Nanny was born c. 1686 in Ghana, Western Africa, into the Ashanti tribe, and was brought to Jamaica as a slave. Nanny and several relatives were sold as slaves and sent to Jamaica. Upon arrival in Jamaica, Nanny was likely sold to a plantation in Saint Thomas Parish, just outside of the Port Royal area. She and her brothers, Accompong, Cudjoe, Johnny and Quao ran away from their plantation and hid in the Blue Mountains area of northern Saint Thomas Parish. The most famous of her brothers, Cudjoe, went on to lead several slave rebellions in Jamaica with the aid of her other brothers. Later, they separated to organize more Maroon communities – Cudjoe to St. James (Cudjoe Town), Accompong to St. Elizabeth (Accompong), Nanny and Quao to Portland, where they controlled an area known as Nanny Town.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Nanny, a small, wiry woman with piercing eyes, was a leader of the Maroons, she was well known for organizing and participating in fierce fighting with the British during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. For over 30 years, Nanny freed more than 800 slaves, and helped them to resettle in the Maroon community.
In 1739, Cudjoe signed a peace treaty with the British. Later, as a result of that treaty, Nanny and her maroons were granted five hundred acres of land upon which to settle, which became New Nanny Town. Some claim that Queen Nanny lived to be an old woman, dying of natural causes in the 1760s.
In 1976, Nanny was named National Heroine, the only woman to be so honored. Her likeness graces the face of the Jamaican $500 note. The “Nanny.” Her portrait is also used as the logo of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University.