Queen Nanny or Nanny (c. 1685 – c. 1755), the Jamaican national heroine, is one of the greatest emblematic figures of the resistance of the Jamaican maroons in the eighteenth century, just like Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil or Toussaint Louverture in Haiti. Most of the evidence for her existence comes from oral history as little written evidence exists. Still, historical documents allude to a rebellious old lady named Obeah, and prove that Nanny and her people resided on a particular 500-acre piece of land in the Township of Portland. The city of Nanny Town was founded on this land.
The Maroons are the descendants of the Afro-Caribbean, who went through the oppressive experience of slavery on the plantations and formed their own community in the island’s rugged, mountainous interior space. They were seen as deadly and hard-to-defeat fighters. Under Spanish rule, until 1650, the slaves escaped and married the island’s native inhabitants, the Arawaks, in their communities. Later, when the English took control of the colony, most of the slaves were able to flee the plantations to join the two main groups of maroons in Jamaica: the Windward and the Leeward, led respectively by Chiefs Nanny and Captain Cudjoe. .
The Maroons came mainly from people from the Akan region of West Africa. The Ashanti tribe, where Nanny also comes from, lived in the area. However, slaves from other parts of West Africa joined the maroons in their escape. For more than 150 years, the Maroons helped free the slaves from the plantations by damaging the lands and properties belonging to the plantation owners.
Nanny was born in West Africa, Ghana around the year 1686, to the Ashanti tribe and was brought to Jamaica as a slave. It appears that some of his family members were involved in inter-tribal conflicts and her village was captured. Nanny and several of her compatriots were sold as slaves and sent to Jamaica. As soon as she arrived in Jamaica, Nanny was probably sold to a plantation in the commune of Saint Thomas, near Port Royal. Cane sugar was the main crop on these plantations and the slaves worked in extremely harsh conditions.
During her childhood, Nanny was influenced by slave leaders and maroons. She and her brothers Accompong, Cudjoe, Johnny and Quao fled their plantations and hid in the Blue Mountains north of the commune of Saint Thomas. During their period of underground, they divided to organize more Maroon communities across Jamaica: Cudjoe went to the commune of Saint James and organized a village which was later named Cudjoe Town. Accompong, having traveled to the commune of Saint Elisabeth founded a commune called Accompong Town.
Nanny and Quao founded the communities in the commune of Portland. Nanny was married to a maroon named Adou.
Nanny has become a popular heroine. The town of Nanny Town had to face the British attacks. Due to its strategic location and Nanny’s strategy of allowing only one entry and exit to the city, the Maroons were able to fight against the English soldiers when they had a lower numerical strength. Cudjoe also continued to lead the slave rebellion in Jamaica.
Around the year 1720, Nanny and Quao established and controlled an area in the Blue Mountains. This space, named Nanny Town, stretched over 500 acres (2.4 km²) of land granted to runaway slaves. Nanny Town had a strategic location as it overlooked the Stony River. Its location made it possible to spot enemies at a high altitude, which made any British ambush impossible. Indeed, the city was located on a ridge where at 900 feet was a precipice, and along the precipice, there was a narrow lane that led to the city, this is where Nanny had installed her guards at strategic locations . In order to warn her watchful warriors of any imminent danger, Nanny sounded her famous horn called abeng. The maroons of Nanny Town have also organized surveillance tours to deal with possible attacks.
She had organized a business based on bartering food, weapons and clothing, which supported her community. The Marrons of Nanny Town also lived by breeding cattle, agriculture and hunting because Nanny had textually imitated the way of life of the African villages of Ashanti, the climate of the island of Jamaica allowed it very well.
It was organized identically to a typical Ashanti tribe in Africa. Maroons were also notorious for raiding plantations to reclaim property from master slavers and to search for weapons and food, torching plantations and bringing slaves back to their communities.
Nanny liked to organize plans to free the slaves. For over 30 years, Nanny freed over 800 slaves and helped them establish a Maroon community.
Between 1728 and 1734, the town of Nanny Town and other Maroon settlements were frequently attacked by English forces. The maroons were better equipped and knew the mountainous terrain better than the English.
After Nanny’s death in 1733, most of the Maroons in Nanny Town traveled across the island to join the Maroons of the Leeward gang. 300 men, women and children embarked on one of the longest marches in Jamaican history. This walk, known as the great trek from Portland to St James.
In 1734, Captain Stoddart attacked the remains of Nanny Town, located on one of the highest mountains on the island, via the only route available: “He found it steep, difficult, steep, rocky and not wide enough to allow passage of two people. ”
Nanny ordered her warriors to dress to look like trees and bushes and sent a few men to voluntarily show themselves to the British soldiers. These men served as bait, and once spotted, ran towards the Camouflaged Maroons. The British soldiers who had followed them were thus stormed by the maroons who killed them.
The maroons also used traps to trick the British into surprise attacks. This success comes from the fact that undisguised maroons presented themselves in front of the English and ran in the direction of disguised maroons. After falling into these ambushes several times, the English resorted to their own stratagems: Captain Stoddart, who commanded a detachment employed against the Negroes of the interior, gained a height which overlooked Nanny near the high mountain called Carrion Crow Ridge. He established engine for throwing stones which destroyed Marrons’ huts: several were killed there, others threw themselves into the precipices and some were taken.
In the Journal of the Assembly of Jamaica for March 29-30, 1733, a black slave who allegedly fought in the First War against the Maroons, Captain Sambo, also known as William Cuffee, was cited in the column of “Loyal slave’ : because this very good Negro killed Nanny, the rebellious woman Obeah. Indeed, between 1728 and 1734, Nanny Town and other Maroon communities were severely attacked by British forces, it was then, in 1733, that she was killed. These hired soldiers were known as the “Black Shots”. Cuffee was probably motivated by the reward, a common practice on the plantations to discourage runaway slaves.
Yet , this information (the killing of Nanny by Cuffee) is not verified and unlikely. According to historical sources, in 1739, a parcel of land was granted to Nanny and her descendants called the town Nanny Town. Some claim that she lived as an old lady, died of natural causes around the year 1760. The exact date of her death remains a mystery, and the confusion arises from the fact that Nanny was a term used as an honorary title given to women. Yet the maroons were determined to recognize only one Queen Nanny.
Nanny’s remains were buried in the tomb named “Bump Grave” in the town of Moore Town by the Maroons of Moore Town, one of the communities established by the Windward Maroons in the Township of Portland.