Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American - Charles Morris

Cudjoe, the Negro Chief, and the Maroons of Jamaica

When the English conquered the island of Jamaica and drove the Spaniards out of it, they failed to conquer its sable inhabitants, negroes who had been slaves to the Spaniards, but who now fought for and maintained their freedom. Such were the Maroons, or mountain-dwelling fugitives of Jamaica, whose story is well worth telling.

First we must say something about the history of this island, and how it came into English hands. It was long held by the Spaniards, being discovered by Columbus in his second voyage, in 1494. In his last voyage he had a dismal experience there. With his vessels battered and ready to sink, after running through a severe wind storm, he put into the harbor of Porto Bueno, in northern Jamaica. He afterwards left this for a small bay, still known after him as Don Christopher's Cove, and here, attacked by the warlike natives, and unable to put to sea, he was kept captive in his shattered hulks for a whole year.

The Indians refused him food, and the tradition goes that he got this at length by a skilful artifice. Knowing that a total eclipse of the moon would soon take place, he sent word to the dusky chief that the lights in the sky were under his control, and if they did not give him supplies he would put out the light of the moon and never let it shine again on their island. The Indians laughed with scorn at this threat, but when they saw the moon gradually losing its light and fading into darkness, they fell into a panic, and begged him to let it shine again, promising to bring him all the food he wanted. At this the admiral feigned to relent, and after retiring for a time to his cabin, came forth and told them that he would consent to bring back the lost moonlight. After that the Indians saw that the crew had abundance of food. The admiral and his crew were finally rescued by an expedition sent from Hispaniola.

Jamaica, like Cuba and Hayti, has the honor of keeping its old Indian name, signifying a land of springs, or of woods and waters. It is a land of mountains also; if it had not been we would have had no story to tell, for these mountains were the haunts and the strongholds of the Maroons. The island was not settled till 1523, twenty years after the detention of Columbus on its shores. Many years after that we find its Spanish settlers oppressing all the English that fell into their hands. This was the case, in fact, all through the West Indies, English seamen being put in the stocks, sent to the galleys, or murdered outright.

It took the sturdy directness of Oliver Cromwell to put an end to these outrages. He sent word to the Spanish minister that there must be a stop put to the practices of the Inquisition and to the restriction of free navigation in the West Indies. The minister replied, that to ask for these two things was "to ask for his master's two eyes," and that no such thing could be allowed. Cromwell's reply was to the point:

"I know of no title that the Spaniards hath but by force, which by the same title may be repelled. And as to the first discovery—to me it seems as little reason that the sailing of a Spanish ship upon the coast of India should entitle the king of Spain to that country as the sailing of an Indian or English ship upon the coast of Spain should entitle either the Indians or the English to the dominion thereof. The Spaniards have contravented the Treaty of 1630. War must needs be justifiable when peace is not allowable."

This reply was certainly one marked by sound logic and good sense. It was the rule of force, not of right, that lay behind all claims to dominion in America, and this rule could be set aside by superior force. So Cromwell sent out a great fleet under command of Admiral Penn,—father of William Penn, the settler of Pennsylvania,—with a land force commanded by General Venables. The first attempt was made upon Hispaniola. Failing here, the fleet sailed to Jamaica, where the Spaniards surrendered on the 11th of May, 1655. They tried to take it back again shortly before Cromwell's death, but did not succeed, and Jamaica has remained an English island from that day to this.

This is about all we need say by way of preface, except to remark that many settlers were sent to Jamaica, and the island soon became well peopled and prosperous, Port Royal, its principal harbor, coming to be the liveliest city in the West Indies. It was known as the wickedest city as well as the richest, and when an earthquake came in 1692, and Port Royal, with the sandy slope on which it was built, slipped into the sea with all its dwellings, warehouses and wealth, and numbers of its people, the disaster was looked upon by many as a judgment from heaven. There is one thing more worth mention, which is that Morgan, the buccaneer, whose deeds of shameful cruelty at Panama we have described, became afterwards deputy governor of Jamaica, as Sir Henry Morgan, which title was given him by King Charles II. It is not easy to know why this was done, unless it be true, as was then said, that Charles shared in the spoils of his bloody deeds of piracy. However that be, Morgan, as governor, turned hotly upon his former associates, and hunted down the buccaneers without mercy, hanging and shooting all he could lay hands on, until he fairly put an end to the trade which had made him rich.

Let us come now to the story of the Maroons, that nest of fugitives who made things hot enough for the English in Jamaica for many years. When Cromwell's soldiers took possession of Jamaica few or none of those warlike Indians, who had given Columbus so much trouble, were left. In their place were about two thousand negro slaves, and these fled to the mountains, as the Indians had done before them. There they remained in freedom, though the English did their best to coax them to come down and enjoy the blessings of slavery again, and though they tried their utmost to drive them down from the cliffs by means of soldiers and guns. In spite of all the whites could do, the negroes, ''Maroons," as they were called, long preserved their liberty.

In 1663 the British, finding that they could not master the warlike fugitives by force, offered them a full pardon, with liberty and twenty acres of land apiece, if they would yield. But the negroes, who were masters of the whole mountainous interior, where thousands could live in plenty, chose to stay where they were and not to trust to the slippery faith of the white man. And so it went on until after 1730, when the depredations of the negroes upon the settlements became so annoying that two regiments of British regulars and all the militia of the island were sent into the mountains to put them down. As it proved, the negroes still held their own, not one of them being taken prisoner, and very few of them killed. They were decidedly masters of the situation.

At this time the chief of the Maroons, Cudjoe by name, was a dusky dwarf, sable, ugly, and uncouth, but shrewd and wary, and fully capable of discounting all the wiles of his enemies. No Christian he, but a full Pagan, worshipping, with his followers, the African gods of Obeah, or the deities of the wizards and sorcerers. His lurking-place, in the defiles of the John Crow Mountains, was named Nanny Town, after his wife. Here two mountain streams plunged over a rock nine hundred feet high into a romantic gorge, where their waters met in a seething caldron called "Nanny's Pot." Into this, as the negroes believed, the black witch Nanny could, by her sorcery, cast the white soldiers who pursued them. As for old Cudjoe himself, the English declared that he must be in league with the devil, whom he resembled closely enough to be his brother. And they were not without warrant for this belief, for he held his own against them for nine long years, at the end of which the Maroons were more numerous than at the beginning, since those who were killed were more than made up by fresh accessions of runaway slaves.

It is certain that the British soldiers were no match for Cudjoe the dwarf. Retreating warily before them, he drew them into many an ambush in the wild defiles of the mountains, where they were cut down like sheep, the waters of the "Pot" being often reddened with their blood. From many of the expeditions sent against him only a few weary and wounded survivors returned, and it became difficult to induce the soldiers to venture into that den of death.

At length a British officer succeeded in dragging two mountain howitzers up the cliffs to a position from which Nanny Town, the inaccessible Maroon stronghold, could be shelled. When the shells, hurled from the distant cannon, began to burst among them, the Maroons were at first so filled with terror that some of them threw themselves over the cliffs, but the bulk of them merely scattered and let the howitzers do their work among empty walls.

Cudjoe was astonished at the bursting shells, but he was too old a bird to be frightened. "Dis a new way de buckra man got to fight," he said. "He fire big ball arter you, and den de big ball fire little ones arter you. Dat's berry cunnin', but ole Cudjoe know somethin' better un dat."

Leading his men through the woods with the stealthy tread and noiseless skill of the American Indians, the dwarf and his Maroons suddenly burst upon the unwary soldiers from the rear while they were busy about their guns, delivering a telling volley and then rushing upon them with blade and axe. Few of the whites escaped this ferocious onset, and the shell-delivering howitzers remained in Cudjoe's hands.

Despairing of conquering the forest-born Maroons by the arts of civilized warfare, the British were driven to try a new method. In 1737 they brought from the Mosquito coast a number of Indians, who were fully the equal of the negroes in bush fighting. These were launched upon the track of the Maroons and soon ran them down in their mountain fastnesses. From Nanny Town the seat of war shifted to another quarter of the island, but at length the Maroons, finding their new foes fully their match in their own methods, consented to sign a treaty of peace with the whites, though only on the terms that they should retain their full freedom.

The treaty was made in 1738 at Trelawney Town, the Maroons being represented by Captains Cudjoe, Accompong, Johnny, Cuffee, and Quaco, and a number of their followers, "who have been in a state of war and hostility for several years past against our sovereign lord the king and the inhabitants of this island."

By the terms of the treaty the Maroons were to retain their liberty forever, to be granted a large tract of land in the mountains, and to enjoy full freedom of trade with the whites. On their part they agreed to keep peace with the whites, to return all runaway slaves who should come among them, and to aid the whites in putting down the rebellion and in fighting any foreign invader.

In 1760 their promise to aid the whites against local outbreaks was put to the test when the fierce Koromantyn negroes broke out in rebellion and committed fearful atrocities. A party of Maroons joined the whites and seemed very zealous in their cause, ranging the woods and bringing in a large number of ears, which they said they had cut from the heads of rebels killed by them. It afterwards was found that the ears had been obtained from the negroes who had been slain by the troops and left where they fell.

The Maroons remained unmolested until 1795, not without outbreaks on their part and depredations on the settlements. In the year named two of them were caught stealing pigs, and were sent to the workhouse and given thirty-nine lashes on the bare back. When set free they went home in a fury, and told a pitiful tale of the disgrace they had suffered, being whipped by the black driver of the workhouse in the presence of felon slaves. The story roused the blood of all their fellows, who felt that they had been outraged by this insult to two of their kindred, and a revolt broke out that spread rapidly throughout the mountains.

The whites were in a quandary. To attempt to put down the rebels by force of arms might lead to the sanguinary results of sixty years before. But it was remembered that in the former war the use of dogs had proved very advantageous, so agents were now sent to Cuba to purchase a pack of bloodhounds. Thus the methods employed by the Spaniards against the Indians two centuries before were once more brought into use. One hundred hounds were bought and with them came forty Cuban huntsmen, mostly mulattoes. As it proved, the very news of the coming of the hounds had the desired effect, the Maroons being apparently much more afraid of these ferocious dogs than of trained soldiers. At any rate, they immediately sued for peace, and, as an old historian tells us, "It is pleasing to observe that not a drop of blood was spilt after the dogs arrived in the island." Peace was made within a week, and in the next year the chief offenders were sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and put at work on the fortifications. They were afterwards sent to Liberia.

From that time forward there was no trouble with the Maroons. Their descendants still dwell in the island as a separate people. In 1865 there was an outbreak among the free blacks, slavery having been abolished thirty years before. The Maroons were called upon to help the troops put down this revolt. They responded cheerfully and rendered useful aid in the brief conflict. When it was over the black warriors were invited to Kingston, the capital, where the whites of that city had their first sight of the redoubtable Maroons. Black and brawny, they had the dignified carriage of men who had always been free and independent, while some of them wore with pride silver medals which their ancestors had been given for former aid to the whites. Once a terror to Jamaica, the Maroons are now among its most trusty inhabitants.