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Impact of the Slave Rebellion: Sam Sharpe’s Journey from slave plantation to National Hero (Pt. 2)

  • Written by Shalman Scott, CD, JP
  • Published in Opinion
The following is the second part of an Emancipation Lecture presented by noted historian Shalman Scott, at the Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday, July 27, 2014 entitled:  Sam Sharpe’s Journey from slave plantation to national hero.

This matter is not just a Baptist issue being one of the religious denominations hardest hit by the reportage of its history,  but ought to be an issue of national concern regarding the squalid way our Jamaican history generally  has been published.

shalman-scottToo much of our history has been obscured, too much of our history to foster logical connectivity has been omitted and too much has been twisted. The Reason for  this state of affairs in respect to the abundant “Kakanaboo” stories in our history was due to fear and shame by the then   plantocratic  ruling class, and due also to over exuberance of some of the British missionaries who were bent on ” hogging the show “ to prove that it was their effort alone and intervention alone that cause slavery to end.   

In the meantime allow me  to acknowledge the stout heartedness of the JBU leadership in its monumental decision taken  in the celebration of   the Bicentennial of Baptist ministry in Jamaica in 1983 instead of adhering  to that unfortunate trajectory set in 1864 when the golden jubilee of Baptist work on the island was celebrated thus excluding the recognition of  the contribution of George Lyle, Thomas Swigle, George Gibbs, Moses Baker (Sharpe,sspiritual mentor)   and others who laid…by God’s Grace… the strong and lasting platform upon which all have stood.      

The further  good news is that there has emerged  numerous and bold  scholars who are committed to unearthing and reinterpreting the unadulterated  facts of  European Colonialism and its impact on our lives in every way… religious, social ,political and economic  even  today …by pouring through documents    as recorded in the manuscript Department and reading room of the British Museum, London ….the Public Records Office, London,….. Royal Commonwealth Society,…. Library of  the West India Committee, London, Institute of Jamaica, the Jamaica Archives, Plantation records, Church Records  and  stories contained in the collective memories  of the  ordinary men and women in the 875 communities across Jamaica, that carry a huge volume of oral history.

Some of this oral history passed down from generations to generations  which  crystalizes into what is called urban or rural  Legend or local traditions…  have  to be handled with  great caution……  as while they contain kernels of truth…  they contain also wild tales that are nothing more than the figment of the imagination.     

Indoctrination about the inferiority and insularity of Negroes being “miserable sons of Adam and Noah” abound and there was an obvious design to keep things that way. Lets look at the various threshold employed at home and abroad by the White Masters  during slavery to reinforce our “Negritude”. 1.

The Allegation that everything in Africa was so backward and barbaric and attempt was made to convince colonial subjects  that British Imperialism occasioning their enslavement and transportation had been  to their advantage and the best thing that has ever happened to the negroes.

Then there was the boast about bringing the Rule Of law to English Captured territories and its inhabitants  even in face of  the symbiosis between law and the violence employed to maintain its authority when the authority is thought to be threatened.

CRUSHING of the Indigenous people riots in Ceylon by dismissed and disgraced Governor Lord Torrington friend of Governor Edward Eyre who named Torrington Bridge in Kingston in his honour after that merciless incident  , Indian Mutiny ten years later, Morant Bay, Demarara and Mau Mau rebellion Kenya 1950s….an act that consolidated the Rise of Rastafarianism in Jamaica…. just to name a few  examples.

The white masters and Imperialists insisted   Negroes were to be happy with their enslavement and transportation even when the slave raids, organized by Europeans generally, usually killed more slaves than that which was captured as in a case in Ghana, when in order to capture 15000 slaves 20000 were murdered in the process. Even in the face of such pain and numbing cruelty we were to foolishly believe that slavery was a blessing to the Negroes.

When slavery was mentioned, it was often done in  in a way to claim credit  for Great  Britain  leading Role in suppressing the slave trade. British Abolitionist like William Wilberforce were featured as liberators and the abolition of slavery was attributed to British Goodness.

The part played by rebel slaves, in achieving abolition of slavery, was rarely mentioned. For Example The Sam Sharpe rebellion was not included in our 178 pages History of Jamaica written by Clinton Black a white Jamaican national Archivist for many years…. who were more than familiar with the facts but he just chose to omit some of them.   

Neither was the rebellion listed in his Book “the making of the West indies”… the two history textbooks that were prominent at all levels of the Education system, for several generations. Yet, it was that rebellion  involving 20,000 slaves in Western Jamaica alone, in addition to slaves in the  Parishes of  Manchester, St. Ann, Portland and St. Thomas that  shattered  the gridlock between British Prime Minister Lord Grey and the house of commons on the one hand and King William 1V and the House of Lords on the other.

In November 1831 a month before Sam Sharpe rebellion started, England was witnessing on the streets, vicious and bloody mass demonstrations against the King over his obstinacy and stiff neckedness in prodding the members of the house of Lords (Senate) to vote in support of the Great Reform act Passed in the House of Commons in 1830 which were intended to correct  a wide sweep of  political and moral wrong, including the need to abolish slavery.

Though not at the top of the Agenda, the threat of insurrection both at home and rebellion in Jamaica coupled with the British general election victory of the pro abolition of slavery Party forced King William 1V and the house of Lords to dismount their High Horses and Pass the Great Reform Act with the short title “Representation of the Peoples  act 1832” which when passed in the House of commons in 1830, Two years earlier,  precipitated sweeping changes in the Jamaica House of assembly allowing for immediate and total enfranchisement for people of colour and for Jews for the first time.

By October 1831 the Parish of St. James  elected James Mandison its first colored representative as was the case in some of the  other Parishes  to the  Jamaican house of Assembly  and  with  those developments -  historians  are of the view-  precipitated  a catalytic effect on the slaves resolve to stage the 1831 Christmas rebellion for change also in their own miserable and brutish  lives.  

The Bill for the gradual abolition of Slavery in the British overseas Possessions was passed in the British Parliament on July 29, 1832 and took effect on August 1, 1833 and fully operationalized in 1834.

It provided for children under six years old immediate full freedom, compensation to the planters for the loss of slaves amounting to 20 million pounds and an apprenticeship system which collapsed after 4 years of operation.

Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 five years after the abolition of Slavery act was passed into law and had very little  to do with the abolition of slavery despite the Brainwashing of our Ancestors who were moved  in  songs they made  and sung lovingly about the generosity of the queen Victoria and William Wilberforce an English Monarch and English politician for their role in the abolition of English enslavement of Black people.  

The Ancestors were never told about black emancipators such as Ignatius Sancho, Ollaudah Ecqiano a.k.a Gustavus Vassa and Ottabah Cugoano former slaves, but by  then  powerful gentlemen in the  London Merchant class and social circles-authors of several Books, pamphlets and Manuals and by their  public  works   not only educated Williberforce,  Quaker Granville Sharpe , Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Buxton  and other members of the anti slavery society……  who came to  those Black emancipators  for advice and guidance.

It was the black emancipators whose story of unspeakable psychological and physical  cruelty  experienced as slaves……That more effectively   galvanized mounting  moral  outrage among the English public   to rally for a decisive  end  to a shameful  economic system……operated for over two hundred years  and in which the British Royal Family was deeply involved.

The British Monarchy had interest in  Three Slave trading Companies: The Royal Gambia Company, The Royal Adventurers Company and the Royal African Company. Earlier in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 her majesty entered into partnership with Pirate John Hawkins and his cousin Pirate Francis Drake. She rented Hawkins the 700 ton ship named “Jesus of Lubeck” aka, the good Ship Jesus - retired from the British navy fleet- to work the trans Atlantic Slave trade and bring money and goods to England to Finance the Elizabethan Renaissance Shakespeare and all! And even as our ancestors, some   of whom were tricked into slavery by Hawkins who promised them he would return to get them, sang expectantly: “We will wait till Jesus come to carry our loved ones home!”  The original song had nothing to do with the Second coming of Christ but rather the second coming of pirate John Hawkins.

Recall that the  British Monarchy was so satisfied and happy with the slave trade  that it ordered in 1663 during the reign of  Charles 11…(King James 1 of the Bible grandson) and in celebration of the restoration of the Monarchy after Oliver Cromwell……..the minting of a British Coin called the “Guinea” named after  the country of guinea in west Africa from which the trade in Slave from the Slave coast  Gold from the  Gold coast, and Ivory from the Ivory coast ---- all situated on the shores of  the 5000 miles stretch of the  Gulf of Guinea …. And which made England extremely Rich. The guinea which valued more than the British Pound at 21 shillings was the favourite currency of Lawyers whose fees were  usually five guineas to take an average  case. Jamaica in addition to the use of the Guinea currency had Guinea Grass, guinea pig, guinea hen, guinea chick…Guinea weed and guinea people to this day. Yes. All came from back home!   

The commercial, economic and political motivations to end the slave trade and slavery by the British are most intriguing and would require another presentation entirely. For indeed slavery did not end simply because of humanitarian concerns alone.  It was also a strategic  maneuver by England to consolidate the domination of world trade via the east India Company in opium from China, in cotton, indigo, saltpeter ,spices, sugar,  tea from Ceylon , etc …..by pushing up the cost of  production to its competitors in the western world particularly Cuba owned by Spain, Brazil  owned by Portugal and United States of America now independent of England.. Having established a workable context…in my view… for this presentation I wish to now turn more directly and expansively  to the Sam Sharpe rebellion: Its processes  and its consequences.

The misinformation about the Sam Sharpe Rebellion itself were  numerous, for example ,Sam Sharpe was  supposed to have been born and grew up on Kensington Estate, Retrieve, Hazelymph, Croydon and Coppers Hill. One thing on which some chroniclers seem to agree is that he was an educated Town Slave but since there was no specific period ever mentioned when and where he was a Town slave the situation has only left readers in a state of more confusion.  

The continuing bending of the history of which I spoke earlier…. had the rebellion listed as a Baptist war…. even when the empirical evidence absolutely and conclusively   does not support such a claim. So what are the facts? Following Sharpe,s instructions, preparation for the protest /rebellion were combined with religious meetings. Large numbers of slaves met at twenty-two  various orthodox Christian churches(11 Baptists, 3 Presbyterians,3 Wesleyan Methodist, and 5 Moravians )and at unknown number of Myal  chapels locations.  

An Estimated 60,000 persons participated in the Rebellion. Many of Sharpe’s lieutenants were not Baptists, Methodist Creole (mixed race) slaves who were headmen on estates and  who mortally  hated the full blooded  Africans joined in for the second time in the history of over two hundred years of slave rebellions…..the first time  was the  1776 rebellion believed to be  inspired by the American war of Independence  charged as it were  with anti English sentiments, hundreds of  Free Blacks with no attachment to a religious  denomination  also participated in the  1831 rebellion.

Even a white sailor - and the missionaries including William Knibb, while appearing to be against slavery were also against the rebellion as a method to end the system of slavery urging the slaves to await Divine Providence. And because of Knibb’s stance, he clashed bitterly with Slaves at the Salters Hill Baptist Church dedication on December 27, 1831, when it was alleged that he threatened to expel persons from the  Church who participated in the impending rebellion.

Additionally while the Masters were telling the slave that they would soon get their freedom so they were to work harder until it  comes, the goodly Rev Knibb told the slaves at that meeting that the Masters sayings were not true.  The congregation that  became so incensed… began to shout at  Knibb calling him  uncomplimentary names …madman…..asking whose side he was on …. as they walked out of the Salters Hill Baptist Church. But listen to the Rev William Knibb  at  a public meeting hosted by the British Baptist Missionary Society in England 1832 after the rebellion went to its second phase of hostilities with the destruction by fire and crow bars of the Non conformist churches, including his own, by the CCU. See Footnote.

Sam Sharpe was born in 1801 and grew up to be a  teenager at Coopers Hill property  now overlooking Jarrett Park  and a  stone throw from  the Calvary Baptist Church now located on Corinaldi Avenue. He moved from the grass gang into the great house as a domestic slave at an early age… he was taught to read and write and to receive and entertain his master and mistress guests.

His master Samuel Sharpe Jr. instructed the driver on the estate, Bigga, to teach Sam how to ride the horse so he could be sent on errands. Problems between his master and himself erupted when and in a private meeting his master informed him he would be sold to a woman operating a guesthouse called the stag on Strand Street which was then located along the Montego Bay water front.  

But he would not give up ownership of him. His master warned him not mention their private talk to anyone. Sam was sold.

As time passed he was again sold to the owner of Croydon plantation, T.G Grey Esq. near Catadupa. Sharpe’s  mother Mimba,  who was a slave at Coopers Hill under his master’s father Sam Sharpe SNR…. and  who willed Sam Sharpe the slave to the Sharpe family, was sold from Coppers Hill  before Her Son was sold.  

She was firstly a cook then  head of the Jobbers Gang. That is the slave gang that the Slave master hire out to work on other plantations which are short of labour. In one of her secret  nightly visit to the estate to see  her son .  Before leaving that night Mimba reminded her Son That She is a Big Woman, he is  not  to worry for her as she can take c are of herself. They hugged warmly and share a tearful departure.

Dove and Gardiner who were later to become two of Sharpe’s lieutenants were his fellow slaves at Cooper’s Hill. All three decided to borrow two Horses from the property at Coopers hill and attend Baptist preacher Moses Baker church at Crooked Spring near Black Shop/ Sunderland. At  the religious meeting  he met Moses Baker for the first time and would later come under his influence. But he also met a beautiful young lady Nyami from Content Estate above Long Hill. Nyami is the female Sky God of the Tonga People living in the Zambezi River Valley between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  She later bore him a daughter whom both agreed her African ancestral name would be Ruba which in Arabic means “green Hills”.   It is timely to mention here that it was also at Bakers church in January 1824 That Thomas Burchell  and Sam Sharpe met for the first time.

Two other items of misinformation about the 1831 Sam Sharpe Rebellion were (a) That a slave who was excited and drunk and out of control lit the trash house at Kensington Estate triggering an untimely signal to begin the   Rebellion. Recall that the plan for the rebellion was that after  the 27th of December the slaves would refuse to work  until there was  a commitment from the  slave masters that they would be paid. However,  if the Masters refuse to give the assurance that the slave  would begin to receive wages and any attempt to force the slaves to go back to work ….would be met with insurrection.

The Owners of Kensington Estate evacuated the property for Montego Bay early on the day of December 27 1831. By afternoon the property was flooded with troops from the St James Militia based at Barracks Road and Fort Street and the uniformed group  began to use strong arm tactics to force the slaves  to begin preparation for the following day December 28th  to go back to  work again as  slaves.

By nightfall, and with news spreading of the disastrous Salters Hill Church meeting earlier that day with Rev. Knibb, the tension and confrontational atmosphere had reached its peak.  In response, The trash house was lit triggering the eruption of numerous fires across western Jamaica…. the unmistakable   signal to the start of the Sam Sharpe rebellion .

The second item of misinformation I wish to mention is:

(B). When the black company of rebels had the upper hand and they converged at long hill their failure to take over Montego Bay was due to the time they spent arguing who should be crowned king.  The rebellion was about ending slavery it was not to set up a Haiti type Government in Mobay or  Jamaica.

Secondly If there was ever any thought about crowning a king in Montego Bay, why should the Rebels be arguing about  who would be King when Their acknowledged  leader Sam Sharpe  was very much alive and well?  So, what are the facts?

Because of the clash at Belvedere and Montpelier estates Colonel WS Grignon head of the St. James and combined interior Western Militia was outmaneuvered by the Black Regiment of Sharpe’s men. Grignon withdrew with planters and their families all headed to Montego bay and Asked for help from the then Governor the Lord Earle Belmore who by that time… declared Martial Law.

Two British war ships joined the one already in the Montego Bay Harbour bringing the number to three with all pointing Guns and flooding the Town at nights with lights. The rebels on reaching Long Hill had a clear view of what was happening in the harbor in addition to receiving intelligence by way of “Bush Telegram” and decided that they could not, with a few guns, matched the fire power of  three British Man-o-wars in the Montego Bay harbor. Any attempt to   confront three British warships with cannons and thousands of soldiers consisting of  artillery men with field guns  with mortars and  with rocket launchers… would be suicidal! In any case both Captain Charles Williams of the HMS Sparrow-hawk and General Sir Willoughby Cotton commander of the British Forces In Jamaica and the HMS Racehorse…. concurred in their report that the plan of the Rebels was to burn down Montego Bay and therefore not to crown a King!

At this point in the conflict Rebels changed strategy and began to focus  on  the destruction of the physical infrastructure  the very foundation of plantocratic slavery.…wharves, water canals and factories. One Hundred wharves were destroyed around the country according the Governor in a report to the secretary for the colonies.    

Within 10 days the Slave rebellion was over but its impact was monumental, as it had the effect of countering the rumour by the West India Lobby comprised of absentee landowners and powerful London Merchants claiming that slaves in the Jamaica did not want slavery to be abolished as they would be very  unhappy if they were not owned by anyone!  

The Rebellion also strengthen the hands of the members of the antislavery society to whip up more public opinion against slavery; but a sectarian war of sorts… between the Established Church… Anglicans…  and the Non conformist churches began marking a second  but different phase of hostilities. 

The Anglicans, the church of the planters, accused the leadership of  non- conformist churches of influencing the slave to rebellion. None of those named and detained   Rev Knibb, Burchell, plus 6 others across Jamaica, and with the exception of  Moravian  minister in Mandeville Rev. Pfeiffer were charged with any crime and were at liberty to carry on their work.

I ask you to pause and take note of that fact. And link it to that Public speech the Rev. Knibb made in England in 1832. And lets ask ourselves:  Has the recorded claim of the Missionaries suffering, on behalf of fighting for the Slaves, too excessive an imposing overlay by the cast of all white historians which has had the effect of  sidelining  the pain and ultimate sacrifice  of  death of  the slaves themselves?

 A national organization called the Colonial Church Union equivalent to  klu klux klan in USA,  was formed in the Parish of  St. Ann with chapters all over Jamaica, except Kingston, where the free Blacks and coloreds would not allow it taking root. The leader was AW Bridges the Rector for the St Ann’s Anglican Church and the organization comprised Planters, Priests, Members of the Militia and French Royalist Whites who escaped from the Toussaint/Buckman Haitian Revolution by settling in Jamaica.

The Colonial Church Union  Manifesto read in part: “the  vermins (referring to the pastors of the non conformist churches)  want to reduce property to dust and secure for themselves advantages that will accumulate wealth and power but it was the intention of the Colonial Church Union to wipe the non conformist preachers off the face of the earth.” Burning and breaking down of non conformist churches went apace and slaves (our ancestors) were shot on site by the Pastors and Planters of  the CCU. Several Anglican Churches were closed for worship —including the – Mandeville Parish Church- as the church buildings were turned into Military barracks and jails. The Lima Massacre, St James, in which 200 defenseless  slaves were rounded up and   shot to death in cold blood  in the square just outside Adelphi, is a thick  blot on  our history.

While it can be forgiven,  it  must not  be forgotten, provided this memorial is used for constructive purposes including the underlining  always of the sanctity of Human life as a gift from almighty God. And regardless of race, colour or creed or ones station in life, everyones life  should be treated as a scared gift both black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles.

The massacre at Lima was sanitized and recorded in the archives as  the “Infamy of Lima” by the cast of all white historians. Just an infamous act in the mass killing of  200 defenseless negroes in cold blood!

While all this the carnage and destruction by the Colonial Church Union was going on, according to one of many versions of this story,  the Rev William Knibb and Thomas Burchell and their families who were away in England during the thick of the Rebellion (Knibb having left shortly after Salters Hill Baptist church Clash and the Rev. Burchell was  in  England close to  8 months even before the rebellion ) returned at the extreme  tail end  of hostilities.

They were taken off the Passenger Ship on which they arrived at Falmouth, by soldiers, transported by boat, and   were safely ensconced at sea as  white  British Citizens  on  a British warship HMS Blanche in the  Montego Bay harbor. There was no tar nor feathers on either Mrs Knibb nor Mrs Burchell when they arrived on the warship and into safety having just returned from England.   

What came out in the subsequent documents of two enquiries launched by the British Government is that there was harassment and threats against the lives of Missionaries:  Methodists, Moravians , Presbyterians  and Baptists  and their families but in every case free blacks and some whites moved to their rescue.  

Another reason,  there was no Baptist war , no Moravian war, no Presbyterian War and no Methodist War as most  missionaries were either on the run, under ground  or locked  away for  safe keeping.

It was a Slave War, the biggest in terms of  groupings and  participation; in terms of geographical spread and  in terms of absolute numbers, since  the  1673 rebellion in St ann. Methodist Preacher  Henry Bleby who claimed vicious attacks against  himself and family  unlike Rev. Knibb , Burchell and Pfieffer did not have  even a detention order  laid against him and  roamed freely .

But curiously and peculiarly,  it was he who began visiting Sam Sharpe regularly in jail  and although Sharpe had very strong  suspicions about  his motives Sharpe used Him to deliver his letters including one to the British House of Commons. The Rev Bleby wrote some ten books all published in london including, Josiah the Maimed Fugitive  -A True Tale…capture of the Pirates and other Stories off the Western Seas…Death Struggle of Slavery…Female Heroism and Tales of the Western World…Missionary fathers tale…Scene on the Caribbean sea, etc.

I tracked the Reverend activities and found him in 1858 doing speaking engagements at the Massachusetts Anti Slavery Society. He was billed as a Methodist Minister From Barbados and his Topic, Christmas Rebellion of 1831 of which the speaker was eyewitness. In June 1866, the year following the Morant Bay rebellion, the gleaner reported that the Rev. Henry Bleby was on the lecture circuit delivering a series of lectures in Berbice, Demarara and Esquibo Regions which are now modern day Guyana. And his fees were not cheap. On His first visit to Sam Sharpe in Jail he urged Him to write the story of his life and this Sam Sharpe did for Over Three Months.

There are excepts from the letter Sam Sharpe  wrote from jail to the British Parliament and  asking his  mistress  Mrs. Sharpe to publish it or between Reverend Bleby and Mrs. Sharpe to deliver that letter to the people it is intended for  “the beast of the earth, the asses, the cows, the pigs, do not receive the harshness of treatment that we do. Even though we are all the property of the landowner the animals in the pens are treated with more respect. Their heads are not cut from their bodies and hang upon poles they are not flogged until their bleed. Bucket of salt are not thrown on their open wounds. They are not bound in chains and placed in stocks. To hold another in chain is against the laws of god. I learn from my Bible that the whites had no more  rights to hold black people in slavery than the blacks had to make white people slaves and for my own part I would rather die than live in slavery”!

The choice of  place for the   hanging in the Albert Market of the Rt. Excellent Samuel Sharpe National Hero  and  the manner  of his burial by the Sea has powerful symbolisms which hopefully we will  discuss at another time. But  we must  accept that history should not be viewed in a straight line from one date to the next but ought to be seen  as a  network of interlocking Dynamics coming together and impacting on one another. And that by paying patient, consistent and forensic attention in following the leads by ferreting and crosschecking information is the only way to get to the truth. Then our evening would not be in vain. For History is sometimes NOT what we have been told.  I Thank you. And good evening.



NB chandler and Curtin, by 1839 noticed a falling of the earlier great wave of religious fervor. And  as emancipation retires in the past the missionaries though equally faithful are not equally influential. Noted that the decline of church membership correlated with the upsurge of myalism among the Negro population. For the great wave of religious fervor suddenly turn African.

Myalism and native baptism like Bedword in august town converged, shattered the high hopes of orthodox Christians and missionaries and laid the foundation for modern Jamaican revivalism.

QUOTES FROM WILLIAM KNIBB public meeting in England, promoted by BBMS, after the Rebellion and attack on the nonconformist churches “…..the missionaries had resolutely kept silent about civil and political affairs…as long as they had freedom to preach! But now there is an onslaught upon Christian preaching. It is  clear that the negro will be denied it (Christian Preaching) forever unless slavery was abolished….I NOW……. stand forward as the unflinching and undaunted advocate of immediate emancipation.”!!! He who feels it knows it? No longer should the slaves wait on Divine Providence because Rev. William Knibb is now hurt.

Last modified onSunday, 07 September 2014 10:19

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