Queen Nanny or Nanny (c. 1685 – unknown, circa 1755), Jamaican National Hero, was a well-known, 18th-century leader of the Jamaican Maroons. Much of what is known about her comes from oral history as little textual evidence exists. However, historical documents refer to her as the "rebels' old obeah woman," and they legally grant "Nanny and the people now residing with her and their heirs ...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 ...". Nanny Town was founded on this land.
2 Life and work
3 Leadership and Obeah
5 Attacks on Nanny Town
The Maroons are descendants of West Africans, mainly people from the Ashanti region of what is today Ghana who, having been brought to Jamaica in the course of the Transatlantic slave trade, fled the oppressive experience of slavery on plantations and formed their own communities in the rugged, hilly interior of the island. A minority of slaves originated from other regions of West Africa including the Congo and Madagascar and joined the Maroons in their escapes. This group, referred to as Coromantie or Koromantee, were ferocious fighters who refused to become slaves. Up to the 1650s under Spanish rule, slaves escaped and intermarried with the native islanders, the Arawaks, in their communities on the west of the island. Later, when the British assumed control of the colony, more slaves were able to escape from plantations to join the two main bands of Maroons in Jamaica: Windward and Leeward Maroons, headed respectively by Nanny of the Maroons and Captain Cudjoe. Between 1655 until the 1830s they led most of the slave rebellions in Jamaica helping to free slaves from the plantations and damaging land and property held by plantation owners. The Maroons also aided in the sharpening the techniques of jerking which were borrowed from the Arwarks. This included cooking the chicken or pork on a low fire using green pimento wood. In addition, the smoke was smothered in order to maintain a low profile away from British Empire.
Life and work
Nanny was born in about 1686 in what is now Ghana, West Africa, into the Ashanti tribe. 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 the Port Royal area. Such plantations' main crop was sugarcane, and the slaves toiled under extremely harsh conditions. Another version of her life is that she was of royal African blood and came to Jamaica as a free woman. She may have been married to a man named Adou, but apparently had no children.
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 that came to be known as Accompong Town; Nanny and Quao founded communities in Portland Parish.
Nanny became a folk hero. There were stories of British attacks on Nanny Town, but thanks to the strategic location, and her idea of having only one entrance/exit to the town, they were able to fight off all but one British soldier even though they were severely outnumbered. Cudjoe went on to lead slave rebellions in Jamaica.
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 society 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, she freed more than 1000 slaves, and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community.
Leadership and Obeah
Many in her community attributed Nanny's leadership skills to her Obeah powers. Obeah is an African derived religion that is still practised in Suriname, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Belize and other Caribbean countries. It is associated with both good and bad magic, charms, luck, and with mysticism in general. In some Caribbean nations, aspects of Obeah have survived through synthesis with Christian symbolism and practice introduced by European colonials and slave owners.
Nanny's leadership skills were likely a result of 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 known that Nanny possessed wide knowledge of herbs and other traditional healing methods, practised 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.
In the Journal of the Assembly of Jamaica, 29–30 March 1733, is a citation for "resolution, bravery and fidelity" awarded to "loyal slaves ... under the command of Captain Sambo", namely William Cuffee, who was rewarded for having fought the Maroons in the First Maroon War and who is called "a very good party Negro, having killed Nanny, the rebels old obeah woman". These hired soldiers were known as "Black Shots". It is likely that Cuffee was motivated by the reward, a common practice by plantations to discourage slaves escaping.
However, in 1739, a parcel of land was awarded to "Nanny and her descendents" 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.
Attacks on Nanny Town
Between 1728 and 1734, Nanny Town and other Maroon settlements were frequently attacked by British forces. After Nanny's death (1733), many Maroons of Nanny Town travelled across the island to unite with the Leeward Maroons. In 1734, a Captain Stoddart attacked the remnants of Nanny Town, "situated on one of the highest mountains in the island", via "the only path" available: "He found it steep, rocky, and difficult, and not wide enough to admit the passage of two persons abreast."
In addition to the use of the ravine, resembling what Jamaicans call a "cockpit". 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".
In 1739 the British governor in Jamaica signed a treaty with the Maroons, promising them 2500 acres (10 km²) in two locations. They were to remain in their five main towns – Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, Nanny Town – living under their own chief with a British supervisor. In exchange, they agreed not to harbour new runaway slaves, but rather to help catch them. The Maroons were also paid to return captured slaves and fight for the British in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish.
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 is located in Moore Town, Portland, Jamaica.
Nannyville Gardens, a residential community located in Kingston, Jamaica, was founded in 1977.
The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University uses Nanny's portrait in its logo. The Center sponsors research and conferences on slavery in the Americas.