In addition to the Africans who arrived as free persons in the new world or were granted freedom because of their service, many of the slaves who arrived in the Americas liberated themselves.  As soon as and everywhere you have slaves in the Americas, you have maroon communities—communities of escaped slaves who lived independently. The root of the word maroon is the Spanish “Cimarron” for runaway livestock that had “gone wild” or perhaps among the first words adopted from the Taino/Arawak language.  This term becomes, in different parts of the Americas: marron, maroon,
Seminole.  In Brazil they name for the communities themselves are “Macombo” which is an African word for hideaway, eventually they are called quilombos in Brazil and palenques in Spanish speaking coloies.

The Spanish report the establishment of maroon societies in their earliest settlements starting in 1503, a year after Juan Garrido arrived in the New World. It was not uncommon for Afro-Americans like Garrido who served in European militias to attempt to “pacify” maroons.

In 1525, the Spaniard Allyon attempted establish a colony in Georgia. After series of disasters, including Allyon’s death, the slaves he had brought along with the Spanish colonists mutinied and fled the settlement thus establishing the first, albeit small, maroon community in the US over sixty years before the English attempted to settle in Roanoke and about eighty years before Jamestown.

Despite the potential and real threats that maroon societies posed to slavery-based colonies, the authority of the leaders of the maroon societies was often recognized by European powers.  The oldest surviving signed and dated painting from colonial Spanish America is titled “The Mulatto Gentlemen of Esmeraldas” and was painted in Ecuador in 1599 by an Indian artist.  The portrait depicts the leaders of an independent Afro-Indian society on Ecuador’s north coast on a treaty-signing mission to Quito.  In the painting the men are identified with the Spanish honorific title “Don.”  The painting today hangs in Madrid in the Museum of the Americas.

In Jamaica in 1655 when the Spanish (who had settled the island in 1509) withdrew to the English, they left behind some of the their former slaves, who had already set up their own villages in the interior.  At first, these maroons were a serious problem to the English, whom they harassed, but some of them made peace with the English in 1660 and helped in routing out the last of the Spaniards from the island.  The remaining Spanish Maroons, probably less than one hundred in all, continued at large in the interior mountains, occasionally descending to raid settlements.  Never tracked down by the English, they settled the eastern end of the island and joined with later escapees from the English plantations.  By the end of the 17th century two major groups had coalesced: the Windward Maroons, in the eastern mountains and the Leeward Maroon, in the west-central interior.

In Brazil, Palmares, the Quilombo state within a state, a federation of fugitive slave communities, spans almost a century: 1605-1695. Most of the ten major quilombos in Brazil are short-lived, put down by colonial state, but Palmares was the exception. Between 1672 and 1694, it withstood on the average one Portuguese expedition every fifteen months (after Dutch attacks earlier in the century).  It was finally put down by mestizo “Bandera” forces. Brazil’s 1988 constitution said that communities who could show quilombo descent would not be subject to regular land registration and taxes.

In 1733, maroon forces held the island of St. John for almost six months against Dutch, English, and French forces (each of which relied heavily on the their own free black militias and leadership.)

1738 the Spanish offered freedom to any slave who fled the English colonies and came to St. Augustine. Numerous South Carolina slaves made their way to Spanish Florida were they were offered protection and economic opportunities as free Afro-Spaniards in exchange for defense against the British.  In 1738 Fort Mose, outside of St. Augustine, was officially sanctioned as the first free black town in North America. After both times the Spanish lost control of Florida, many of these Afro-Spaniards (originally from South Carolina, or at least via South Carolina) chose to relocate in Havana.  Others joined Florida’s Seminole Indian communities, as would many more slaves over the next century.  In 1818, the military leadership and prowess of Afro-Seminoles would prove a difficult challenge for Andrew Jackson during the Seminole Wars.

In 1739, after trying but failing to subdue to the maroon communities in Jamaica since the departure of the Spanish almost a century earlier, the British signed treaties acknowledging the maroon societies’ independence and their rights and responsibilities.
two treaties were concluded, assigning the Maroons more than 1,500 acres of land, a quasi-autonomous state. The Trelawny Maroons were led by Cudjoe and the Winward Maroons led by Nanny.

1763 largest slave revolt in the Americas to that date: Berbice, Dutch colony in South America (now Guyana).

While significant and enduring maroon communities have been documented in virtually every new world society, scholars have tended to overlook those in North America.
Beginning in the 1700s, escaped slaves from Virginia lived in small maroon communities in the Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina. In the same year as the Berbice revolt, 1763, George Washington and a several other Virginia planters paid $20,000 for 40,000 acres of the Great Dismal in hopes of clearing it and removing the maroon population who traded Cyprus shingles in exchange for goods. In 1671 Virginia specifically offered a bounty on the heads of maroons.

In Suriname in the 1770s (while the American Revolution was taking place) Maroon Wars overwhelmed Dutch forces.  See the account of British-born Dutch soldier, John Steadman’s Narrative, for details.  The Dutch ultimately achieve victory with the aid of Black Rangers. Today in Suriname there are approximately 50,000 Maroon descendants, largest community of anywhere in Americas.

1795 Jamaica’s Second Maroon War concludes when 600 Maroons are deported to Nova Scotia joining thousands of African-American loyalists who emigrated to Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, many of whom ultimately settled in Sierra Leone.



1. What were maroon communities, when did they develop, and where, specifically, were they located?

These were communities of fugitive slaves that began with the beginning of Atlantic slavery (1502 first mention) and a serious pre-19th century, colonial, phenomenon.  They were located throughout the Atlantic world, virtually wherever you had slavery, for example: Jamaica, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, French Guyana, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Martinique, Haiti, Bahamas, Dominica, St. Vincent, Belize.  Typically people settled in areas that were difficult to reach.  For example in the little known maroon communities of the US, people settled in the Dismal Swamp and the Everglades.

Petite marronage referred to a temporary form of running away while grand marronage referred to long-lived settlements (some of which would be recognized as independent states by European governments—and become know as pacified maroons—those who continued to be seen as a threat or at war with the European power were called unpacified maroons).


2. Which Maroon communities signed treaties with European states and what were the rights and responsibilities that were typically outlined in these agreements?

In Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Mexico, and Suriname various maroon communities were legally recognized by the colonial state.  Typically these treaties guaranteed land, “gifts” (tribute, typically weapons, supplies), and political independence in exchange for the promise to return fugitive slaves in the future, aid Europeans in hunting them down, and cease hostilities towards planatations.

3. In some ways Maroon communities were an enormous challenge to slavery in other ways Maroons were not.  Explain.

Maroons: front-line fighters in the struggle against slavery? They were policemen for the slave regime but also permanent symbols of successful revolt. Before any known European struggles for independence in the New World, Maroon communities had developed strong independent communities.  Abolitionist sentiment does not become widespread until late 18th/early 19th century.

Numerous strategies people of African descent used to survive, find freedom, prosper.  Not just freedom versus slavery.


1831-1832, greatest Jamaican slave rebellion two days after Xmas lasted two weeks and involved 20,000 slaves.


Jamaica, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, French Guyana, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Martinique, Haiti, Several free-mulatto townships developed in Mexico a few decades later than 1738.


Landers, Jane. "Cimarrón and Citizen." Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America. Landers and Robinson, eds. University of New Mexico Press, 2006. pp. 111-132.