When the British captured Jamaica in 1655 the Spanish colonists fled leaving a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Taínos.
The Maroons intermarried with Amerindian natives, establishing independence in the back country and survived by subsistence farming and by raiding plantations. Over time, the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior. Their plantation raids resulted in the First Maroon War. The Spaniards in Jamaica kept up communication with their former neighbours who were now living on the south side of Cuba. Less than 24 hours away on sail, the Spaniards in Cuba would eventually be called upon to help those in Jamaica try to regain control of the island. In 1655, Don Arnoldo de Sasi, the old governor, five hundred of the former inhabitants, and one thousand troops from Old Spain, landed at Rio Nuevo east of Seville where they built a fort.
But, the surprise attack was quickly suppressed when Colonel Doyley, the English governor, arrived with five hundred men from the south side of Jamaica and forced the Spanish to run back to their safe haven in Cuba. With the departure of their Spanish masters, about 1500 slaves decided to seek refuge on the north and east sides of the mountains rather than to submit to the conquerors or follow the fortunes of their former owners.
As Dallas’ History of the Maroons Vol. 1 mentions, it is believed that "for some time they were instigated by their former masters to commit hostilities against the new possessors of the country."
Although this idea seemed unlikely, the possibilities of communicating with their former slaves could have been accomplished since Cuba was so to Jamaica, and because the Spaniards were very familiar in navigating the Leeward Islands.
Located in different parts of the island, most of the Spanish slaves from the south side of Jamaica sought refuge in the mountains of Clarendon where they were led by a chief named Juan de Bolas. Under his leadership, many of these Clarendon Spanish slaves attacked the British inhabitants of Jamaica, as well as the other fugitive slaves of the island. However, once they were defeated and their leader slain, the Clarendon slaves began diminishing in number, never to return to their safe haven in the mountains.
However, another group of fugitives would soon arise. In 1690 a group of slaves from the Clarendon parish rebelled against their masters and sought refuge in the interior parts of the country.
Through the recruitment of other plantation slaves, this new group of Clarendon fugitives increased in number and acquired the necessary provisions from the plantations of their newest recruits. In time, these rebels, not yet associated with the Maroons living in the east, would plunder plantations, destroy cattle, and carry off slaves by force in order to survive, simultaneously causing planters to constantly live in a state of fear.
As a result, the planters made many complaints to the British legislation and parties of armed forces were soon organized to kill the Clarendon rebels. The Clarendon rebels, who always travelled in small gangs without a particular leader, decided to organize themselves and appoint a chief who would protect them from the wrath of the Jamaican colonists. They picked Cudjoe, "a bold, skilful, and enterprising man," he in turn appointed his brothers Accompong and Johnny to lead under him, and Cuffee and Quao as Captains.
With new leadership and an increase in size, due to the Coromantee slaves who had joined them, the Clarendon rebels were gaining strength in numbers and through their leadership. Moreover, Cudjoe's war against the white inhabitants of Jamaica had brought him great fame amongst the white planters and the fugitive slaves alike. As a result, a group known as the Cottawoods, who had separated from the other Maroons prior to 1730, marched through the mountainous, uninhabited areas of the country to join Cudjoe and the Clarendon rebels.
Hundreds of Cottawood members joined Cudjoe until they were all united again under his leadership. Another group, known as the Madagascars, also joined Cudjoe and the Clarendon rebels. According to Dallas, “these Negroes were "distinct in every respect; their figure, character, language, and country, being different from those of the other blacks." The Madagascars, who were small in number, claimed to have run away from the settlements around an area known as Lacovia in the parish of St. Elizabeth after the planters had purchased them.
The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward and the Windward tribes, the former led by Cudjoe in Trelawny Town and the latter led by his sister Queen Nanny (and later by Quao)] Queen Nanny, also known as Granny Nanny (died 1733) is the only female listed among Jamaica's National Heroes, and has been immortalised in songs and legends.
She was known for her exceptional leadership skills, especially in guerrilla warfare, which were particularly important in the First Maroon War in the early 18th century.
Her remains are reputedly buried at "Bump Grave" in Moore Town, the main town of the Windward Maroons who are concentrated in and around the Rio Grande valley in the north-eastern parish of Portland.
The Maroons retreated to the mountains throughout the mid-seventeenth century, unaware of the impact they would make on British and Jamaican history.
With a vast knowledge of the uninhabited Jamaican mountain side, the Maroons were able to wage war against British planters and eventually contract a peace agreement with the British.
Through the courage of fugitive slaves and the leadership of Cudjoe and his colleagues, the Maroons became a people whose history exemplified the driving force of freedom.