Sam Sharpe, the leader of the 1831 Christmas revolt that ended slavery in Jamaica

Sam Sharpe (with the book and arm raised)

He is seen by many as the final straw before the British finally abolished slavery in Jamaica in 1833.

Born in 1801 in the parish of St. James in Jamaica, Sam Sharpe was a slave of an English attorney.

He got the privilege of education, was baptized and subsequently made a deacon of the congregation at the Burchell Baptist Church.

At the time, British allowed slaves to hold religious meetings. Sharpe took advantage of this and started preaching to people about the need for freedom from slavery.

When British parliament began discussing the abolition of slavery throughout the Empire in 1831, Sharpe followed it closely through several newspapers.

He made sure that his congregation was abreast with the arguments about the slavery abolition.

In December 1831, Sharpe began a protest after his belief that the British parliament had granted freedom to Jamaica but the local planters had ignored it.

The Christmas Rebellion, otherwise known as the Baptist Slave Rebellion

Scores of slaves agreed not to work and to demand freedom from their plantation masters.

Their strike action was going to have a damaging effect as it was going to take place at a time when sugar cane crops ripened and were due to harvest.

The strike suddenly spread to Jamaican parishes including St. James, Trelawny, and Westmoreland.

Some of the slaves also began marching and torching plantains, an action which was not in accordance with Sharpe’s initial plan of a non-violent resistance.

The British troops soon marched on the protestors, and that was how the “Christmas Rebellion of 1831,” left about 200 hundred slaves dead.

Fourteen plantation masters also died in the 10-day clash.

Over 300 slaves were executed via hangings and their heads were severed and placed around their plantations to warn against any future rebellion.

Sam Sharpe

Sharpe later surrendered to the military troops and accepted blame for the failed revolt. Historians say he did this to save Baptist Missionaries from being blamed.

Sharpe was hanged in Montego Bay on May 23, 1832.

Just before his execution, he made these words: “I would rather die upon yonder gallows, than live in slavery.”

His revolt is believed to have played a huge role in British parliament’s deliberations over the following months that finally led to the Slavery Abolition Act.

Sam Sharpe Square

Sharpe is a national hero in Jamaica today.

The place in Montego Bay that he hanged is known as Sam Sharpe Square, and his face is on the country’s currency.


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