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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

Second Maroon War

Title page and engraved frontispiece illustration of Leonard Parkinson, holding an implementLeonard Parkinson, a captain of Maroons, from: Jamaica. Assembly. The proceedings of the governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in regard to the Maroon Negroes. London: printed for John Stockdale, 1796 [FCO Historical Collection F1884 JAM]The Second Maroon War broke out in 1795. The public flogging of two Maroons convicted of stealing pigs from a white planter was the casus belli that caused the Maroons’s immering hostility towards the colonial government to boil over into armed confrontation.

They particularly resented the fact that the punishment was inflicted by the black overseer of the Negro prison at Montego Bay in front of some of the slaves the Maroons had helped to recapture and return to their masters.

Attempts at conciliation failed and the colonial government, alarmed by the threat of Maroon attacks and, even more, by the prospects of a general slave revolt (the still unfolding revolution in the French colony of St. Domingue provided a horrifying warning to the planters of what they might expect from such a revolt), sent troops to Montego Bay. Maroon efforts to incite slaves to revolt were, however, largely unsuccessful, most slaves having little liking for the Maroons.

Fierce fighting ensued and the Maroons withdrew to their ancestral stronghold, the mountainous Cockpit country, from where they mounted raids on plantations, killing any white inhabitants they encountered, ambushed government troops and seized food and crops from the slaves’ provision grounds. The Jamaican Legislature took the decision to obtain from Cuba a pack of forty hunting dogs and announced that these animals, renowned for their ferocity, would be used to track the Maroons down.

At the same time the Maroons were offered peace terms; if they surrendered by 21 December 1795 (this date was later extended to 1 January 1796) they would be allowed to remain at liberty in Jamaica. In the event, while most Maroons did surrender, not many did so before the stipulated date. A joint committee of both Houses of the Legislature considered their fate and decreed that they should be deported. Over 500 were transported to Nova Scotia, from where they were in 1800 sent to the newly established African colony for freed slaves, Sierra Leone.

The compiler of this contemporary account of the Second Maroon War was Bryan Edwards (1743-1800), West Indies planter, politician and historian. Edwards, described by David Brion Davis as‘the pre-eminent statesman-intellectual of the British West Indies’ of his day, was a supporter of slavery, believing it to be essential to Jamaica’s prosperity, though admitting that it stood in need of reform. The frontispiece shows Leonard Parkinson, a Maroon captain. Edwards notes that it had recently become common for Maroons to adopt the surnames of prominent planter families, a practice which is the origin of many of the most common surnames found in Jamaica today.

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