Maroon War

1795-1796: The History of Jamaica is Torn by the Second Maroon War

The events of the Second Maroon War cannot be entirely understood without also considering the events that took place during the French Revolution. But these events also need to be considered in context - had the times been different, this war may not have occurred.


Maroon Uprising

What might have been considered simply troublesome skirmishes at any other time in history were magnified by fears of slave uprisings, due to the problems on nearby Hispaniola. However, only one of the five settlements of Maroons was involved in this Second Maroon War. Even the nearby Accompong Maroons refused to join in.

There were a few reasons behind the outbreak of war. Two Trelawny Town Maroons were flogged in Montego Bay for stealing pigs, but this event is considered a cause of the war in name more than action. As per the terms of their settlement, Captain Craskell had recently been stationed among the Maroons, but he was not well-liked among them. Many Maroons were also upset over the small size of the grant of land they'd been given.

Although the Maroons did not object to the punishment of their men, carried out under sentence from a court, they did find fault with the way the sentence was carried out. The man wielding the whip, as well as most of the onlookers, were slaves who had been captured and returned by the Maroons, and their mockery during the punishment was an unbearable insult.

The community was outraged when it heard of the insult, and Captain Craskell was immediately removed as superintendent. They also made threats against the people of Montego Bay.

Troops were dispatched to the area, and the Maroons asked to speak to the authorities to express their complaints. The negotiations ended favorably for both sides. The British would recommend to the governor that their well-liked superintendent be returned, and that they be granted more land.

Captain Craskell replaced the previous superintendent, James. James was said to have been much like a Maroon himself, and he fit right in with the group. Although they had been partially responsible for James' removal, the Maroons decided they wanted to have him back, as he had been a supporter and adviser and was well-liked and trusted among the community. Craskell, on the other hand, was a very different man and did not get along with the Maroons.

Going to the Governor

Matters were taken to the governor, but the Earl of Balcarres had recently arrived to handle the conflict. He believed that the Maroons were truly unhappy not because of any of their stated reasons, but because of the uprising on Hispaniola.

Balcarres was most worried that the disturbance among the Maroons might spread to the slaves, and it was rumored that they were trying to convince the slaves to join them in an uprising. Balcarres was also convinced that French agents were influencing the Maroon revolt, and rumors continued that the Maroons were only waiting for the right moment to strike. These rumors were all the proof Balcarres needed.

They declared martial law and called out the militia, since most of Jamaica's troops had already been sent off the island. In fact, Balcarres recalled troops already on their way to provide much needed assistance on Hispaniola.

Along his way to Montego Bay, Balcarres met six Maroon captains, hoping to express their grievances in person in Spanish Town, and he had them imprisoned. Those who had experience on the island and with the Maroons urged Balcarres to be calmer in the situation, but he was convinced his approach was the right one.

He sent a message to the Maroons telling them that they were surrounded by 1,000 troops, which would attack and destroy the town if they didn't surrender. Only 38, mostly elder members of the community, surrendered. Younger members did not want to give up the rights their ancestors had fought for, nor did they want to be arrested as the six captains had been.

Those who surrendered were immediately imprisoned, and two were sent back with a warning for the rest to surrender. Unfortunately for Balcarres, their words had the opposite effect, and the Maroons burned their own homes and withdrew into the hills. When Balcarres sent troops to destroy the city, they found it deserted and burned, but their return trip was not so easy, as many were killed in a Maroon ambush. This skirmish began the Second Maroon War.

Civil War

During the course of this war, only about 300 Maroons were engaged in the fight. Still, they held out for more than five months against 1,500 of Europe's finest troops, and more than 3,000 members of the local militia, with only minimal help from nearby Maroons. This is in part because the fighting took place in the inhospitable area of the island known as Cockpit Country.

The favorite method of the Maroons was ambush, and the terrain worked well in their favor. Their intimate knowledge of the area easily allowed them to draw their attackers into traps, and the British could find no way to drive the Maroons out of their hiding places.

In one instance, an area of trees was cleared, and gunmen were brought into the interior of the cleared space, but the Maroons withdrew to higher ground. Over time, Maroons slowly grew more bold, raiding outlying plantations, murdering planters and families, and carrying off the slaves. It didn't take long for this war to disrupt daily life throughout Jamaica.

A Change in Direction

When General George Walpole took command of the forces, he built a chain of armed posts into the mountains, which made rapid advancement easier. This saved the soldiers' energy. Another historic change he made was in training the troops to fight in this type of terrain.

These changes kept the Maroons moving and eventually drove them away from their sources of food and water. However, despite appearances, a Maroon named Johnson managed to lead a small group into St. Elizabeth and burn plantations there.

Finally, Walpole made an important decision. He brought in bloodhounds, something that would be condemned by the government in Britain. Colonel William Dawes Quarrell of the militia was sent to Cuba and returned with 100 dogs and 40 chasseurs, handlers. These dogs were commonly used in Cuba for the capture of slaves and thieves.

The day of their arrival, Walpole learned a lesson about the roughness of these dogs. A gunshot salute spooked them, and Walpole himself barely survived their attacks, as the dogs dragged their chasseurs after them. Walpole's horses almost fell to the dogs as well. Later a woman cooking was not so lucky - she swatted a dog away when it tried to steal a piece of meat, and it jumped and bit her throat, refusing to let go until it was killed - but the woman also died.

The Maroons heard about the importation of these dogs, and, when Walpole offered a chance to surrender, the Maroons took it. Neither Walpole nor the Maroons wished to loose these dogs.

The terms of the surrender included the Maroons' return of all runaway slaves, as well as their acceptance of any land granted to them by the government of Jamaica. They also agreed to seek the King's pardon for the revolt. In turn, they were reassured that they would not be deported.


The agreement was made on Dec. 21, 1795, and the governor confirmed it a week later. However, he gave the Maroons just three days to step forward and surrender, giving them the date of Jan. 1.

This was an impossible date, and only 21 Maroons made the deadline, as most were still hidden away in the mountains and hadn't heard the news. But Walpole, understanding the unfairness of the surrender date, accepted the surrender from 400 others throughout the following months.

Still, the government believed that the Maroons had broken their agreement by not surrendering before this early date, and a joint committee of assembly and council was called. The committee refused to listen to General Walpole and said that none of those who had not made the original surrender date - including those who were originally imprisoned - would be deported.

They were rounded up and shipped to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1776, but General Walpole was so incensed by the Jamaican government's actions that he refused the Sword of Honour presented to him by the Assembly. He later resigned his commission in the army. Though there was nothing Walpole could do in Jamaica, he took the matter to England, and brought the matter up in front of Parliament. Still, his efforts failed.

Land was distributed between the neighboring Accompong Maroons and the Jamaican troops. British soldiers were garrisoned in Trelawny Town for nearly another century. The deported Maroons suffered in the cold and refused to work; they were later moved again to Sierra Leone in Africa, where their descendants can still be found.

Although many conflicts came and went during this troublesome time for Jamaica, relations between whites and slaves had a long way to go. However, rising unrest in England over slavery was soon to cause an important change worldwide.

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