Fearless Warrior Queen Nanny

Fearless Warrior Queen Nanny (c. 1685 – c. 1755)

Queen Nanny, a Jamaican national hero, was a well-known leader of the Jamaican “Maroons” in the 18th century.

In Jamaica when slavery was at it’s peak a number of West Africans fled the plantations to form tribes in the mountains. These people were called a derogatory Spanish name “cimarrons” or “Maroons” which meant savage, but they were very civilized, and extremely organized with the intent of freeing their brothers and sisters.

The so-called Maroon tribes are said to have inter-married with the native Arawak tribes of Jamaica and would train to become efficient fighters and masters at guerilla warfare.

“Slave-masters” would worry for their lives as these Maroons would routinely damage their property, liberate enslaved people, and fend off the attacking British soldiers whenever their settlements were besieged – which was quite often.
Societies of “Maroons”, or “runaways,” make up the core of communities that have preserved their identities as the pioneer freedom fighters of the New World.

The colonies of people that escaped inhabited Jamaica’s interior 200-300 years ago (17th and 18th centuries) are for many Jamaicans a symbol of nationalism. In a new, harsh and mostly hostile environment, hunted own without mercy by colonial forces, these people faced nothing less than a lifetime of fighting to retain freedom and a new society.

One of Jamaica’s greatest folk heroes was the female leader Queen Nanny or Nanny; a Ghana-born warrior of the Ashanti tribe whose alleged use of Obeah magic and military tactics catapulted her name into infamy throughout the ages.

Nanny established a settlement known as Nanny Town which was the refuge and training grounds for her people and a place that saw many battles with British forces.

Nanny was a consummate leader in that she was both diplomatic and sharp when necessary. Her fame is mostly attributed to her numerous victories over the British who sought to crush her Nanny Town but failed repeatedly in their attempts. There was a time when the British took the town and Nanny retreated with her people up further into the Blue Mountains to rally. After the British converted the town into a fort she and her men raided it by surprise and reclaimed the territory.

She was not a normal woman by any means and her ascension to “Queen Mother” was due to her ability to lead. There haven’t been many documented reports on her but the few documents always go back to that fact – she was a brilliant general and Queen Mother to her people.

As far as family, not much is known of Nanny’s people outside of the fact that she had a brother named Cudjoe who led a huge rebellion in 1738.

She was said to be a small wiry woman with piercing eyes and her influence over people appears to have been strong. So strong indeed, that it bordered on the supernatural and was said to be derived from her powers of Myal (i.e. ‘Good Obeah’).

The Warrior Queen was particularly skilled in organizing the guerrilla warfare carried by her army to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them.

The passing of Queen Nanny

The unfortunate fall of this wonderful woman is attributed to some enslaved people that were hired by the British to hunt down the runaways and kill them. The irony of this is disgusting when we look at slavery as a whole but the people who killed her were unable to stop Nanny Town.

After seeing no way of winning against Nanny’s people – The British signed a treaty which gave them 2,500 acres of land in exchange for their services in protecting Jamaica from invaders.

In the “Journal of the Assembly of Jamaica, 29–30 March 1733,” we find 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 her army in the “First Maroon War” and who is called “a very good party Negro, having killed Nanny, the rebels old obeah woman”.

These hired traitors were known as “Black Shots” (Campbell 37). It is likely that Cuffee was motivated by the reward, a common practice by plantations to discourage enslaved Africans from escaping.

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 so-called Maroons are adamant that there was only one “Queen Nanny.”

Nanny’s remains are supposedly buried at “Bump Grave” in Moore Town, one of the communities established by the Windward Maroons in Portland Parish.

The legacy of Nanny lives on to this day and her heroics are known to every Jamaican as an example of bravery, leadership, and perseverance.




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