Queen Nanny, or Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica’s only National Heroine, was a great military and spiritual leader of the Windward Maroons during the early 18th century. Her resistance activities against the British and the institution of slavery during that time are the stuff of legend. Yet, much of what we know about her comes from oral history. So what exactly do we really know about Nanny of the Maroons?
Here are 11 facts about Queen Nanny that many of us may not know.
1. Queen Nanny’s Ethnic Origin
Like the majority of the Maroons, Queen Nanny was of Ashanti origin. She was sold into slavery during the early 18th century; but later escaped into the mountainous regions of the island with other enslaved persons to form the various Maroon communities.
Nanny became a member and a great leader of the Windward Maroons, who settled in the eastern section of the island, specifically within the high mountains of Portland and St. Thomas. The other two great leaders of the Windward Maroons were Captains Quao and Kofi.
2. A Town in Her Own Name
Queen Nanny was the leader of the legendary Maroon stronghold, Nanny Town, which was located in the Blue Mountains in Portland. It was a large village with an estimated 140 houses. The British government knew of the existence of Nanny Town, and searched for it unsuccessfully for many years. It wasn’t until around 1728, when they were assisted by an African who helped them in their fight against the Maroons, that the British soldiers eventually found Nanny Town. Between 1730 and 1734, Nanny Town was repeatedly attacked by British troops until it was eventually destroyed in 1734.
3. New Nanny Town is Born
After the peace treaty between the British and the Leeward Maroons in the west, led by Captain Cudjoe, was signed in 1739, Captain Quao signed another for the Windward Maroons in the east on June 23, 1739. However, Queen Nanny was not a signatory to this treaty, which suggests that she reluctantly agreed to the peace. After the signing, there was a split in the Windward Maroons: one group followed Quao to form Charles Town near the coast, and the other followed Nanny to form New Nanny Town, now Moore Town in the Rio Grande Valley of Portland.
4. Documentation of Queen Nanny’s Existence
The scarcity of written information about Nanny of the Maroons results in much of what is known about her as “part myth, part folklore and part legacy” (Brown). Nanny is mentioned only four times in the official written records. The most important of these is a land patent, signed by the Governor on August 5, 1740, and enrolled in the Patents on April 20, 1741. This land patent granted to “Nanny and the people now residing with her and their heirs and assigns a certain parcel of land containing five hundred acres in the parish of Portland…” (Nieuwaal and Zips 1998, pg. 201).
Nanny’s land patent can be viewed at the Jamaica Archives and Records Department (JARD).
5. Queen Nanny’s True Face
It is not known what Nanny actually looked like so the likeness of Nanny on the JA$500 banknote is an artist’s rendering of her.
There are at least two other artistic renderings of Queen Nanny:
6. Queen Nanny’s Maroon Leadership
Queen Nanny was the spiritual and military leader of her people. She did not participate in the fightings herself but was the military strategist. It was said that she was so clever at guerrilla warfare that her strategies surprised and confused the English soldiers who went into the mountains after the Maroons.
7. Tenure of Leadership
According to historical reports, Nanny was believed to be well into her 60s when she led the Maroons.
8. Queen Nanny and the Supernatural
Queen Nanny’s influence over the Maroons was so strong it was believed that she had supernatural gifts, and used these gifts in her military strategies against the British soldiers.
9. Queen Nanny the Wise Woman/Chieftainess
Nanny was also a chieftainess or wise woman among the Maroons. She passed down the legends and customs from Africa to her people.
10. “Grandy Nanny”
The Maroons today refer to her as “Grandy Nanny,” their ancestral grandmother. The Maroons consider themselves Nanny’s “yo-yo” or progeny (Brown).
11. Queen Nanny’s Final Resting Place
Nanny is believed to have been buried on a hill in Moore Town known as “Bump Grave” that is a regarded as sacred ground.
Until next time…
Brown, Kimberly, “Nanny of the Maroons: History, Memory, and Imagery.” [Online]. Available at: http://www.yale.edu/glc/nanny.htm#1. [Accessed 25 July 2012].
Jamaica Information Service (2001). National Heroes. [Online] Available at: http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Heroes/Heroes.htm. [Accessed 25 July 2012].
Nieuwaal, E. and Zips, W. (1998) Sovereignty, Legitimacy, and Power in West African Societies: Perspectives from Legal Anthropology. Hamburg: African Studies Centre.
Senior, Olive (2003), Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. St. Andrew: Twin Guinep Publishers, Ltd.
The Sunday Gleaner, October 19, 1975