Jamaican History: Great Slave Rebellion (1831-32)

Figure 1.--

The greatest slave revolt in the WEst Indies was the Jamaican Baptist War. Rainfall was below normal in 1831. Some plantations experenced drought conditions. This reduced the crop yields. Some planters to make up for falling revenue reduced rations. The slaves as a result of the missions supported by the anti-slavery movement in Britain were aware of efforts to end slavery. It was here that ideas about emancipation and the white preachers at the missions were so different than the planters. Religious meetings also gave slaves the opportunity to plot abd exchange pans with slaves on other plantations. This provided an element that was never available to slaves in the United States. [Reckord, p. 108.] the white missionaries preached a message of patient obedience and resignation. There was also a native Baptist church with led by blacks which preached a more activist message. The revolt began during the Christmas holiday (1831). Samuel Sharp, a domestic slave and Baptist deacon, organized a peaceful general strike to achieve emancipation and a living wage. The signal to begin the strike was a fire on the Kensington Estate in St. James Parish. The strike, however, soon got out of hand. Here the actual course of events are not entirely known. It is clear that from the beginning that the plantrs saw the strike as rebellion pure and simple. Rebellion swept the western parishes. The Revolt becamne known as the Baptist War because of the role of the missions. The slaves destroyed 106 sugar plantations in St. James Parish alone. A militia force organized by the planters and the small British garrison supressed the strike after only 10 days. The authorities reported killing 201 slaves, the actual total was probably about 400. Missionaries were arrested. Hunting down escapee slaves continued for weeks after. Sharpe was hung. An estimated 20,000 slaves participated in the rebellion. They killed planters and ruined crops. The British and planters convinced them to lay down their revolt with promises of abolition. These romises were not met. The Britsh hung 3440 slaves were were identified as leaders. Large numbers were punished in various ways such as whippings. The British Parliament held two inquiries to assess the property damage and loss of life.


Reckord, Mary. "The Jamaica Slave Rebellion of 1831," Past and Present, No. 40 (July 1968), pp. 108-125.


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Created: 7:28 PM 10/31/2007
Last updated: 9:18 PM 4/11/2010