Dangerous Women: Grandy Nanny
There is little clear physical evidence about Grandy Nanny. Historical texts only mention her four times. However, Grandy Nanny is a Jamaican cultural hero believed to have lived in the eighteenth century. Jamaicans revere her for her role in Jamaican independence. Her image adorns the $500 bill. Oral tradition passed along by her descendants preserved much of what is known about Grandy Nanny. She is as much a myth as a historical figure.
Obeah Priestess and Medicine Woman
Grandy Nanny began her life as a royal member of the Ashanti tribe. Growing up, she was trained in the religion of Obeah to be a priestess and medicine woman. Kidnapped in western Africa in an intertribal conflict, members of her tribe sold her and her brothers into slavery. Once they were in Jamaica, they quickly escaped and went into the hills. Grandy Nanny created a community of free men, women, and children in what would become Nanny Town. Additionally her brothers created other settlements. For instance her brother Captain Cudjoe was the leader of the Leeward Maroons and founded Cudjoe Town.
Leader of the Windward Maroons
As the leader of the Windward Maroons, Grandy Nanny lead one of several groups of escaped slaves. These slaves formed independent tribal groups around the Caribbean. They ran their communities in a similar way to tribal villages in Africa. Many of the the members of the Maroons were from the Akan region of Western Africa. Slaves from other areas also joined their ranks. Further, the former slaves inter-married with the indigenous Arawaks. Archeological evidence of some of these various communities suggests the different Maroon groups traded with Spanish and later British plantations or settlements. They exchanged produce and livestock for cloth, weapons, and other items. In addition the Maroons obtained necessities by leading raids against the plantations and settlements. The raids freed more slaves and drove the British out of Jamaica.
Around 1720, Nanny and her husband settled in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Between 1728 and 1734, the British frequently attacked the Maroon communities. The British saw the settlements of escaped slaves as lost wealth and property. Due to British attacks, Grandy Nanny chose her location for its strategic importance. It overlooked the Stony River from atop a 900 foot ridge, making a surprise attack by the British practically impossible. Further, the Windward Maroons also organized a system of look-outs to watch for attacks. If an attack was eminent, a member of the Maroons blew a horn called an abeng summoning their warriors to battle.
Several times Grandy Nanny personally lead attacks on the British. An old sorcerer woman organizing and leading the attacks flabbergasted the British. In addition, rumors of Grandy Nanny’s spiritual powers assisting her in resisting the British circulated widely. Because of the rumors about Grandy Nanny, the British hunted specifically for her to stop the rebellion. In response, she retreated into the highest mountains of Jamaica. Further, she continued her strategy of guerilla warfare against the Redcoats who she called “red ants.” Over the course of 30 years, Grandy Nanny freed more than 800 slaves in her raids on plantations.
In March 1733, a written citation in the Journal for the Assembly of Jamaica notes Grandy Nanny’s death. It reads:
“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 Maroons in the First Maroon War and who is called ‘a very good party Negro, having killed Nanny, the rebels old obeah woman.'”
While there are so few citations about Grandy Nanny, this one points to her death at the hands of William Cuffee. Most likely Cuffee was a type of hired soldier known as a “Black Shot”. Reward motivated him to fight against the Maroons. Plantation owners used “Black Shots” to discourage slaves from escaping. The Maroons buried Grandy Nanny at “Bump Grave” in Moore Town which is another settlement established by the Windward Maroons.
In 1739 the British governor in Jamaica signed a peace treaty with the Windward and Leeward Maroons. A land grant promised 2500 acres in two locations to the Maroons. The Maroons were to remain in their five main towns, namely Accompong, Trelawny Town, Mountain Top, Scots Hall, and Nanny Town. The terms negotiated were that the Maroons would live under their own chief, with a British supervisor. In exchange, the Maroons agreed not to liberate or hide new runaway slaves. Further, they would help to catch the runaways and be paid for any runaway slaves they caught. In addition, the British agreed to pay the fierce Maroons to fight for them in the case of an attack from the French or Spanish.
Grandy Nanny was a very dangerous woman.