Christina Proenza-Coles, "Jamaica's Second Maroon War," Great Events from History: The Eighteenth Century, Salem Press, 2006.

In the Second Maroon War, Trelawny Maroon combatants battled British forces approximately five times their number from July 1795 through March 1796.  Jamaica was Britain’s chief sugar colony, and Trelawny was the largest of Jamaica’s five officially recognized maroon communities.  The British government granted Maroons legal status in the1739 treaty ending the First Maroon War, which accorded the Maroons more than 1500 acres of land and a quasi-autonomous state in exchange for their aid in tracking and returning fugitive slaves.  The causes of Jamaica’s second and final Maroon War involved local concerns as well as the larger ideological and political developments that accompanied the French and Haitian revolutions.

Alexander Lindsay, earl of Balcarres, became governor of Jamaica when his predecessor was sent to command British forces intended to quell the revolution in St. Domingue.  Many ruling class Jamaicans feared that the thousands of émigrés and fugitives arriving from St. Domingue intended to arm Jamaica’s slaves and incite them to revolution.  In August 1795 a French royalist confirmed their fears when he asserted (and later recanted) that French Jacobin Commissioner Victor Hughes had sent Afro-Caribbean infiltrators to Jamaica (Hughes had recently reclaimed Guadeloupe and St. Lucia and inspired rebels in Grenada).  In this climate of heightened anxiety regarding slave insurrection, Jamaica’s substantial, semi-autonomous, and armed maroon communities may have seemed especially dangerous to some.

Despite the fears and rumors linking French and Haitian revolutionary activity to Jamaican insurrection, it was a confluence of local resentments that prompted the actions of the Trelawny Maroons.  As the population grew, all of the maroon communities found the original land allotment from the 1739 treaty to be inadequate, and by the 1790s Trelawny Town was suffering from a land shortage.  At the same time, the town was experiencing a weakening of local authority.  Many members of the community were very aggrieved by the British appointments of town superintendent in 1792 and 1794; the latter, Thomas Craskell, was thought to be particularly inept.

The immediate spark of the war occurred in July 1795 when two Trelawny Maroons were convicted of stealing pigs in Montego Bay in St. James parish.  That parish magistrates rather than Trelawny authorities sentenced the offenders was a breach of the 1739 treaty.  Furthermore, for the fiercely independent Maroons, the fact that their punishment, flogging, was administered by a slave (who had in fact been a runaway recovered by the Maroons) and before an audience of slaves, was exceptionally offensive.  In the furor that began with the news of the flogging, the superintendent, Craskell, was forcibly ejected from Trelawny Town.

In an effort to address Trelawny grievances regarding land, Craskell, and the flogging, numerous magistrates, local property owners, and a former, well-respected superintendent met with Trelawny authorities to discuss their concerns and offer redress.  Despite the initial success of these negotiations, Governor Balcarres sent a letter to Britain’s Secretary for War suggesting that the French may have prompted the Maroon insurrection.  Balcarres opposed the conciliatory efforts of the magistrates and pressed for military suppression of what, he claimed, was an imminent threat.  Balcarres declared martial law and demanded the surrender of all Trelawny Maroons capable of bearing arms.  The thirty-seven men who complied were imprisoned.  Soon after, approximately 300 Maroons attacked and defeated the St. James parish militia; this was the opening battle of a nine-month engagement with British troops composed of military regulars and residents, including slaves as well as Accompong Maroon mercenaries.  Free Afro-Jamaicans composed about one-third of the Jamaica militia.

While numerous slaves were pressed into British service, roughly 100 to 250 defected to the Trelawny side.  Some free Afro-Jamaicans joined the Maroon warriors as well.  The combined force of Trewlany Maroons, slaves, and Afro-Jamaicans totaling approximately 500 sustained a successful guerilla war against much larger British forces (approximately 2500).  Unable to secure a military victory, Balcarres proposed peace in late October, 1795.  In December, British Major-General George Walpole wrote to Balcarres of a truce agreement he had reached with the Trelawny Maroons on the condition that they would not be deported.

On December 28 Balcarres declared that the treaty would be ratified when the Trelawny Maroons met at his headquarters on January 1, 1796.  Balcarres may have once again deliberately manipulated circumstances as the conditions of communication and travel made the three-day time frame unfeasible.  When only three Trelawny men arrived on the first of the year, Balcarres issued chasseurs, the handlers of Cuban bloodhounds used throughout the Caribbean (including the First Maroon War) to track maroons, rebel slaves, and criminals.  Many Trelawny Maroons were en route, in good faith, to Balcarres’ headquarters while others, remotely situated, may not have even learned of the treaty for several weeks.  Some 150 fugitive slaves refused to surrender.  Several Maroon bands continued to rout their opponents, most notably, the thirty-six combatants led by Maroon captain Leonard Parkinson, whose exploits became legendary and whose surrender at the end of March signaled the de facto end of the war.

By March 1796, large numbers of Trelawny Maroons had complied with the conditions of the treaty (excepting the January 1 date) and surrendered their arms.  Like those who had acquiesced to Balcarres at the start of war, the Trewlany Maroons were imprisoned in warships off the coast of Montego Bay.  Recaptured rebel slaves, free blacks, and many of the Maroons were sentenced to whipping and imprisonment.  In express violation of the terms of the treaty, Balcarras deported nearly 600 Maroons to Nova Scotia in 1796.  Many, including Major-General Walpole, were outraged by Balcarres’ patent breech of trust.  As a result, Walpole resigned his post in Jamaica and rejected the disbursement offered to him and Balcarres by the Jamaican Assembly.  Discontent in Canada, the Trelawny Maroons petitioned the British government and, as did many of the African-American loyalists who emigrated to Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, they ultimately settled in Sierra Leone. 

 

 

Significance

After Brazil, Jamaica experienced more slave insurrections than any other colony in the Americas and Jamaica’s Maroons were among the most powerful maroon communities in the New World.  The Maroons were independent, unvanquished societies composed of or descended from fugitive slaves.  As such they were a constant symbol of successful slave resistance in the face of the colonial state and plantation society.  In Jamaica, after the 1739 treaty ending the First Maroon War, the Maroons found themselves at odds with rebellious and runaway slaves whom they were thus required to subdue (yet upon whom they often relied for provisions, intelligence, and mates). An important episode of colonial resistance, the Second Maroon War was not a slave uprising per se, as the Trelawny Maroons were recognized as free subjects of the British Crown and as a semi-autonomous state (though their rights granted in the 1739 treaty were not infrequently curtailed). Despite antagonism between slaves and Maroons, many of the former switched allegiances during the course of the war.

Whether or not in earnest, Governor Balcarres presented the 1795 Maroon uprising as the work of French subversives.  Over the course the conflict, Balcarres consistently rejected reconciliation and seized every opportunity to eliminate the Trelawny Maroons.  While the Maroons’ military success was an embarrassment to the plantocracy, their deportation was for many planters a victory and a relief.  The Second Maroon War signaled the last significant Maroon uprising in Jamaican history.  Jamaica would be free of large-scale slave insurrection from the end of the Second Maroon War until 1831 when Jamaican slaves rose up in the Christmas Rebellion (or Baptist War), the largest slave revolt in the Americas after St. Domingue.

 

Further Reading

Cranton, Michael. Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1982.  Gives a detailed, chapter-length description of the war and its consequences.

Dallas, Robert. The History of the Maroons. Vols. 1-2, London: Longman and Rees, 1803. An account of Jamaican Maroon history including the Second Maroon War and settlement in Sierra Leone by a contemporary historian.

Furness, A.E. “The Maroon War of 1795,” The Jamaican Historical Review. Vol. V, May, 1965, 30-49.  A comprehensive account of the war and its causes.

Geggus, David. “The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s: New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellion,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, Vol. 44, No. 2, April, 1987, 274-299. Challenges scholarship linking French agents with the Second Maroon War and analyzes larger processes surrounding resistance in late eighteenth-century Jamaica and the colonial Atlantic.

Hart, Richard. Slaves Who Abolished Slavery. Volume II. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Jamaica. 1985.  Contains two chapters dedicated to the Second Maroon War based on contemporary correspondence.

Jamaica Assembly. Proceedings in Regard to the Maroon Negroes. Westport, CT: Negro Universities Press 1970 (Originally published London: John Stockdale, 1796).  Documentation of the Jamaica Assembly’s deliberations over the Second Maroon War with an introduction by contemporary historian Edward Long.