently been introduced, and electricity is now available, although not in all homes. Roads are in poor condition. There are only about five hundred maroons in the Cockpit Country, but there some five thousand scattered about the rest of Jamaica and another ten thousand dispersed into other countries, mainly Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from Spain in the Americas (National Geographic supplement, National Geographic Society, February 1992), from 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C Mann (Vintage, 2005), and from External Links: Embassy of Jamaica, and Jamaica (Flags of the World), and Jamaica (Rulers.org), and Jamaica Information Service, and The Taino of Jamaica (Jamaicans.com), and Famous Americans (Virtualology.com), and History of the Accompong Maroons (Jamaicans.com), and Jamaica (World Statesmen).)

1655

England declares war on Spain (in 1654) over the growing commercial rivalry between the two nations. Each side attacks the other's commercial and colonial interests in various ways, such as through privateering and naval expeditions. In 1655 England launches an amphibious operation in the Caribbean which results in the capture of Jamaica and Hispaniola from the Spanish Colonies.

1655 - 1657

The English rename the island from Santiago to Jamaica. It becomes a permanent English colony, one which at first is used as a hub for rum production and slave trading. Taino and African slaves who have been freed by the Spanish flee to a remote mountainous region in the centre of western Jamaica and there establish themselves in a fortified village which is later known as Accompong.

Accompong Maroons, independent post-Spanish natives and ex-slaves on Jamaica
Shown here is Trelawney Town the later chief settlement of the Accompong Maroons on Jamaica, a group which was created out of Spanish interference and then the sudden removal of Spanish authority over the island

This name comes from one of their eighteenth century leaders but it sticks. Its mixture of Taino survivors and Africans become known as the Accompong Maroons. They remain unconquered by the new English rulers of the island and fight fiercely to keep it that way.

Jamaica quickly becomes one of the most valuable English New World Colonies, with its foundation being based on slavery just like its preceding Spanish rulers. The notoriously horrible living conditions of the slaves and death from starvation, overwork, and torture means that the life expectancy of a West African slave is seven years.

The successful campaigns by Sir Henry Morgan in the 1670s and 1680s against the Karmahaly Maroons drives the survivors into the mountains where they most likely join with or create the core of the Windward Maroons.

1700s

Frequent slave revolts supply runaway slaves to augment the Maroon community. However, records concerning the community and its leaders are sparse, especially prior to the nineteenth century, although it can be seen that the Rowe and Wright families feature prominently.

Warships of the English Civil War
Warships at the time of the English Civil War, with ninety of them mustered in Plymouth Sound in 1625 (with the kind permission of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Library of Toronto)

1700s - 1750/64?

Cudjo / Kojo

Maroon leader to 1720, then colonel-in-chief. Died.

1720 - 1764?

Cudjo or Kojo is the leader of the Jamaican Maroons. He governs from what is known as Cudjoe's Town. In 1739, he takes the title colonel-in-chief. In 1750, he moves to the village of Accompong, which has been named after his joint colonel-in-chief and apparent successor, Accompong.

1739

Two major conflicts take place between the Maroons of Jamaica and Great Britain. The First Maroon War largely concerns the Windward Maroons in the east and the Accompong Maroons in mountainous central Jamaica, whom the British refer to as Leeward Maroons. Peace treaties are signed between all of the parties.

The first of these is with the Accompong Maroons, granting them limited self-government and land. A couple of months later Great Britain enters into a similar treaty with the Windward Maroons. The treaties, requiring as they do that the Maroons return runaway slaves, cause rifts among the Maroons themselves.

1750/64? - c.1773

Accompong

Colonel-in-chief. Died.

1760

On Easter Monday, 7 April 1760, a group of enslaved Ghanaians in Jamaica under the leadership of 'Tacky' rise up against their British overseers in a violent and yet unsuccessful rebellion. Inspired by the Maroon wars, the enslaved rebels seek to overthrow the colonialists and create an independent black nation on the island. The rebellion ends in the death by suicide of many of the black participants.

Akan people
Akan people - photographed here around the beginning of the twentieth century - migrated into regions of modern Ghana from around the eleventh century AD, but probably in smaller family groups rather than as a single mass movement of people

c.1773 - ?

Crankey / Sampson Dela Roche

Colonel-in-chief alongside Muncko.

1770s?

The British superintendent of Jamaica appoints Alexander Forbes, known as Muncko, to serve as joint colonel-in-chief with Crankey, otherwise known as Sampson Dela Roche.

fl c.1770s?

Muncko / Alexander Forbes

Joint colonel-in-chief.

fl c.1780s?

? John James?

Colonel-in-chief. Name uncertain.

? - 1795

Chambers?

Colonel-in-chief. Name uncertain.

1810 - 1815

John Foster

Colonel-in-chief.

1815 - 1818

Robert Austin

Colonel-in-chief.

1818 - ?

Robert James McLeod

Colonel-in-chief.

?

H E Wright

Colonel-in-chief. Dates unknown.

1831

The Christmas Rebellion, led by Sam Sharpe, begins on Jamaica's Kensington Estate in St James which is destroyed by fire. It takes five weeks for a British military crackdown to restore peace, but the effort places the final nail in the slavery coffin as far as the average Briton is concerned. Eighteen months later slavery is abolished throughout the empire.

Jamaica's Blue Mountains
Jamaica's Blue Mountains form the longest mountain range along the eastern edge of Jamaica and feature majestic scenery while also being the source of the world-famous and highly fragrant Blue Mountain Coffee

1834

As mentioned above, slavery, one of the key institutions in the economy of Jamaica, is abolished in the British Parliament by the 'Slavery Abolition Act'. The plantation system collapses. Unemployment and heavy taxation follow, bringing calamity to the Jamaican economy.

1870 - 1896

Henry Octavius Rowe

Colonel-in-chief.

1896 - 1897

Robert J Wright

Colonel-in-chief.

1897

Isaac Miles

Colonel-in-chief.

1897 - 1920

Henry Ezekiel Wright

Colonel-in-chief.

1920 - 1938

Henry Augustus Rowe

Colonel-in-chief.

1938

Walter James Robertson

Acting colonel-in-chief.

1938 - 1943?

Thomas James Cawley

Colonel-in-chief.

1942

The Accompong Maroons develop a draft constitution for the 'State of the Leeward Maroons', which confers upon all Maroons the same rights of citizenship which have been granted to all other Jamaicans.

1943? - 1948

Henry Augustus Rowe

Colonel-in-chief for the second time.

1948 - 1951

Henry Mann O Rowe

Colonel-in-chief.

1951 - 1957

Thomas James Cawley

Colonel-in-chief for the second time.

1957 - 1967

Walter James Robertson

Colonel-in-chief for the second time.

1962

Jamaica becomes independent of the United Kingdom. The Accompong Maroons maintain a claim upon their own independence, a matter which is not addressed by the Jamaican government.

Rastafarian flag
A Rastafarian symbol, based on the Ethiopian flag under the emperors, with the lion representing the lion of Judah, the 'Elect of God', two of the titles held by Ethiopia's Haile Selassie and with the green, gold, and red colour combination being ubiquitous in Rastafarian culture

1967 - 1982

Martell Wright / Martin Luther

Colonel-in-chief.

1982 - 1987

Harris N Cawley

Colonel-in-chief.

1987 - 1993

Martell Wright / Martin Luther

Colonel-in-chief.

1993

Harris N Cawley

Colonel-in-chief for the second time.

1993 - 1998

Meredie Rowe

Colonel-in-chief.

1998 - 2009

Sidney Peddie

Colonel-in-chief.

2009 - 2021

Ferron Harris Williams

Colonel-in-chief.

2021 - On

Richard Currie

Colonel-in-chief.

2022

At least two painful exchanges take place between island governments in the Caribbean and the earl and countess of Wessex during their week-long tour of the British-linked Caribbean islands. Comments during a meeting on Antigua & Barbuda makes likely a future pursuit of full independence.

Caribbean independence supporters in St Vincent in 2022
Protesters in St Vincent during the royal visit by the earl and countess of Wessex in 2022 showed that calls for independence were not going away

St Kitts & Nevis also reveals its plan to cut ties with the United Kingdom, with a growing sense of injustice around the former slave trade being used as a key point. Earlier in the year the same sentiment has already been echoed by the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica.

 
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