Second Maroon War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Jamaica’s largest community of Maroons—rebellious and escaped slaves—battled British forces for nine months in an uprising prompted by local grievances. The conflict ended when the Maroons agreed to a peace treaty, the terms of which were violated when Jamaica’s British governor deported the Maroons to Nova Scotia in Canada. The war marked the last significant Maroon rebellion in Jamaican history.

Summary of Event

In the Second Maroon War (1795-1796), Maroon combatants battled a British force that numbered about five times that of the Maroons. Jamaica West Indies;British was Britain’s chief sugar colony, and Trelawney Town Trelawney Town, Jamaica was the largest of Jamaica’s five officially recognized Maroon communities. The British government granted Maroons legal status in the 1739 treaties that ended the First Maroon War, Maroon War, First (1730-1739) which accorded the Maroons more than fifteen hundred acres of land and a quasi-autonomous state in exchange for their aid in tracking and returning fugitive slaves. The causes of Jamaica’s second and final Maroon war involved local concerns as well as larger ideological and political developments that accompanied the French and Haitian revolutions. [kw]Second Maroon War (July, 1795-Mar., 1796) [kw]War, Second Maroon (July, 1795-Mar., 1796) [kw]Maroon War, Second (July, 1795-Mar., 1796) Maroons Slave revolts;Jamaica Maroon War, Second (1795-1796) [g]Caribbean;July, 1795-Mar., 1796: Second Maroon War[3220] [g]Jamaica;July, 1795-Mar., 1796: Second Maroon War[3220] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July, 1795-Mar., 1796: Second Maroon War[3220] [c]Social issues and reform;July, 1795-Mar., 1796: Second Maroon War[3220] Balcarres, sixth earl of Parkinson, Leonard Walpole, George

Alexander Lindsay, the sixth earl of Balcarres, became governor of Jamaica when his predecessor was sent to command British forces intended to quell the revolution in Saint Domingue (or Hispaniola, the island now occupied by Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Haiti Many ruling-class Jamaicans feared that the thousands of émigrés and fugitives arriving from Saint Domingue intended to arm Jamaica’s slaves and incite them to revolution. In August, 1795, a French royalist confirmed the ruling class’s fears when he asserted (but later recanted) that French Jacobin commissioner Victor Hughes had sent Afro-Caribbean infiltrators to Jamaica (Hughes had recently reclaimed Guadeloupe and Saint Lucia and inspired rebels in Grenada). In this climate of heightened anxiety regarding slave insurrection, Jamaica’s substantial, semiautonomous, and armed Maroon communities may have seemed especially dangerous to some.

Despite the fears and rumors linking French and Haitian revolutionary activity to Jamaican insurrection, it was a confluence of local resentments that prompted the actions of the Trelawney Maroons. As the population grew, the Maroon communities found the original land allotment from the 1739 treaty to be inadequate, and by the 1790’s, Trelawney Town was suffering from a land shortage. At the same time, the town was experiencing a weakening of local authority. Many members of the community were aggrieved by the British appointments of town superintendents in 1792 and 1794; the latter superintendent, Thomas Craskell, was thought to be particularly inept.

The immediate spark of the war occurred in July, 1795, when two Trelawney Maroons were convicted of stealing pigs in Montego Bay in St. James Parish. Parish magistrates, rather than Trelawney authorities, sentenced the offenders, which was a breach of the 1739 treaty. Furthermore, for the fiercely independent Maroons, what was exceptionally offensive was that their punishment, flogging, was administered by a slave (who had been a runaway recovered by the Maroons) and administered before an audience of slaves. In the furor that began with the news of the flogging, Superintendent Craskell was forcibly ejected from Trelawney Town.

In an effort to address Trelawney grievances regarding concerns about land and about the flogging, Craskell, numerous magistrates, local property owners, and a former, well-respected superintendent met with Trelawney authorities for discussion and to offer redress. Despite the initial success of these negotiations, Governor Balcarres sent a letter to Britain’s secretary for war suggesting that the French may have prompted the Maroon insurrection. Balcarres opposed the conciliatory efforts of the magistrates and pressed for military suppression of what, he claimed, was an imminent threat. Balcarres declared martial law and demanded the surrender of all Trelawney Maroons capable of bearing arms. The thirty-seven men who complied were imprisoned. Soon after, approximately three hundred Maroons attacked and defeated the St. James Parish militia, marking the opening battle of a nine-month engagement with British troops. Fighting against the British were not only military regulars but also local residents, including slaves and Accompong Maroon mercenaries. Free Afro-Jamaicans made up about one-third of the Jamaica militia.

While numerous slaves were pressed into British service, roughly 100 to 250 defected to the Trelawney side. Some free Afro-Jamaicans joined the Maroon warriors as well. The combined force of Trelawney Maroons, slaves, and Afro-Jamaicans, totaling approximately 500 persons, sustained a successful guerrilla war against the much larger British force (approximately 2,500). Unable to secure a military victory, Balcarres proposed peace in late October, 1795. In December, British major general George Walpole wrote to Balcarres of a truce he had reached with the Trelawney Maroons on the condition that they would not be deported.

On December 28, Balcarres declared that the treaty would be ratified when the Trelawney Maroons met at his headquarters on January 1, 1796. Balcarres may have once again deliberately manipulated circumstances, given that the conditions of communication and travel made the three-day time frame infeasible. When only three Trelawney men arrived on the first of the year, Balcarres issued chasseurs, the handlers of Cuban bloodhounds used throughout the Caribbean (including the First Maroon War), to track Maroons, rebel slaves, and criminals. Many Trelawney Maroons were en route, in good faith, to Balcarres’s headquarters, while others, remotely situated, may not have even learned of the treaty for several weeks. Some 150 fugitive slaves refused to surrender. Several Maroon bands continued to rout their opponents, most notably, the 36 combatants led by Maroon captain Leonard Parkinson, whose exploits became legendary and whose surrender at the end of March signaled the de facto end of the war.

By March, 1796, large numbers of Trelawny Maroons had complied with the conditions of the treaty (excepting the January 1 date) and surrendered their arms. Like those who had acquiesced to Balcarres at the start of war, the Trelawny Maroons were imprisoned in warships off the coast of Montego Bay. Recaptured rebel slaves, free blacks, and many of the Maroons were sentenced to whipping and imprisonment. In express violation of the terms of the treaty, Balcarras deported nearly six hundred Maroons to Nova Scotia Nova Scotia;Maroon refugees in 1796. Many individuals, including Major General Walpole, were outraged by Balcarres’s patent breech of trust. As a result, Walpole resigned his post in Jamaica and rejected the disbursement offered to him and Balcarres by the Jamaican assembly. Discontented in Canada, the Trelawny Maroons petitioned the British government and, as did many of the African American loyalists who emigrated to Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, they ultimately settled in Sierra Leone, Africa.

Significance

Second only to Brazil, Jamaica experienced more slave insurrections than any other colony in the Americas, and Jamaica’s Maroons were among the most powerful Maroon communities in the New World. The Maroons were independent, unvanquished societies made up of or descended from fugitive slaves. As such, they were a constant symbol of successful slave resistance in the face of the colonial state and plantation society. In Jamaica, after the 1739 and 1740 treaties ending the First Maroon War, the Maroons found themselves at odds with rebellious and runaway slaves, whom they were thus required to subdue (yet upon whom they often relied for provisions, intelligence, and mates). An important episode of colonial resistance, the Second Maroon War was not a slave uprising per se, as the Trelawny Maroons were recognized as free subjects of the British crown and as a semiautonomous state (though their rights granted in the 1739-1740 treaties were not infrequently curtailed). Despite antagonism between slaves and Maroons, many slaves switched allegiances during the course of the war.

Whether or not in earnest, Governor Balcarres presented the 1795 Maroon uprising as the work of French subversives. During the course of the conflict, Balcarres consistently rejected reconciliation and seized every opportunity to eliminate the Trelawny Maroons. While the Maroons’ military success was an embarrassment to the plantocracy, their deportation was for many planters a victory and a relief. The Second Maroon War signaled the last significant Maroon uprising in Jamaican history. Jamaica would be free of large-scale slave insurrection from the end of the Second Maroon War until 1831, when Jamaican slaves rose up in the Christmas Rebellion Christmas Rebellion (1831) (or Baptist War), the largest slave revolt in the Americas after Saint Domingue.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Campbell, Mavis C. The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration, and Betrayal. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990. Colonial history of Jamaican Maroons, focusing on both their collaboration with and their resistance to the British Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cranton, Michael. Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 1982. Gives a detailed, chapter-length description of the war and its consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dallas, Robert. The History of the Maroons. Vols. 1-2, London: Longman and Rees, 1803. An account of Jamaican Maroon history including the Second Maroon War and settlement in Sierra Leone by a contemporary historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Furness, A. E. “The Maroon War of 1795.” Jamaican Historical Review 5 (May, 1965): 30-49. A comprehensive account of the war and its causes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Geggus, David. “The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790’s: New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellion.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 44, no. 2 (April, 1987): 274-299. Challenges scholarship linking French agents with the Second Maroon War and analyzes larger processes surrounding resistance in late eighteenth century Jamaica and the colonial Atlantic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hart, Richard. Slaves Who Abolished Slavery. Vol. 2. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1985. Contains two chapters dedicated to the Second Maroon War based on contemporary correspondence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jamaica Assembly. Proceedings in Regard to the Maroon Negroes. London: John Stockdale, 1796. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1970. Documentation of the Jamaica Assembly’s deliberations over the Second Maroon War with an introduction by contemporary historian Edward Long.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robinson, Carey. The Iron Thorn: The Defeat of the British by the Jamaican Maroons. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston, 1993. Examination of Jamaican resistance, beginning with the 1509 Spanish colonization and focusing on the Second Maroon War.

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