Jamaica Fiwi Roots

The First Maroon War

through the eyes of phillip thicknesse.
extracts from his memoires about his time in jamaica

Philip Thicknesse, a British soldier, author, and traveler, offers a unique and unfiltered glimpse into 18th-century Jamaica in his memoirs, "Memoirs and Anecdotes," published in two editions (1788 and 1790).

His candid observations on the island's social dynamics, racial tensions, political landscape, and plantation life provide a valuable, albeit controversial, historical perspective. The passages related to his time in Jamaica are included below. In them, he recounts his encounters, military service, and reflections, giving us—two centuries later—a perspective and a deeper understanding of this pivotal period in the island's colonial past.


Note: The original manuscript, from which this text is taken, presents challenges for modern readers due to its unstructured format, lack of paragraph breaks, lengthy sentences, archaic language, and variant spellings. Although transcribed, some words may still be inaccurate due to the original handwritten 's' resembling an 'f'. To enhance readability, paragraph breaks have been inserted where possible, while remaining faithful to the original content.

A rephrased version of the original memoirs has been created to further assist readability. The language has been modernized for clarity and readability, but the content remains faithful to Thicknesse's account.

[ chap 6: mission to find quaho & battle at spanish river - jtl ]

I am now arrived at that important period of my life, (yet a complete half century ago,) that James Mac. Kittrick, alias Adair, hath charged me with having "the sole command" of a party of soldiers, when in the woods of Jamaica, and falling into an ambush of the wild Negroes; securing my own person, by an early retreat, and leaving the battle to be fought, by my victorious Sergeant, who brought many of them in prisoners, at the instant that I was boasting of my own personal exploits, I will not call this double named doctor, "a beast, a reptile; an assasin, and murder-monger" but the reader will I am sure excuse me, in saying he is a base libeller, a liar, and a wicked defamer, and has no pretensions to be considered as a gentleman, if he has dared to write, print, and publish, such falsehoods. [break inserted for readability]

But before I expose and refute this wicked calluminator: it may be necessary to give some account of the state of that Island, between the years seventeen hundred and thirty, and that of thirty nine, when under the government of Mr. Trelawney; who made a permanent peace with those black people. Such who are unacquainted with that Island will be surprised when they are told, that all the regular troops in Europe, could not have conquered the wild Negroes, by force of arms; and if Mr. Trelawney had not wisely given them, what they contended for, LIBERTY, they would, in all probability have been, at this day, masters of the whole country. The mountains in that Island are exceedingly steep and high, much broken, split and divided by earthquakes, and many parts inaccessible, but by men, who always go bare footed, and who can hold by withes, with their toes, almost as firmly, as we can with our fingers. [break inserted for readability]

[ rephrased version starts here - jtl ]

In Governor Trelawney's time, there were two formidable bodies of the wild Negroes in the woods, who had no connection with each other, the west gang, under the command of a Captain Cudjoe: the east, under Captain Quoha. A straggling prisoner of Quoha's gang, being taken, he was sent to inform his brethren, with the conditions Mr. Trelawney held out to them, and which were accepted, by Cudjoe long before Captain Quoha, had heard any thing of it. At this time, I had been rémoved from my Port Maria Bay, duty, to a place called Hobbie's, five miles from the sea, in the parih of St. George's; under the command of Lieutenant George Concannen, a gentleman, who had been long in the island, and brother to Mathew Concannen, then the attorney general of Jamaica. [break inserted for readability]

The parish of St. George's, one of the finest, and most fertile in the Island, had in a manner been laid desolate, by the wild Negroes, so much so, that though it once abounded in sugar plantations, we were obliged to send thirty miles for our rum, and many other necessaries, nor durst we even appear without the walls of our barracks, after it was night, as the wild Negroes surrounded us, and frequently, when they heard our centinels call all's well; would reply, ki! ki! Becara call all's well, while we teeve their corn; at this place, Mr. Concannen was reinforced with a Lieutenant, and fifty militia men, black and white hot, as they were there termed, and seventy baggage Negroes; his orders were to march up a certain river-course, till we discovered a wild negroe town, supposed by good information, to be upon its margin, or very near it; after two or three days march from Hobby's, towards the sun setting, we came to a spot, on which the impression of human feet, of all ages, were very thick upon the sands, as well as dogs, etc. We were certain therefore; that the object of our search was near, but as there is very little twilight in that country, it was determined, that we should lie quietly all night upon our arms, and make our attack at the dawn of day, the next morning; and, before the sun appeared, we perceived the smoak of their little Hamlet, for the Negroes, always have a fire burning in their huts to drive away the musquitoes: we therefore flattered ourselves, that we might take even the, napping: if those people, ever stand their ground, it is upon such, as is almost inaccessible by white men, and the first notice of their attack, is a heavy fire, from invisible hands! however the little Hamlet I am speaking of, was not a principal town, but a temporary fishing and hunting villa, if I may be allowed the expression; it was situated on the margin of the river, accessible every way, and consequently not teenable: and therefore the inhabitants, who had discovered our approach, were gone off in the night, or perhaps but a few minutes before we entered their town, for there were seventy-four huts, and a fire burning in each, but no living creature in it. [break inserted for readability]

Here the duty, upon which we were sent, was compleatly performed; but Mr. Concannen, thought it then became his duty, to communicate to us, the orders he had received, in the governor's name, from Captain James ADAIR, (not one of the Adairs of the Highlands of Scotland, but really CAPTAIN ADAIR) * brother to the late well known, and much respected, William Adair, of Pall Mall, the lieutenant of militia, and our young Scotch surgeon: I do not know what Mr. Concannen's own opinion was, but he adopted ours, which I am sure was a very weak one, and that was to burn the town, and pursue the enemy; both which, we instantly put into execution, and followed the very track, which the Negroes had, in some measure made passable, by cutting the bushes before us. [break inserted for readability]

At every half mile, we found Cocoes, Yams, Plantains, etc. left artfully by the Negroes, to induce us to believe, they were in fear of our overtaking them, and at length we found a fire, before which they had left several grills of wild hog, probably well seasoned for us, we continued the pursuit, till near night, and then, hearing their dogs bark, we concluded they had heard us also, and we gave over all hopes of seeing or hearing anything more of them: we had marched with great expedition, the whole day, and were much fatigued, but soon after, we got upon, the margin of Spanish River,*
(* The Rivers in Jamaica, are the best passes for Foot passengers, except in heavy Rains, and then they carry all before them.)
where we intended to enjoy ourselves, and rest that night, and the next morning, to follow the Stream, to the seaside, in order to find our way back to Hobbies: for the stream only, could have directed us which was our course back again. As I was the second in command, my station was, in the rear of the whole body of men, baggage Negroes and all; and as soldiers on that duty, can only march Hedge-fashion one after another, I may venture to say, I had been all the former days, a mile at least from Mr. Concannen, who marched in the front, except a serjeant, and twelve black and white shot, which preceded him: but as all idea of service was over, I desired Mr. Concannen, to permit the militia Lieutenant, to bring up the rear, that I might have the pleasure of his company, and conversation, on our way down to the sea side? this being agreed to, after drinking our wild sage tea, we gave our fuzees to the drummer, and moved forward. [break inserted for readability]

The Negroes, some of whom, had been in our rear, all the preceding day, and others before us, had placed themselves, from top to bottom, on a very steep mountain, thickly covered with trees and bushes; on the other fide of the river, under which, they knew we must pass, as the water was too deep on our side, and as that mountain was not an hundred and fifty yards from the spot, on which we had slept, they had an opportunity of knowing our numbers, and seeing which of us, were the Grandé-men, for as to external dress, we were all very much alike, in course jackets and trowsers. The Negroes therefore, permitted the advanced serjeant, and his party, to pass unnoticed, but the minute us Grande-men got under their ambush, a volley shot came down, which must have killed or wounded most of us, had they taken any aim, but they are such cowards, that they lie down upon their bellies, start up to fire per hazard, and then sink down, to re-load; several of the soldiers, for the militia were at, some distance, though not out of gun shot, were mortally wounded, and the drummer, at our elbows, was shot through the wrist: at this instant, the baggage Negroes, (seventy) who had but just got their loads upon their heads, threw them down, and run away; and the militia, to a man, their officer excepted, (whom however we did not see) followed them. [break inserted for readability]

The wild Negroes at the same time, firing and calling out, Becara run away--Becara run away, it is probable too, that we should have followed, but fortunately, there were some large masses of the mountain which had caved down, and which lay in the middle of the stream, just under the foot of the ambush, and we took selter behind them, but though we could hear the Negroes and even converse with them, not one was to be seen!! our original stock of soldiers, did not exceed thirty, and to the best of my remembrance, we were not above fixteen or seventeen behind the rocks, nor was it in our power, to refrain, that handful of men we had, from firing at the smoak only, of our enemies, till they had not a single cartridge left!—The Surgeons instruments, and all the spare ammunition, with the provisions, etc. was cast down in the river above, and to say the truth, we durst not run away, for the Negroes, only fired, when they could see a head, or an arm of any of our people, above the rocks, and there we staid, more out of fear, than from any hopes of victory, up to our waists in water for four hours and a half, with a burning sun upon our heads, and in momentary apprehensions, of being all taken alive, for I believe that fear, overcome the fear of immediate death, I own it was so with me, and at length, however, one of our men, was shot through the knee! it was impossible that he could have been so wounded, from the ambush side, and therefore we naturally, and fearfully too, concluded, the Negroes had crossed the river, either above or below us, and that they would instantly push in upon us, and take us alive, we therefore agreed to quit our place of shelter, and take our chance of their reserved fire; and put the best face we could, upon our enemy, on the other side, with presented, but unloaded arms, for Mr. Concannen, myself, and the surgeon only, had a few spare cartridges, we accordingly hastily passed over the river, which was not forty yards, from the thicket, and was as thickly be-pattered on our retreat, as by their first salutation, the men who were mortally wounded, and who perhaps never intended to move from the stones in the river on which they were reposing for death, were so alarmed, to think that their last minutes, were to be spent in the possession, of such enemies, defying their wounds, their agonies, and their miseries jumped up and followed us, and one in particular, who had been shot through the body, at the firt fire, received another bullet in at his back, and out at his belly, and yet not only went over with us, but actually clambered up a steep mountain, and there besought us to dispatch him. [break inserted for readability]

Before we had been two minutes in the opposite wood, the militia lieutenant joined us, he had concealed himfelf behind a tree, for what else could he do? and as we dreaded a pursuit; we ascended as fast as crippled, fatigued, and for myself, I will add, frightened men could ascend, the steepest mountains, during which we heard the horrid shouts, drums, and rejoicings of our victorious enemies in the river below; not only rejoicing over our salt beef, bread, hams, etc. etc. but bearing as we afterwards found, the heads of our dead men in triumph. The run away militia, got among the settlements the same evening, and had not their hinder wounds, contradicted their forward declarations; they would have made their neighbours believe they had fought valiantly, I believe that a report had prevailed, that Mr. Concannen, and the whole party, had run away,*
(*) I never heard of any party, whether of militia, or regulars, that could stand against the ambushes of those people.
that report aggravated Mr. Concannen's friends, and then it was as wickedly propagated that because Mr. Concannen, the attorney general, and Mr. Trelawney the governor, were upon bad terms, that the governor had sent his brother, the lieutenant, upon this hazardous expedition, with a handful of men, to sacrifice him to the private resentment, he bore to the attorney general. [break inserted for readability]

I am happy even at this distant period, however, to say, that Mr. Trelawney, was too wise, too good, and of too noble a disposition; to be capable of any base, mean, or spiteful action. The town being found according to the information given us, is sufficient to prove, that it was for the good of the service only that such orders were given, and that us, younger counsel of war, whom Mr. Concannen consulted, led him into that disasterous situation, Spanish River, Mr Grenville, had a statue erected to him, when he quitted his government of Barbadoes, where there were no wild Negroes to subdue; and if the inhabitants of Jamaica, had been as wise, as they were generous, they too should have erected one, to Mr. Trelawney, before his door, at St. Jago, as the preserver of the island, and the author of their present quiet possession of it. [break inserted for readability]

I must now return, to my brother officer, and fellow sufferers, in Spanish river; Mr. Concannen by standing so many hours in the water, with a perpendicular sun upon his head, and a mind deeply suffering no doubt upon many accounts, was suddenly seized with a violent fever. Before we ascended the first steep mountain, but we thought it prudent, if practicable, to ascend to the very highest, and with great difficulty, and crippled as we were, did so; the poor drummer, who had been wounded at the first onset, got a ball through each thigh, when we retreated, and called loudly for water, or he could proceed he said no further; Mr. Concannen, was in the same distressed condition, but not a drop of water was to be had, my friend, and brother officer, then lay down, and desired me to make the best of my way, with such men as were able to follow me, and not to sacrifice the whole to two or three, miserable wretches unable to proceed. [break inserted for readability]

One of the soldiers, had a little hammock, made out of a barrack sheet, at his back, and flinging that between two trees, we with much difficulty got Mr. Concannen into it, for he was a tall bulky man; he then procured water, but of his own making, in his hat, and from time to time, moistened his mouth with it, I say moistened, for he durst not indulge his appetite in swallowing it, for want of the same powers of supply! the night approached, and as a profound silence was necessary, every man bore his wretched condition, without a groan, though we were all in a condition, I hope as bad as those sufferers in the hold at Calcutta, which has been so pathetically related, by a still surviving, and respectable sufferer, Governor Holwell. For myself, I lay down upon my back, by the side of my brother officer, with my tongue out, and praying to god to let that dew fall, which is considered fatal to those who expose themselved to it. The next morning, providentially, we found an enormous cotton tree, the spurs of which, grew so fantastically, that they had formed a reservoir of rain water, it was as black as coffee; but it was more acceptable, than a treasure of gold, on the evening of that day we got to the sea side, and among some inhabitants where hospitality and humanity was not wanting, notwithstanding the present hue and cry about slavery, cruelty, etc.

Jamaica is an island as remarkable for longevity as any part of the known world, and I hope and believe, there are many people living there, and here too, who will remember this transaction, not only as it occassioned much conversation among the principal people of the island, relative to the slanderous reports about the governor and the attorney general, but being our last act of hostility, as will appear in the next chapter, between the wild Negroes, and the civil inhabitants, a most important Era, in the annals of that wonderful, beautiful, and I will add, plentiful and luxurious island.


NOTHING but a mind rouzed to recollection, and awaken'd by the grossest falsehoods, could have recalled so perfectly to my memory, transactions, which from the great distance of time, seemed to me but as a dream, though it may be observed, that people in age, frequently forget the events of the year, and even the day in which they live, yet have a perfect recollection of what passed in their youth. About three months after this unfortunate run-away business in Spanish river, Governor Trelawney, like the Duke of Marlborough, honoured me with a second tryal, for I was again ordered out with a party of three hundred regular troops, under the command of Captain Adair, we were in possession of a prisoner, one of Captain, Quoha's people, and he too was one of their hornmen, and undertook to lead us to their principal town, for at this time Quoha did not certainly know, that Cudjoe (the captain of the west end of the Island gang) had submitted upon Governor Trelawney's terms. [break inserted for readability]

It was utterly impossible that those two parties could have any kind of communication or correspondence with each other; our prisoner, the hornman, was well assured however, that the western gang had laid down their arms, and were in possession of that for which they contended; LIBERTY, he assured us too, that we should fail, if we attempted to possess ourselves of their town by force: it was so situated, he said, that no BODY of men, or scarce an individual could approach it, that they would not have five or six hours notice, by their detached watchmen, or out centinels; nothing but ocular demonsration, can convey a perfect idea of the steep and dangerous precipices we passed, and which men, wearing shoes, could not be so secure as Negroes, who being bare footed; had toe fingers, as well as hands, to secure them from falling. [break inserted for readability]

After two or three days fatiguing march, the hornsman, conducted us to the foot of a very steep and high mountain, where we found in the vale beneath, a plantation of yams, plantanes, etc. he informed us that on the
the other side, equally steep to defend, stood their town, and the only accessible way to it, was up a very narrow path, that holes were cut, from place to place, about four foot deep, all the way up, and down, with crutch sticks set before them, for the entrenched Negroes, to rest their guns upon, and that the first man who appeared would be fired at, and another Negroe ready loaded, to take his place for the next comer, in short, that it would be impossible to lead our men in force, even to the top of the mountain, where the Negroes, who knew of our approach, were waiting for us; Captain Adair perceiving that force of arms would not do, to my great satisfaction, ordered the hornsman to sound his horn; the Negroes then were at no loss to know that their missing companion was with us, and they returned the salute, by sounding theirs, but all this while, not a man of them was to be seen! we then hailed them with a trumpet, and told them we were come to agree, not to fight; that the governor had given Cudjoes people freedom, and that the same terms were open to them; this account tallying exactly to that which the poor Laird of Laharret had communicated to them, had much weight, but when they were informed, that we were soldiers, not militia, they were alarmed, observing, that soldiers had no tatta, no mamma, andcthat one soldier dead, 'tother tread upon him, however, after a long trumpet parle, they agreed to send one of their Captains, in exchange, for one of ours, in order to settle preliminaries, and this being agreed, to our utter astonishment, we saw in an instant, an acre of under wood cut down, and that acre covered with Negroes! every man having cut down a bush at one blow in the twinkling of an eye! Soon after, terms being agreed to, we marched, or rather scrambled up the narrow path, and found at proper distances, the holes and crutches exactly as described by the hornsman; when we had descended a path equally steep and narrow on the other side, and approached the town, it became wide enough to march our men in, two a breast, under the beat of drums, this novel appearance, to their women and children, seemed so terrible, that they could not stand it, but taking their children by their arms, run away with them into the woods; however, when our drums were silent, and the men inactive, they returned, one, or two, at a time, till all was quiet, as I was the hostage, and first in their town, I took up my abode at Captain Quoha's habitation, and it was
was some amusement then to observe, with what detestation his peccananes (children) were bred, to feel against white men; for though they faw their father in civil conversation with me, they could not refrain from striking their pointed fingers, as they would knives if they had been permitted, against my breast, saying in derision, a becara-becara-i. e. white man! white man! and here I had the mortification of feeing the poor laird of Laharrets* under jaw,
[* The lairds teeth were so very particular, that some of our men could have sworn to the identity of the jaw bone.]
fixed as an ornament, to one of their hornmen's horn, and we found that the upper teeth of our men, slain in Spanish river, were drilled thro' and worn as ankle, and wrist bracelets, by their Obea women, and some of the ladies of the first fashion in town; however, upon our informing Quoha, that such objects were very painful to us, they did not appear the next day, I was very inquisitive to know in what manner the poor laird was put to death, but all I could obtain, upon that subject, was, that he had pleaded his own cause, and the Negroes too, so well (for he was a man of sense, and learning) that Quoa told me, he had put bracelets upon his wrists, and determined to have sent him down to Governor Trelawney, with offers of submission upon the same terms, the laird had assured him, Cudjoe had accepted; but said Quoha, when I consulted our Obea woman, she opposed the measure, and said, him bring becara for take the town, so cut him head off. [break inserted for readability]

But God knows what the poor laird suffered, previous to that kind operation. The old Hags, who passed sentence of death upon this unfortunate man, had a girdle round her waste, with (I speak within compass) nine or ten different knives hanging in sheaths to it, many of which I have no doubt, had been plunged in human flesh and blood; the susceptible reader therefore can better conceive, than I can describe, what my feels were, who had so lately escaped from some of her horrid operations in the use of them. But in the mids of this calm, and when we had reason to think all was peace and security, an event took place, which had not only nearly lost us the honor of making peace, and the islands the benefit of it, but involved us in a civil war, for a militia colonel, was out at the same time, with a large party of his men, and hearing by some straggling negroes, that Mr. Adair had brought the negroes to terms, he joined us at Trelawney town, and being of superior rank to Adair, insisted upon it, that the terms of peace should
be sent down in his, not Captain Adair's name; and this dispute, between us regulars, and the militia officers, arose to such a height, that Adair had put us all under arms, and if the militia colonel had not submitted, I verily believe we should have come to blows. [break inserted for readability]

The negroes could not be indifferent spectators to a scene of such confusion, and so big with mischief, and it was with some difficulty we could prevail upon Quoha to consider himself, and his people safe, between two contending parties of white men; and if Quoha had not been a plantation slave, who knew something of the customs, and manners, of the white people, all had been lost, it was clear however, that the peace was the act of Captain Adair, though the militia colonel might assume, upon our junction, the command of the whole, but even that, Captain Adair would not submit to. As Quoha spoke tolerable good English, and seemed a reasonable man, I questioned him very closely about the transaction in Spanish river; and the fate of those wounded men whom we left there, but he answered my questions so cautiously, that it was plain the truth was not to be told, but when I asked him what mischief our random fire at their smoak had done; he harply replied, "massa you no see this hole in my cheek? one of your shot bounce again my gun, him fly up, and makeum," and he was the only man who lost a drop of blood on their side, on a day that we suffered so severely, both in body, and mind. [break inserted for readability]

One of the listening negroes, to my conversation with Quoha, then told me he had observed me in particular, after we quitted the ambush, for when we left the river, and got into the thicket, I found a little keg of shrub, which one of our baggage negroes had cast from his head, in the first flight, and a soldier near me, having a little tin pot at his girdle, we all took a potation from it, and a most reasonable relief it afforded, after standing a long time up to our hips in water, with a vertical sun upon our heads. I then questioned the negroe where he was at that time? it seems he and another negroe, had been hunting wild hog, and was not with the negroes in ambush, but the reports of our firing, had brought them to the spot, and they had concealed themselves behind a large cotton tree, and ventured to fire only once, upon us, before we had left the river, and then it was, that the man was hot in the knee, and that shot it was, which determined us to quit the river; finding that we were fired upon from both fides, and apprehenfive that the negroes would have rushed in upon us, and taken us
alive, for that only was our fear, we would have compounded for immediate death; but we dreaded the sentence of death, and the executions of it, from the hands of that horrid wretch, their Obea woman. [break inserted for readability]

I have been thus particular, as to this part of the business, because the ingenious author of the history of Jamaica, in speaking of the peace made with the wild negroes by Governor Trelawney, has not mentioned it as two distinct acts, and with two separate bodies of men, under different leaders, and quite unconnected, but as if it had been one act of grace; to one body of people; whereas, it was as distinct a matter, as making peace with the French, without including the Spani￾ards, or the Spaniards without the French. This great and important service rendered to that island, should have been marked by the assembly with a statue at St. Jago, before the governor's door, to the man, who preserved their lives, and properties; and as they are a generous, a brave, and an hospitable people, I hope, when they so properly place a statue to Lord Rodney's memory for so gallantly defending them from an attack by sea, that they will not forget, what they owe to him who secured them interior benefits of equal importance to their purses and persons. Though it is fifty years since these transactions took place, there can be no doubt but that there are many persons now living in England, and in Jamaica, who perfectly remember the two events I have been forced to relate in vindication of my military character, and if the fasle defamer, Mackittrick, does not produce the gentleman of "refpectable character, nor those to whom that respectable gentleman told it to at Bath, to confirm, that I had the sole command" that I run away, that my serjeant obtained the victory, while I was boasting of my own prowess" the candid reader will I am convinced agree with me, that the charge was base, wicked, cowardly, and such as no man, not utterly void of every sense, of honor, conscience, or rectitude! would have dared to have published. CHAP

* Let Mr. Mackittrick produce that gentleman of character, or the gentlemen to whom he related ho circumstantially this matter, and if they are really men of character, I hereby promise to acknowledge my shame in the publick papers; but I shall expect Mr. Mackittrick for ever to hide his head among the barren hills, which gave such a wretch life, if he cannot, and I tell him he cannot; the man does not live who can say it, not even he who wrote it, durst not.