Queen Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons
Queen Mother Nanny, the great 18th century leader of the Windward or Eastern Jamaican Maroons. She is famous for her heroic struggle against the British colonial empire and its institution of slavery in Jamaica. There are numerous legends and superstitions attributed to this great rebel leader.
Queen Nanny, born in Ghana in western Africa, to the Ashanti tribe, was brought to Jamaica as a slave, ( there are references to her coming as a free African dignitary). There were already slave rebellions taking place in Jamaica, rebellion and Maroon villages were growing. Soon after arriving in Jamaica, Nanny and her five brothers escaped from slavery. Her brothers Cudjoe, (also a famous Maroon leader) Accompong, Johnny, Cuffy and Quao, became leaders of the Maroons, which included free Africans, escaped slaves.
By 1720 Nanny had taken full control of the Blue Mountain Rebel Town. It was renamed Nanny Town. There Nanny, and her people had cleared land for food cultivation. She was said to have had an excellent knowledge of herbs, as well as being a nurse and a spiritual leader.
From 1728 to 1734, Nanny Town was defended against British attack. The Maroons were better equipped and more knowledgeable of the mountainous terrain than the British. In 1734 a party of Nanny’s Maroons were sent to join those in the west of the island. Three hundred men, women and children set out on one of the longest marches in Jamaican history. This march, known as the ‘great trek’ from Portland to St. James, and it is believed that they were to join Cudjoe’s warriors. Some say it is because Cudjoes wanted peace with the British, whilst Nanny wanted to unite the Maroons.
The slave rebellions that followed were inspired by Nanny and other freedom fighters. These rebellions made the British Government abolish slavery. Queen Nanny is known to the Maroons of today as ‘Granny Nanny’. Today the Maroons of Moore Town have kept their history through songs and word of mouth. Nanny is regarded as a Priestess and Queen Mother by the Maroons.
After Queen Nanny’s death the Windward Maroons were led by her successor ‘Quao’ who had experience in resisting the British. It was in 1739 that Quao signed a treaty with the British, whereby land was ceded to the Windward Maroons, and they were allowed independence.
The government of Jamaica declared Queen Nanny a National Heroine in 1975 and a Memorial was erected. Her portrait is on the 500 Jamaican dollar bill.