The story continues. So if you have not already done so, please read Part 1.
Maroons intermittently used guerrilla tactics against Jamaican militia and British troops, who had destroyed many Maroon settlements in 1686. The British tried to capture them because they occasionally raided plantations, making expansion into the interior more difficult. An increase in armed confrontations over decades led to the First Maroon War in the 1730s.
Edward Trelawny was appointed Governor of Jamaica in April 1738, at a time when the colonial authorities on the island were in the midst of waging an unsuccessful war against the Maroons. This was the first of the great Maroon wars. Trelawny quickly realised that the colonial militia, fighting on two fronts against the Leeward Maroons in the west and the Windward Maroons in the east, were unable to defeat the Maroons. So he offered the Maroons of Cudjoe’s Town a peace agreement in 1739. Cudjoe’s Town was later renamed Trelawny Town.
Once Cudjoe signed this treaty, Trelawny offered a similar treaty to the Windward Maroons in 1740. This overture was supported by the British settlers and the treaty officially recognised. The treaty accepted the freedom of the Maroons and allowed them to have autonomy in their communities in exchange for agreeing to be called to military service with the colonists if needed. This military service agreement resulted in the Maroons tracking and returning runaway slaves and assisting with quelling slave uprisings and rebellions. This would later cause a rift between the Maroons and other Jamaicans.
Due to tensions and repeated conflicts with Maroons from Trelawny Town, the Second Maroon War erupted in 1795. Other Maroon communities did not join in this uprising. Being low in ammunition and with a measles outbreak they were outgunned and outnumbered by government forces. The Maroons agreed to a truce with the government who claimed they had not abided by the terms of their Maroon treaty. Thus in 1796 approximately 600 captive Maroons comprising of men, women and children were deported to Nova Scotia, Canada. Jamaica granted £25,000 to pay their travelling expenses and those of accompanying administrative and medical personnel.
The story of the Maroons in Nova Scotia is brief as they arrived in 1796 and left in 1800 for Freetown, Sierra Leone, in Western Africa. Oral history maintains that a few Maroons remained in Nova Scotia while some of the Maroon descendants in Sierra Leone returned to Jamaica in the mid-1800s.
The only Leeward Maroon settlement retaining formal autonomy on Jamaica after the Second Maroon War was Accompong, in the parish of Saint Elizabeth. Windward Maroon communities were located in the parish of Portland and included Charles Town, on Buff Bay River; Moore Town (formerly Nanny Town); and Scott’s Hall.
In 2005 the music of the Moore Town Maroons was declared by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
The abolition of the slave trade and slavery was not only achieved by frequent slave uprisings and rebellions in the Caribbean but also by the work of humanitarians who were concerned about the slaves’ well-being. Humanitarian groups such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) publicly protested against slavery and the slave trade. Quaker colonists began questioning slavery in Barbados in the 1670s, but first openly denounced it in 1688.
During the 1740s and 50s the anti-slavery sentiment was taking a firmer global hold. A new generation of Quakers protested against slavery, and demanded that Quaker society cut ties with the slave trade. Beginning in the 1750s Pennsylvanian Quakers tightened their rules and by 1758 made it effectively an act of misconduct to engage in slave trading. The London Yearly Meeting soon followed, issuing a ‘strong minute’ against slave trading in 1761. The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed in 1787 by a group of Evangelical English Protestants allied with Quakers, to unite in their shared opposition to slavery and the slave trade.
There were many slave rebellions of note, including the Easter Rebellion of 1760 led by Tacky. Jamaica’s slave population swelled to 300,000, despite mounting civil unrest and unstable food supplies. During the period 1780–87 about 15,000 slaves starved to death.
In addition Jamaica was experiencing external threats. A large French fleet, with Spanish support, planned to invade Jamaica in 1782. However the British admirals George Rodney and Samuel Hood thwarted the plan at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica. In 1806 Admiral Sir John Duckworth defeated the last French invasion force to threaten colonising Jamaica.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the production of sugar in Britain’s West Indian colonies saw money pouring into Britain. The sugar production came to be controlled by a small circle of wealthy planters and merchants in Britain. They nurtured ties with members of both houses of British Parliament and eventually a number became MPs. For example William Beckford, owner of a 22,000 acre estate in Jamaica, was twice Lord Mayor of London and over 50 MPs in parliament represented the slave plantations. No surprise that an Abolition bill first put to parliament in 1791 would in 1805 fail to pass for the eleventh time.
The Act of Union 1801 allowed 100 Irish MPs into Parliament, most of whom supported abolition combined with the general acceptance of the evils of the slave trade enabled the law to pass both Houses. William Wilberforce, an Evangelical Christian and parliamentarian who spear headed the campaign against the British slave trade for 18 years, finally witnessed the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
The Slave Trade Act of 1807 made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena. The legislation imposed fines that did little to deter slave trade participants, so it acted to outlaw the slave trade but not slavery itself. Abolitionist Henry Brougham realised that trading had continued and as a new British MP successfully introduced the Slave Trade Felony Act 1811, making slavery a felony act through the British empire. The Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa.
The British were, by the late eighteenth century, the biggest proponents of the abolition of slavery worldwide, having previously been the world’s largest slave dealers. Britain used its influence to coerce other countries to agree to treaties to end their slave trade and allow the Royal Navy to seize their slave ships. The West Africa Squadron did suppress the slave trade but did not stop it entirely. Between 1808 and 1860 the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. Many of these freed captives were resettled in Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Abolishing the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 increased planters’ costs in Jamaica at a time when the price of sugar was already dropping. It was not until the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that slavery itself was eventually abolished.
During the Christmas holiday of 1831 a large-scale slave revolt in Jamaica, known as the Baptist War, broke out. What was organised originally as a peaceful strike by the educated Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe ended up mobilising some 60,000 enslaved persons throughout the island. The colonial government used the armed Jamaican military forces and Maroon warriors to put down the rebellion by early 1832.
Some 14 whites were killed by armed slave battalions but more than 200 slaves were killed by troops. Sharpe, other ringleaders and about 340 slaves were tried, convicted and hanged. Whites generally blamed missionaries, who were working among the slaves, for inciting the revolt. In the weeks that followed mobs gathered by the Colonial Church Union, an organization of white planters loyal to the Anglican church, and burned several Baptist and Methodist chapels.
Because of the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. At that time Britain’s economy was in a flux. A new system of international commerce had emerged. Britain’s slaveholding Caribbean colonies, which were largely focused on sugar production, could no longer compete with larger plantation economies such as those of Cuba and Brazil. So merchants demand an end to the market monopolies held by their Caribbean colonies and pushed instead for free trade.
Emancipation and Compensation
The results of these inquiries and the British economy contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. This Act had two major parts: (1) the emancipation of all slaves throughout the British colonial empire except those held on the islands of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Saint Helena; and (2) compensating slave owners for the loss of the slaves.
Emancipation would commence in stages on 1 August 1834. The first stage was the freeing of all children under six. Then the others would work a period of six years as unpaid apprentices for their former masters. On 1 August 1834 the Governor at Government House in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on explaining the conditions of emancipation was drowned out with chants of ‘Pas de six ans. Point de six ans’ (‘Not six years. No six years’). Continuing peaceful protests resulted in full emancipation for all being legally granted ahead of schedule on 1 August 1838. Needless to say the masters continued to ill-treat and exploit the enslaved people in the British Caribbean until they finally gained their freedom at midnight on 31 July 1838.
Compensation to slave owners was paid for by the British government, funded by a loan not fully paid back until 2015. The British government raised £20 million (equivalent to £16.5 billion in 2013 pounds) to pay out for the loss of the slaves as business assets to the registered owners of the freed slaves. Not surprising the slaves themselves received no such compensation.
Many former slaves left the plantations and moved to the nearby hills, where their descendants still farm small landholdings. The planters received some compensation (£19 per slave) but generally saw their financial resources and labour forces dwindle. The British parliament removed protective tariffs in 1846, further reducing the price of Jamaican sugar.
The immediate post slavery days were very difficult for the poorer classes. Though most of the English planters had left the islands and new owners were running the plantations, the old oligarchic system still remained. The will of the masses was not deemed important and hence ignored. To add fuel to the already burning flame, the American Civil War resulted in supplies being cut off from the island. A severe drought was also in progress and most crops were ruined.
In the economic chaos that followed emancipation the Morant Bay Rebellion of October 1865 is well remembered. . The uprising was led by a black Baptist deacon named Paul Bogle and was supported by a wealthy Kingston businessman, George William Gordon. Gordon was a prominent coloured legislator who was sympathetic to the problems of the poor people and later was blamed for the trouble caused by the masses.
Bogle and his men stormed the Morant Bay Courthouse while it was in session. A number of white people was killed including the Custos of the parish, St Thomas. Some three decades after slavery ended, the Maroons assisted the government in putting down the peasant rebellion led by Paul Bogle. Paul Bogle and George William Gordon were hanged, more than 430 people were executed or shot, hundreds more flogged and 1,000 dwellings destroyed. This was the last time the Maroons were to serve in this military capacity.
With the general emancipation of slaves in 1834, things changed drastically for the Maroons. Since the British no longer needed their services as a tracking force, they had little interest in maintaining distinct, partially autonomous communities in the interior of their colony. The first formal attempt to encourage the assimilation of the Maroons into the wider population was the so-called Maroon Lands Allotment Act of 1842. This piece of legislation aimed to abrogate the treaties of 1739 and absorb the Maroons into the emergent peasantry by dividing the communally owned Maroon lands and parceling them out to individual owners. The Maroons, however, simply refused to comply and the colonial government did not force the issue. It soon found that its interests were not necessarily served by dissolving the Maroon communities.
The story concludes in Road to Independence -Part 3. Read more then.
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