In 1655, the British defeated the Spanish colonists and took control of most of Jamaica. Following the flight of the Spanish, the Africans whom they had enslaved joined the Amerindian population (and some others who had previously escaped slavery) in the mountainous centre of Jamaica to form the Windward Maroon communities. The area is known as Cockpit Country. The British forces were unable to establish control over the whole island, a large portion remaining in the hands of the Maroons. For seventy six years, there were periodic skirmishes between the British and the Maroons, alongside occasional slave revolts. In 1673 one such revolt in St. Ann's Parish of 200 slaves created the separate group of Leeward Maroons. These Maroons united with a group of Madagascars who had survived the shipwreck of a slave ship and formed their own maroon community in St. George's parish. Several more rebellions strengthened the numbers of this Leeward group. Notably, in 1690 a revolt at Sutton's plantation, Clarendon of 400 slaves considerably strengthened the Leeward Maroons. In September 1728, the British sent more troops to Jamaica, changing the balance of power with the Windward Maroons.
The Leeward Maroons inhabited "cockpits," caves, or deep ravines that were easily defended, even against troops with superior firepower. Such guerrilla warfare and the use of scouts who blew the abeng (the cow horn, this was used as a trumpet) to warn of approaching British soldiers allowed the Maroons to evade, thwart, frustrate, and defeat the forces of an Empire.
In 1739-40, the British government in Jamaica recognized that it could not defeat the Maroons, so they came to an agreement with them, instead (can't beat it join it). The Maroons were to remain in their five main towns (Accompong, Trelawny Town, Moore Town, Scots Hall, Nanny Town), living under their own rulers and a British supervisor.
In exchange, they were asked to agree not to harbour new runaway slaves, but rather to help catch them. This last clause in the treaty naturally caused a split between the Maroons and the rest of the black population, although from time to time runaways from the plantations still found their way into Maroon settlements.
Another provision of the agreement was that the Maroons would serve to protect the island from invaders. The latter was because the Maroons were revered by the British as skilled warriors.
The person responsible for the compromise with the British was the Leeward Maroon leader, Cudjoe, a short, almost dwarf-like man who for years fought skillfully and bravely to maintain his people's independence. As he grew older, however, Cudjoe became increasingly disillusioned. He ran into quarrels with his lieutenants and with other Maroon groups. He felt that the only hope for the future was honorable peace with the enemy, which was just what the British were thinking. The 1739 treaty should be seen in this light.
A year later, the even more rebellious Windward Maroons of Trelawny Town also agreed to sign a treaty under pressure from both white Jamaicans and the Leeward Maroons, though they were never happy about it. This discontentment with the treaty later led to the Second Maroon War.
- Patterson, Orlando (1970). "Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas". In Price, Richard. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-06508-6.
- Campbell, Mavis C. (1990). "The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796". Africa World Press. ISBN 0-86543-096-9.
Among the early historians to mention the Jamaican Maroons and the First Maroon War were the following:
- Dallas, R. C. (1803). "The History of the Maroons, From Their Origin to the Establishment of their Chief Tribe at Sierra Leone". Longman.
- Edwards, Bryan (1793). "History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies".
- Long, Edward (1774). "The History of Jamaica".
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