The Death of Sir Henry Morgan and the paradox of history

The Death of Sir Henry Morgan and the paradox of history

MONTEGO BAY, November 2021 - As I continue the discussions, without any apology, about the squalid way the early history of Jamaica has been treated by the cast of all-white chroniclers, including author of the book… History of Jamaica... Clinton Black (not his real name)… there is a phrase 'Proactive Inhibitions' or 'Interference' that I must introduce.

Shalman Scott,  political commentator and analystShalman Scott, political commentator and analystThe theory of proactive inhibitions essentially states that new information is blocked by the incidence of old information in the process of learning. After the dishonest manipulation and downright lies about a significant portion of our history, unsuspecting persons — educators and students alike — for generations, had come to accept the items of history information as gospel. And so as the lies got repeated ad naesum, new and radically different information about various incidents and instances in the history of Jamaica have left some persons in denial.

There has been a wrestling and struggling with what to believe, even as the previous foolishness fluently delivered by some professors, lecturers, teachers et al did not give a hint to several of these educators that they too were victims of intellectual dishonesty and a web of deception inspired by white racial prejudice.

The history of the Church did not escape this genetic and racial bias. The history of the Baptist faith, for example, written firstly by Inez Sibley, the great granddaughter of the Reverend William Knibb, embellished and exaggerated the work of her grandfather and his friend Thomas Burchell, to the point where they are presented as the chief saviours of the slaves from oppression.

The archival records show otherwise, where Knibb, especially, double-crossed the slaves, including Sam Sharpe, on many occasions. It showed also that the Falmouth Baptist Church was first built by a black missionary — Moses Baker — and a school attached to the church, began there by the Reverend John Rowe in 1816, some 14 years before Knibb arrived in Falmouth from Fullersfield, Westmoreland, in 1830. But Moses Baker, John Rowe and Henry Mann, all pastors before Knibb ….were written out of the book: History of the Baptists in Jamaica by Inez Sibly (1965) …. some 130 years after her great grandfather William Knibb arrived in the Falmouth Baptist Circuit of Churches. He died in 1845.

We were taught in school that pirate Henry Morgan was (a) buried in a lead casket near the sea at Port Royal and during the 1692 earthquake the sea subsumed the grave and it was lost forever; (b) the pirate was driven out of Port Royal to Tortuga ... so I reasoned to myself as a small boy in school, having listened to these conflicting stories, that after he died in Tortuga he was brought back to Jamaica and buried. This on the presumption that teacher was always right! Well two years ago I was on a cruise in the southern Caribbean and one of the stops was Honduras. I took a bus tour and disembarked, among other places, at a cemetery in Trujillo, Colon and I was guided to pirate Henry Morgan's grave.

The Falmouth Baptist Church, built by  Moses Baker and named for William Knibb Baptist 1110The Falmouth Baptist Church, built by Moses Baker and named for William Knibb Baptist 1110As I stood in disbelief and amazement I quietly asked the tour guide how Morgan ended up being buried there. She said he was put before a firing squad by the English and shot! The English knighted the pirate and appointed him lieutenant governor (equivalent to deputy prime minister) also, as head of the navy and the army in Jamaica. It was he who led the plunder of the Spanish vessels laden with gold sailing across the Atlantic and sacked Panama City, brought the loot home which was shared with Governor Sir Thomas Modyford … the only source of revenue at that time to run the country, and provide the Penn and Vennable land capturers (many forebearers of today's ruling class) … with money to begin sugar production and buy slaves.

By now one thing ought to be clear to the reading public and that is after the British invasion and capture of the island (1655-1661) from the Spaniards this process ending with the battles of Ocho Rios and Rio Nuevo in St Ann parish and the subsequent ceding of official ownership of Jamaica by Spain in 1670 through the Treaty of Madrid, piracy not sugar production, was the main economic activity.

The Treaty of Madrid had as its quid pro quo for Spain giving up Jamaica… that the English would get rid of its Pirates, Buccaneers and Privateers in the Caribbean Basin, who were thorns in the side of the Spaniards as these pirates captured Spanish ships laden with gold and other precious products sailing across the Atlantic. It is for this reason that the English, in exchange for the ownership of Jamaica, put their former Acting Governor, Sir Henry Morgan before a firing squad, in Honduras, and shot him.

Sir Henry's usefulness had ceased as the English economic ambitions transitioned to a bigger prize beyond piracy, that of the lucrative sugar, rum, spices and logwood production. England was broke and destitute economically due to the devastating epidemic of the Black Plague (disease from infestation of rats) and the series of civil wars ending in 1649 with the beheading of their King Charles I, first son of King James I of the Bible, and led by Oliver Cromwell.

The chief judge who sentenced the King to death, John Bradshaw, is buried here in Jamaica at Gun Hill in the parish of Trelawny. England's overarching need was for goods and money not Morgan….. who although knighted by his country, was now the trade-off and easily disposable. Such is the nature of what is nicely called a diplomatic search for a political solution. Its opposite design is armed conflict or all-out war for which England had already grown poverty stricken, weary and very broke.

I now come to John Dunbar — the slave. For decades any formal discussion about the Sam Sharpe rebellion is how “a slave” … always nameless, who was drunk prematurely, lit the thrash house at Kensington Estates and started the 1831/32 slave rebellion. John Dunbar was the name of that slave. He would not have been chosen for such a huge task to send the first fire signal across western Jamaica had he been a wishy washy and flippant individual. So what was he?

Kensington Estates, like all other large estates had its own slave hospital and armoury. John Dunbar was the resident doctor (medicine man or myalist) at that hospital. Medicine men along with the priest or “Bongo Men” of the “Convince Cult” were the healers among the slave society and even some of the white society that would privily seek their assistance.

Sam Sharpe and his lieutenants chose a man, John Dunbar who was respected alike both in the white society and the slave society ... a man of cool demeanor and an ardent Christian at the Salters Hill Baptist Church. The plan was if there were attempts by the authorities to force slaves to go to work again as slaves, then the rebellion should begin.

The Morris family, owners of Kensington, bailed out of the property very early the morning of December 27, 1831 for Montego Bay. By midday, members of the St James and combined Western Militia based at Barracks Road and Haddo in Hanover flooded the Kensington Estates and began to force the slaves to make preparation to return to servile labour the next day, December 28,1831.

John Dunbar waited patiently for nightfall when the planned signal would have been seen as far as St Elizabeth to the south and Falmouth to the east and Dunbar lit the thrash house.

Those lies about John Dunbar, who was acting most soberly and with good timing in managing the war at Kensington Estate and also sending the first fire signal, were augmented by another lie which claimed that the slaves on reaching Long Hill from Montpelier stopped to quarrel among themselves as to whom should be crowned king in Mobay.

Bearing in mind that their leader Sam Sharpe was alive and well, no such quarrel would have been necessary. There were four columns of slaves marching towards the town. The second came down the Montego Bay River Valley and were three miles from the town centre when they set fire to the Bellfield and Fairfield Great Houses, burning both to the ground. The third came from Round Hill/Haddington/New Mills areas across the Great River Valley and the fourth came from the north east side.

No single column out of four could decide on the weighty matter of leadership, though not necessary, and bearing in mind these columns streaming towards Montego Bay were miles apart also. By this time of the mobilisation, three British Navy ships were now anchored in the Montego Bay Harbour with cannons pointing in all directions and flooding the town at nights with lights.

The slaves (our ancestors) changed tactics and target from burning down the town of Montego Bay ... intended to create shock and awe in England … to the destruction of critical infrastructure including factory buildings particularly the sugar boilers, aqueducts and wharves of which 100 were destroyed according to the then Governor Lord Earl Belmore. During this bloody engagement, two white sailors abandoned their post on board the Navy ships in the MoBay Harbour and joined the slaves fighting for their freedom.

Oh, this paradox of history! But can any other story beat the Maroon's cruel betrayal of the rest of the Black population? I did promise I will get to that very soon. And I most definitely will. In the meantime I trust that the Sir Henry Morgan story to particularly the “indispensables” among us is not lost.

Shalman Scott, a political commentator and analyst, is the first mayor of the city of Montego Bay.

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