Samuel Sharpe was hung after the rebellion

By: Cerone White

On this day in Caribbean history May 23, 1832, Samuel Sharpe one of Jamaica’s hero’s was hung for leading the 1832 Christmas Rebellion. Sharpe, an educated slave who fought for freedom of slaves was born in Jamaica in 1801 in the parish of St. James and grew up in Montego Bay. Sharpe was a well-respected deacon who was in charge of the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay. Sharpe was not like most other slaves, he was able to read and write and was known to others as an inspirational Baptist preacher who amazed people with the power of his sermons. He traveled widely throughout his parish, speaking about the injustices of slavery and pointing out that the Bible said ‘no man can serve two masters’.

Sharpe was an intelligent man who followed the news and learned that the British Parliament was discussing the abolition of slavery. He and other slaves who were literate believed that right extended to the slaves in Jamaica. Sharpe organized a peaceful strike across many estates in western Jamaica to protest working conditions; this strike would lead to what we now know as The Christmas Rebellion or the Baptist War which began on December 27, 1831 at the Kensington Estate and ended on January 4, 1832. The rebellion mobilized close to 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves and history tells us that because of the rebellion lead by Sharpe and his followers, partial emancipation (outright for children six or under, six year’s apprenticeship for the rest) began in 1834, and then unconditional emancipation of chattel slavery in 1838. Before Sharpe was hung for the role he played in the rebellion, he said “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery.”

Did you know that in 1975 the government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National hero with the posthumous title of the Rt. Excellent Samuel Sharpe? Continuing to honor Sharpe, in 1975 Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was founded and named in his honor in Granville, a suburb of Montego Bay. Sharpe’s image is used on the Jamaican $50 bill.

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