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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Maroons

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This is how it looks today.

This is a bit long...but historicially the Maroons are the oldest inhabitants of the island.

In May of 1655, under a plan aimed against Spain known as the “Western Design”, the English Fleet of 38 ships and about 8,000 men sailed into Kingston Harbor. The “Roundheads” under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership had many motives for attacking the Spanish. Chief among them was to avenge the deportation of English Settlers from St. Kitts in 1629 and the countless attacks on English ships resulting in the murder and enslavement of their crews. The Expedition assembled to enforce the “Western Design” was perhaps the worst equipped and poorly organized to ever leave England. Sailing in secrecy from Portsmouth England at the end of December 1654, the Expedition achieved some moderate success when, after five weeks at sea, they stopped in Barbados. There eleven Dutch ships were seized by Admiral Penn to be used as transports. Food and arms were demanded along with 4,000 men recruited for the Expedition Army.

Santo Domingo, capital city of Hispanola and a Spanish stronghold was the next target according to the instructions set down in the “Western Design” plan. A tactical error in landing the forces 30 miles outside the city without sufficient food or water caused panic and disorder. Sickness from drinking polluted water and the long march made the Expedition vulnerable to Spanish lancers and local cattle hunters. A complete massacre of the nearly 12,000 man Expeditionary force was only averted by successfully landing a party of sailors who covered their retreat. Nearly 4,000 men were left behind as dead or missing. Fearful of Cromwell’s anger over the failure at Santo Domingo, a hasty decision was made to attack another thinly populated and weakly defended Spanish island; Jamaica.

Children of Accompong Town

With less than 1,500 Spaniards on the island and only about 500 able to bear arms, the English made another blunder. Instead of pressing the attack and taking advantage of the superiority of sheer number of troops, they handed the Spaniards an offer to surrender with terms to leave the island if they so desired. Venables, the Expedition leader, unwisely gave the Spaniards time to consider these terms. During this time the Spanish turned their cattle loose and escaped to the North Coast and from there to Cuba. When the Expeditionary army marched into Spanish Town, they found it empty and bare of booty. In anger and disappointment, they destroyed much of the town.

Before departing, the Spanish also freed their slaves and left them behind in the mountains to harry the English until they could amass a force for reconquest of Jamaica. These freed slaves, later to become famous as the Maroons, were organized into a fighting force by Christoval Arnaldo de Ysasi before he too escaped to Cuba. These first Maroons settled mainly in the St. John district of St. Catherine still called Juan de Bolas after one of their chiefs whose real name was Juan Lubolo, on Vera-mahollis Savanna (Los Vermejales) and on the Rio Juana (exact location uncertain). The name “Maroon” probably derived from the Spanish “cimarron” meaning wild, untamed. The Maroons whose number kept swelling from the addition of more runaway slaves continued to raid the English plantations and become a thorn in England’s plan to colonize Jamaica but it was tolerated until 1663 when an offer was made for land and full freedom to any Maroon who surrendered. The Maroons ignored the offer. This failure to come to terms was to result in 76 years of irregular warfare; expenditure of nearly 250,000 English Pounds and passing of some 44 Acts of the Assembly

The second immigration of free Blacks into the province of Nova Scotia was similar to the first in that it developed from events entirely divorced from Nova Scotia history. From the time of British conquest in 1655, the Maroons in Jamaica, waged war against the British colonizers of the island. The Jamaican Government succeeded in overcoming the Maroons in 1796, which was after 140 years of intermittent warfare. The Legislature, vengeful and certainly tired of the cost of maintaining order, decided to rid themselves of "the problem". Immediate actions were put in place for the removal of one group of Maroons (Trelawney), with their settlements in lower Canada (Quebec). Upper Canada (Ontario) had also been suggested as a suitable place, however, it was eventually decided that this group of individuals be sent to Halifax, N.S. until any further instructions were received from England. Two gentlemen Messrs Quarrell and Octerloney, were sent from Jamaica with the Maroons as Commissioners.

On June 26, 1796, the Dover, Mary, and Anne sailed from Port Royal Harbour, Jamaica to Halifax. One arrived in Halifax on July 21, the other two followed two days later totaling 543 men, women and children. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in North America who at that time was The Duke of Kent, impressed with the proud bearing and other characteristics of the Maroons, employed the entire group to work on the new fortifications at the Citadel Hill in Halifax. The Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Wentworth believed that the Maroons would be good settlers. He then received orders from the Duke of Portland to settle them in Nova Scotia. Following this the two commissioners responsible with credit of $25,000 (pounds) Jamaican currency from the government of Jamaica, expended 3,000 (pounds) on 5,000 acres of land and built the community of Preston. Governor Wentworth also was granted an allowance of 240 (pounds) annually from England to provide religious instruction and schooling for the community. After the first winter, the Maroons, raised in an independent and dominating culture and not impressed with the apparently servile virtues of cultivating the soil, became less tolerant of the condition in which they were living in.

The Maroons proved themselves to be excellent fighters, they were said to have been organized shortly after they arrived into military units to the style of self-government they had been used to in Jamaica. Forty gross of coats with metal buttons, and sixty gross of vests were order for their use in 1796. The insignia on the buttons was an alligator holding a wheat sheaf and an olive branch.
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