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Cudjoe, or Captain Cudjoe (c. 1680 – 1744), sometimes spelled Cudjo - corresponding to the Akan day name Kojo or Kwadwo - was a Maroon leader in Jamaica, and the brother of Nanny of the Maroons. He has been described as "the greatest of the Maroon leaders."
The Jamaican Maroons are descended from runaway slaves who established free communities in the mountains of Jamaica during the long era of slavery in the island. African slaves imported during the Spanish period may have provided the first runaways, apparently mixing with the Native American Taino or Arawak people that remained in the country. Some may have gained liberty when the English attacked Jamaica and took it in 1655, and subsequently. For about 52 years, until the 1737 peace treaty with the British rulers of the island - which is still in force - the Maroons stubbornly resisted conquest.
Cudjoe is believed (according to Maroon oral tradition) to have been the son of Naquan, a chief of the Akan people or Coromantee people from what is modern-day Ghana. Naquan was taken captive and sold into slavery in Spanish Jamaica in the 1640s but he initiated a revolt and led his tribesmen into the mountainous interior of the island, establishing the first community of Maroons, as the runaway slaves were called, after the Spanish word cimarron, meaning "wild".
The two main Maroon groups in the 18th century were the Leeward and the Windward tribes, the former led by Cudjoe in Trelawny Town and the latter led by his sister Queen Nanny (and later by Quao). Captain Cudjoe had endless energy and was greatly motivated to stay a free man. He was strong, courageous and relentless. Cudjoe was also a very skilful, tactical field commander and a remarkable leader.
Battles with the British
When the British attempted to recapture runaways, Cudjoe defeated them on every occasion. Not only did Cudjoe successfully defend his communities, but also, similar to what Harriet Tubman would do in the nineteenth century, he freed many captives by raiding Britain’s plantations. Sometimes his raids were non-confrontational, but most times they were vicious, bloody encounters.
Before he attacked a plantation, Cudjoe would send spies among the captives to gather information from them at the markets and on the plantations. Once his spies collected sufficient evidence of the slave-owners’ plans, they sent them to Cudjoe. Then he determined the time and place of his attacks. During his strikes, Cudjoe and his men burned down mansions, destroyed cane fields and killed many whites along with faithful slaves who refused to help him.
Cudjoe’s attacks were so devastating that many of the early English settlers abandoned their plantations and returned to England. He often killed faithful slaves during these attacks because he despised them. According to one of England’s commanders on the island, General Williamson, it was commonly said, "the British rules Jamaica by day and Captain Cudjoe by night."
In an attempt to capture Cudjoe and the Maroons, British leaders built forts near Maroon communities. They imported Native American tracking specialists from Central America to hunt down the Maroons. In addition, they formed an army of more than 1,000 soldiers to fight Cudjoe’s weapon-deficient military.
However, even with the tracking specialists and formidable army, Cudjoe outmaneuvered the British commander when one of Cudjoe’s spies told the commander that Cudjoe established settlements in a particular valley. As the British soldiers marched into the valley, Cudjoe’s four-sectioned forces watched them from behind the natural boundaries. When Cudjoe’s men attacked the soldiers from all sides, the crossfire surprised and debilitated them. The British soldiers fled the area and left behind guns and supplies.
For the next decade, Cudjoe caused considerable damage to the slave structure of Jamaica. When he raided, he often burned sugar cane fields, houses and barns, and he continued to kill slaves who were loyal to their masters. This latter measure put a great deal of pressure on every African captive to abide by Cudjoe’s advances. Therefore, Cudjoe’s peer-pressure tactic led the British to distrust just about every captive on the island.
To finally stop Cudjoe, the British government planned an elaborate expedition against the Maroons. The British recruited every fighting-eligible man on the island to move against Cudjoe. However, after considering the fact that if all the men went to fight against the Maroons, there would be no one left to protect the women and children, the British had a serious dilemma and they did not know what to do.
Faced with a very disturbing problem, Governor Sir Edward Trelawney weighed the possibilities. Eventually, he decided not to attack Cudjoe. He, instead, opted to make a treaty of peace with the Maroons. To carry out Governor Trelawney’s orders, a rather large army escorted Colonel Guthrie to meet with Cudjoe in Maroon territory. Once he convinced Cudjoe and his men that he would neither attack nor trick them, Cudjoe met with the colonel.
After talking for an hour or so, both men worked out a satisfactory treaty. They agreed that the British must recognize the Maroons as an independent nation; that the Maroons receive a very large tract of land and would not have to pay any taxes on it. However, Chief Cudjoe, in return for this recognition of autonomy, promised to return runaway slaves and help put down future slave rebellions. Maroon societies still exist in Jamaica today.
Cudjoe died at Nanny town in the Blue Mountains five years after peace was concluded. He was succeeded by his brother, Accompong.
Milton McFarlane, a descendant of Cudjoe, has written that it probably would have taken the British abolitionsts "twice as long [to abolish slavery] had it not been for the Maroon victory that gave the British cause to think.
Cudjoe Day is celebrated in Jamaica on the first Monday in January.
- Junius P. Rodriguez, The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, 1997, "Cudjo" by Thomas W. Krise, p. 203.
- "Captain Cudjoe". MarcusGarvey.com. 14 September 2004. Retrieved 16 March 2011.[dead link]
- Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, 1997, "Cudjo" by Thomas W. Krise, p. 203.
- "Captain Cudjoe, Dauntless Maroon Chief of Jamaica", Re:Genesis.
- Craton, Michael (2009). Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies. Cornell University Press. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-8014-7528-3.
- Milton C. McFarlane, Cudjoe the Maroon, London: Allison & Busby, 1977.
- Understanding Slavery Initiative.