Jamaica-Sierra Leone ties strong
Sierra Leone is now one of three West African countries at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak. The others being Liberia and Guinea.
There are close bonds of history between Jamaica and Sierra Leone beyond the fact that many slaves who landed here would have come from the Gold Coast of Africa, which included territory that is now Sierra Leone. Among them is the most famous of the Koromanti slaves, Chief Tacky, who led a slave rebellion in St Mary in 1760 and now has a high school in the parish named after him.
Jamaicans have been taken back to Sierra Leone.
In July 1795, two Trelawny Town Maroons were hauled before the magistrates in Montego Bay, convicted and publicly flogged for pig-stealing. Trelawny Town was one of five Maroon settlements agreed by the colonial government after the First Maroon War in the 1730s.
The Maroons of Trelawny Town were incensed. Not over the flogging so much, although they wanted to try to punish their own as the peace treaty permitted, but the black workhouse driver who administered the flogging and prisoners looking on and mocking were runaway slaves who they had captured and handed over to the authorities for punishment under the existing peace treaty! An unbearable insult!
Threats of vengeance were issued. The Haitian Revolution was under way in St Domingue and the Jamaican Government and planters were terrified of a spillover.
The Maroons had accumulated grievances, including the replacement of a beloved white superintendent of the town who had become one of them, with another whom they intensely disliked. The recently arrived governor, the Earl of Balcarres, a military man who had fought in the American revolutionary war for the defeated British, ignoring local advice, declared martial law, mobilised regular troops and the militia and took command. Marching overland from Spanish Town to Montego Bay, he was met at Llandovery in St Ann by six Trelawny Maroon captains who were on their way to Spanish Town to present their grievances in person. The Governor arrested them and sent orders for the Maroons to surrender or be destroyed. Resistance was chosen by most and the Second Maroon 'War' broke out.
A mere 300 or so fighters, resorting to the guerrilla tactics which had served the Maroons so well in the First Maroon War, inflicted heavy casualties upon the army and militia, holding them at bay for months and raided and burnt plantations with hardly any losses themselves.
The tide turned when 100 bloodhounds and 40 handlers, dogs and men trained to hunt runaway slaves were brought in from Cuba in desperation. The Maroons accepted an offer of surrender made by General George Walpole, who was then commanding on the sworn condition that they would not be executed if deported from the island.
An unreasonable three-day deadline was set by the governor for Maroons to turn themselves in from January 1, 1796. Maroons straggled in from the bush up to mid-March.
Overruling Walpole, the governor, his Council and the Assembly held that the Maroons had thereby broken the terms of the agreement and were to be deported as punishment. The entire lot, 598 men, women and children, was bundled off to Nova Scotia, part of what came to be Canada. Walpole, the commitment he had given to the Maroons breached, refused a £500 ceremonial sword which the Assembly offered in gratitude for his services and later resigned his army commission in protest.
Britain, in 1787, founded the colony of Sierra Leone in West Africa for free blacks. Many free blacks had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War and at its end 3,000 of them were evacuated to Canada and settled in Nova Scotia. Others were taken to British Caribbean colonies and to London.
In 1787, British philanthropists, at the initiative of abolitionist Granville Sharp, started relocating the free black poor of London to Sierra Leone. The first shipment of 331 included 60 white prostitutes from London! The repatriated black settlers built the aptly named Freetown as one of their settlements, now the capital of Sierra Leone.
In 1800, the deported Maroons were moved from Nova Scotia along with several other blacks there to Sierra Leone. The fighting Maroons were brought in partly to help suppress a revolt by settlers starting in 1799 against their poor treatment by the Sierra Leone Company, which owned the land and managed the affairs of the colony. Those double-deported Maroons have become part of the Creole population of Sierra Leone retaining proud memories of their Jamaican Maroon heritage.
After Emancipation, hankering for 'home', a few of the exiled Maroons, some born in Sierra Leone, managed to make their way back to Jamaica without help from the British government, which they had petitioned for assistance in returning. Some others came to Jamaica as indentured workers in the post-Emancipation labour shortage. But most remained.
During the 19th century, long before Garvey and Rastas picked up the back to Africa call, many Caribbean blacks, including Jamaicans of course, repatriated to Africa in Sierra Leone. The bonds between Jamaica and Sierra Leone are long and strong, even if largely forgotten on this side.
n Martin Henry is a university administrator and public-affairs