Encyclopedia Womannica

Warriors: Queen Nanny

Episode Summary

Queen Nanny (c. 1686-unknown) led the Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, to victory against their British occupiers.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s warrior was known as the Mother of All Jamaicans. She led the Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, to victory against their British occupiers. Let’s talk about Queen Nanny. 

Queen Nanny was born around 1686 in the country now known as Ghana to the Ashanti tribe. We assume today that Nanny and her family were later brought to Jamaica as slaves, but in truth there is no historical record of how she got to Jamaica. Oral history holds that Queen Nanny arrived as a free woman and was never enslaved, though we have no way of knowing for sure. 

By 1720,  Nanny and a man who may have been her biological brother, settled in the Blue Mountains in a strategic area that appeared adequately defensible against potential threats like the British. There they founded a village, which later became known as Nanny Town. Escaped and freed slaves flocked there, where they found a welcoming home and vibrant community. 

Over the course of a decade, the British tried to capture Nanny Town multiple times. Even when they succeeded in doing so, their troops couldn’t hold onto the village. Nanny had taught her own army a variety of extremely effective guerrilla tactics and advanced forms of camouflage that overwhelmed the British.

 Nanny also pioneered a long range communication system. She used a special cow horn instrument that allowed the different Maroons

 Communities to communicate with each other over long distances, warning of impending attacks and providing a means of coordination. 

In 1739, the British governor of Jamaica finally signed a treaty with Nanny and the Maroons to end the First Maroon War, which had lasted over a decade and depleted resources on both sides. In exchange for a ceasefire, the Maroons received over 500 acres allocated to them by the British on which they built a new Nanny Town. 

Besides being their military and political leader, Nanny was also seen as a spiritual leader of the Maroons due to her status as a master practitioner of Obeah. Obeah is an Afro-Jamaican religion that focuses on spirits and mysticism. Nanny used her knowledge of Obeah  to serve as spiritual guide and healer for the community. 

Over 30 years, Nanny was credited with freeing more than 1000 slaves. She also helped the former slaves adapt to their new lives in the Maroon community. 

Queen Nanny is still remembered today as the brilliant spiritual and military leader of the Maroons. She became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people. 

In 1976, Jamaica declared Nanny a national hero. Nanny is the first woman to be given the honor. 

Join us tomorrow to learn about our next warrior. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!