Maroons were slaves in the Americas who escaped and formed independent settlements. They were a special class of “runaways.” For various reasons, they did not seek refuge in “sanctuary cities” as they would be known today. Instead, they left the cities and towns created by Whites and chose to create settlements, big and small, in harsh climates where the Whites were unlikely to pursue them. Swamps and bayous, mountains and forests became their new homes.
The Maroons of Jamaica are one of the best known because they actually fought wars against the British, held their former enslavers at bay, and created organized societies of their own. The Trelawney Town Maroons in Jamaica were one such group of Maroons.
History says that in the 1700s, the British attempted to defeat the Maroon communities in Jamaica and bring them under colonial rule, but they were often not successful and had to settle for signing treaties with them. In 1795, the Trelawney Town Maroons began a revolt the British referred to as the Second Maroon War. But they were in the end “tricked” into signing a truce with the Jamaican government in 1796. They were then rounded up, Isaac Saney, director of Dalhousie University’s Transition Year Program, told CBC News.
And since they were seen as a threat amid the Haitian revolution occurring not too far from them, the Jamaican government decided to get rid of them by exiling them to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Around 600 of the Maroons were put on the ships Dover, Mary and Anne and sent north, landing in Halifax in July 1796.
“They happened to stop in Halifax for repositioning and [to] the Duke of Kent and the government of Nova Scotia … the Maroons are seen basically as a very important source of labor for Nova Scotia because there’s a labor shortage in Nova Scotia,” Saney said.
There was a labor shortage because a large number of Black Loyalists had left for Sierra Leone in 1792. The Jamaican government, which was very determined to get the Maroons out of Jamaica, was willing to pay anyone who would receive and support them. Authorities in Nova Scotia took advantage of this by “using the Maroons as a source of cheap labor and receiving compensation for their accommodation and upkeep,” Saney said.
Settling near Halifax, the Maroons were indeed used as cheap labor to cater to the needs of the dominant white population that lived near them. They farmed, did brickwork and other projects, including reconstructing the Halifax Citadel, a large, British fortification located atop Citadel Hill, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
When the Maroons arrived in Nova Scotia, the Halifax Citadel, which had been built in 1749, was in shambles. Britain and France were at war at the time, and the British, fearing a French attack, decided to rebuild it. In fact, it was Prince Edward Augustus (later Duke of Kent), who employed the Maroons to work on his refortification of the Halifax Citadel. He was commander-in-chief of British forces in Nova Scotia.
As the British continued to fear a French invasion, they organized some of the Maroons into a militia company. It is documented that when the Maroons first landed in Nova Scotia, more houses and schools were provided for them but along the way, they experienced poor living and working conditions so they started making demands. At the same time, they maintained their faith system and practiced their own religion and customs.
They also did not like the cold winters and so petitioned the British government to send them to another place that was warm. Amid pressures that they wanted to leave, a second Maroon community at Boydville, located in the area that today is called Maroon Hill, was created for some of them. But at the end of the day, those who wanted to leave won.
The British government decided to send all the Maroons, including those at Boydville, to Sierra Leone. In August of 1800, after four years of arriving in Nova Scotia, around 551 Maroon men, women and children sailed out of Halifax Harbour on board the HMS Asia, bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone. They arrived in September just around the time the Black Loyalists, who had already landed there in 1792, were involved in an uprising against British colonial authority.
“The British were able to deploy the Maroons who have just arrived in putting down that rebellion,” Saney said.
Today, some say that not all of the Trelawny Town Maroons left Nova Scotia on the Asia. Whatever the case, one cannot deny the contributions of the Maroons in the construction of African Nova Scotian identity. Their legacy is alive today in their bloodlines, name places and their work in building Nova Scotia.
In Sierra Leone, the Maroons who remained after being taken there in 1800 merged with the Creole community in Freetown. They built the St. John’s Maroon Church in 1822 and brought in music and culture, including the famous Krio culture. Some popular Jamaicans in Freetown include Adelaide Casely-Hayford, an educationist; Robert Smith, a surgeon; author Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones; and Macormack Charles Farrell Easmon, among others.