The Maroon War settlement of 1739

Cudjoe and Colonel Guthrie under Cudjoe’s cotton tree

The escaped slaves of Jamaica had one big advantage over slaves in many other places, that the geography of the island provided them with areas where they could hide and live with much less fear of discovery.  The original Maroons were freed or runaway Spanish slaves, whose name is thought to come from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning wild or untamed.  Over time two main areas of Maroon settlement developed, the Trelawney Maroons lived in an area around Maroon Town and Accompong in the Cockpit country, and the Windward Maroons lived on the northern slopes of the Blue Mountains.

The territory occupied by the Maroons was ideally suited to guerrilla warfare, although that name for the technique would not be used until the time of the Peninsular War at the end of the 18th century.  Led by an extremely able commander called Cudjoe, with his brothers Accompong and Johnny in the West, and sub-chiefs Quao and Cuffee in the East, the Maroons avoided open fights preferring ambush.  Camouflaged from head to foot in leaves, surprise and their accurate shooting often brought them quick victory after which they would melt back into the woods to prepare another attack.

Various armed attempts to subdue them were made by British troops and in 1734 a Captain Stoddart led a party that attacked and destroyed Nanny Town in the Blue Mountains.  The town was never resettled and even now is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of those who died.  Nanny the Maroon chieftainess after whom the place was named is now a National Hero of Jamaica.  Although the Maroons had suffered severely under this attack many escaped, some to build a new village further inland and others removed to the Cockpit area of Trelawney.

Maroon raids increased and so did the fear of the colonists that they would encourage a mass uprising of slaves on the plantations, where they now outnumbered white settlers by about 14 to 1.  The Jamaican Assembly voted money for a large-scale campaign and the Maroons found themselves in a desperate situation, however the government did not realise this and, eager to end the fighting, they sent Colonel James Guthrie with a detachment of militia, and Lieutenant Francis Sadler with a party of soldiers, to seek out Cudjoe and offer him favourable terms for a peace.`

The negotiators exchanged hats as a sign of friendship, as depicted above, and the treaty was agreed on 1 March 1739 beneath a large cotton tree, afterwards known as Cudjoe’s Tree.  Under the settlement Cudjoe and his followers were all to be free, and any slaves who had joined them were given the choice of remaining with the Maroons or returning to their masters.  It would be interesting to know if any did, somehow I doubt it!  A land grant was made to the Maroons of 1500 acres in Trelawney, where they would have hunting rights and it was agreed “That they shall have liberty to plant the said lands with coffee, cocoa, ginger, tobacco, and cotton, and to breed cattle, hogs, goats, or any other flock, and dispose of the produce or increase of the said commodities to the inhabitants of this island”.

In addition Cudjoe and his followers were to assist the British in pursuing any remaining rebels and in the case of foreign invasion they would assist the British against the invader and in return would receive their protection.  The Maroons agreed not to harbour runaway slaves but to return them for a reward of ten shillings per slave.  Cudjoe himself was given the right to dispense justice within his community and the succession was assured, naming Accompong, Johnny, Quao and Cuffee, and after their deaths such leaders as might be appointed by the Governor.  The Maroons were required to build and maintain a road to Trelawney Town, and four white persons were to be nominated to live with the Maroons in order to facilitate communication with the government.

Following the agreement with the Maroons the Jamaican assembly rewarded several negroes who had assisted the authorities to bring about the peace.  Three men named Cuffee, Sambo, and Quashey were manumised and their owners were compensated to the value of £40 per man; and two women called Venus and Affiba were also freed with their owners being paid £30 for each.

One further consequence of the events leading to the peace was the award of £1500 to Guthrie (who however died in June 1739) and £600 to Francis Sadler who subsequently received land grants totalling 1200 acres which formed the basis of the Montpelier estate.  When Francis Sadler married Colonel Guthrie’s widowed daughter Janet Hynes in 1742 he extended the Montpelier estate still further.  This Francis Sadler, who took the name Francis Sadler Hals when he inherited Halse Hall from his half brother, was the son of Mary Rose whose life in Jamaica has already been described on this website.

So successful was the peace agreement of 1739 that it lasted for more than fifty years.

The full text of the agreement and the subsequent Act of the Jamaican Assembly can be found here.

 

A note about the picture: When I first saw the picture of Colonel Guthrie and Cudjoe I thought it an attempt to belittle the latter with a caricature. However he was described at the time as being very short and squat with a large lump of flesh on his back, and a strange wild manner. He dressed in a tattered old blue coat, white knee breeches, a head tie and a small round hat. His gun was an old Spanish musket with powder and shot, and he carried a machete worn in a leather holster.

 

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