Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia: The Politics of Climate and Race

"Trelawney Town" (detail), from An historical survey of the island of Saint Domingo, together with an account of the Maroon negroes in the island of Jamaica; and a history of the war in the West Indies, in 1793 and 1794, by William Young (London: J. Stockdale, 1801), 374.

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Editor’s note: This is the first in a joint series of posts on early Canadian environmental history by The Otter~La loutre and Borealia. The entire series is available here.

Not long after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handed winter coats to Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto this past December, reports about the immigrants’ problems began appearing in the press. Rent gouging by dishonest landlords. Frustration at delays in receiving permanent housing and full access to medical care. And, of course, that obligatory storyline: the shocking first experiences with a winter cold enough to cause some families to consider returning to the Middle East.[i]

This incident reminded me of a much earlier episode in Canadian history when a political leader welcomed people unwanted in other countries. In that case, the severity of northern winters became the focus of transatlantic controversy over whether or not black emigrants from the Caribbean could survive in the North.

"Leonard Parkinson, a captain of the Maroons", Abraham Raimbach, engraver, in B. Edwards, The Proceedings of the Governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in Regard to the Maroon Negroes . . . to which is prefixed an Introductory Account . . . of the Maroons . . . (London, 1796); Nova Scotia Archives Library Collection: F210 Ed9 (scan 200402094). Used with permission.
“Leonard Parkinson, a captain of the Maroons”, Abraham Raimbach, engraver, in B. Edwards, The Proceedings of the Governor and Assembly of Jamaica, in Regard to the Maroon Negroes . . . to which is prefixed an Introductory Account . . . of the Maroons . . . (London, 1796); Nova Scotia Archives Library Collection: F210 Ed9 (scan 200402094). Used with permission.

In 1796, Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth offered permanent residence to over 550 men, women, and children expelled from Jamaica. They came to Nova Scotia from the tropical highlands of Trelawny Town, where they formed the largest of Jamaica’s five independent enclaves of escaped slaves, or maroons—privileged but vulnerable “islands of freedom in a sea of slavery” in historian Richard Sheridan’s vivid words. The previous year, Jamaica’s governor suspected the Trelawny Maroons of plotting an insurrection and decided to deport the entire community.[ii]

The problem was where to send them…

Read the rest of this article at Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History here >>


 

[i] <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/first-canadian-winter-syrian-refugees-1.3402879>; <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/01/26/some-syrian-refugees-in-canada-already-want-to-return-to-the-middle-east/>.

[ii] Richard Sheridan, “The Maroons of Jamaica, 1730-1830: Livelihood, Demography, and Health,” in Gad Heuman, ed., Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance, and Marronage in Africa and the New World (London: Frank Cass, 1986), 152-172  (quote on 154).

 

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Anya Zilberstein

Anya Zilberstein teaches in the Department of History at Concordia University in Montreal. You can read more about the colonial history of climate politics in her book A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America, which will be published by Oxford University Press in September.

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