was a well-known leader of the Jamaican Maroons in the eighteenth century. Historical documents refer to her as the "rebels (sic) old obeah woman," and they legally grant "Nanny and the people now residing with her and their heirs . . . a certain parcel of Land containing five hundred acres in the parish of Portland . . ." (quoted in Campbell 177, 175). Nanny Town was founded on this land. Much of what is known about Nanny comes from oral history as little textual evidence exists.
The Maroons mainly consisted of people from the Akan region of West Africa. The Ashanti tribe, from which Nanny came, lived in this region. However, slaves originating from other regions of West Africa joined the Maroons in their escapes. For over 150 years, the Maroons helped to free slaves from the plantations whilst they damaged land and property belonging to the plantation owners.
Nanny was born c. 1686 in Ghana, Western Africa, into the Ashanti tribe, and was brought to Jamaica as a slave. It is believed that some of her family members were involved in intertribal conflict and her village was captured. Nanny and several relatives were sold as slaves and sent to Jamaica. Upon arrival in Jamaica, Nanny was likely sold to a plantation in Saint Thomas Parish, just outside of the Port Royal area. Such plantations grew sugarcane as the main crop, and the slaves toiled under extremely harsh conditions.
As a child, Nanny was influenced by other slave leaders and maroons. She and her "brothers", Accompong, Cudjoe, Johnny and Quao ran away from their plantation and hid in the Blue Mountains area of northern Saint Thomas Parish. While in hiding, they split up to organize more Maroon communities across Jamaica: Cudjoe went to Saint James Parish and organized a village, which was later named Cudjoe Town; Accompong settled in Saint Elizabeth Parish, in a community known as Accompong Town; Nanny and Quao founded communities in Portland Parish. She was married to a Maroon named Adou.
Nanny and her brothers became folk heroes. Her most famous brother, Cudjoe, went on to lead several slave rebellions in Jamaica with the aid of her other brothers.
By 1720, Nanny and Quao had settled and controlled an area in the Blue Mountains. It was given the name Nanny Town, and consisted of the 500 acres (2.4 km²) of land granted to the runaway slaves. Nanny Town had a strategic location as it overlooked Stony River via a 900 foot (270 m) ridge making a surprise attack by the British practically impossible. The Maroons at Nanny Town also organized look-outs for such an attack as well as designated warriors who could be summoned by the sound of a horn called an Abeng.
Maroons at Nanny Town and similar communities survived by sending traders to the nearby market towns to exchange food for weapons and cloth. The community raised animals, hunted, and grew crops, and was organized very much like a typical Ashanti tribe in Africa. The Maroons were also known for raiding plantations for weapons and food, burning the plantations, and leading slaves back to their communities.
Nanny was very adept at organizing plans to free slaves. For over 30 years, Nanny freed more than 800 slaves, and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community.
It is also likely that Nanny's leadership skills resulted from her tribe of origin, Ashanti, known for its strong resistance to Europeans in West Africa and the New World. As well, she was heavily influenced by her brothers and other Maroons in Jamaica.
It is also known that Nanny possessed wide knowledge of herbs and other traditional healing methods, practiced by Africans and native islanders. This would have allowed her to serve as a physical and spiritual healer to her community, which in turn would elevate her status and esteem.
However, in 1739, a parcel of land was awarded to "Nanny and her descendents" (Gottlieb 2000)named Nanny Town. Some claim she lived to be an old woman, dying of natural causes in the 1760s. The exact date of her death remains a mystery, and part of the confusion is that "Nanny" is an honorific and many high ranking women were called that in Maroon Town. However, the Maroons are adamant that there was only one "Queen Nanny."
Nanny's remains are buried at "Bump Grave" in Moore Town, one of the communities established by the Windward Maroons in Portland Parish.
In addition to the use of the ravine, resembling what Jamaicans call a "cockpit", Maroons were skilled at disguising themselves as bushes and trees. The Maroons also utilized decoys to trick the British into a surprise attack. This was done by having non-disguised Maroons run out into view of the British and then run in the direction of the fellow Maroons who were disguised. After falling into these ambushes several times, the British had to resort to their own trickery: Captain Stoddart "found the huts in which the negroes were asleep", and "fired upon them so briskly, that many were slain in their habitations". (Edwards vol. 1, page 525)
Nanny is known as one of the earliest leaders of slave resistance in the Americas, and one of very few women. She is celebrated in Jamaica and abroad.
- The government of Jamaica declared Queen Nanny a National Heroine in 1976. Her portrait graces the $500 Jamaican dollar bill, which is colloquially referred to as a "Nanny".
- Nanny's Monument