A courthouse filled with white planters and judges, is surrounded by a mob of hundreds of black labourers, and set ablaze. A white flag calling for peace is put out, at which the people scoff. Anyone trying to flee is hacked to pieces. In the end twenty-five people are dead, including eighteen justices, magistrates, and volunteer guards from inside the courthouse, and another thirty-one people are injured.
What could possibly have enraged this mob to the point that they would massacre a group of local politicians and innocent people in such a horrific manner? The causes go much deeper, in this essay I seek to describe the Morant Bay rebellion, identify its causes and results and state how significant was it in the development of post- emancipation. The origins of what took place on October 11, 1865 are much larger than any single event that immediately preceded the ‘Morant Bay Rebellion. They included years of neglect by a government that by no means represented the masses of former African slaves, an economy that was sliding out of control, leading to enormous unemployment rates, and high prices of any imported food or clothing, which left people practically nude and starving in every city and town on the entire island of Jamaica. Even the most basic institutions such as hospitals or housing for the old and poor were neglected.
All these causes directly or indirectly led to the violence that spread out of control in the once quiet town of Morant Bay. When the government had so little respect or care for the people, the disregarded masses would rise up at t...
he slightest provocation, against any figures of authority. That is exactly what happened at Morant Bay. Mr. Edward John Eyre became Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and in 1864 he was made Governor. The disputes between the planters and the labouring population had grown bitterer and more intense every year since the emancipation.
Under his administration, taxes were increased and he himself, early in 1865, described the colony as in a state of degeneration. In January 1865 the Reverend Dr. Underhill, a Baptist minister in England, sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies a letter on the condition of Jamaica. In his letter he complained of the treatment which the lower classes received at the hands of the planters, and urged that certain reforms should be instituted. His letter was sent to General Eyre for the latter’s comments.
The publication of Underhill’s letter in the Jamaica Guardian on 21 March, 1865 results in the organization of public meetings known as ‘Underhill Meetings’. These meetings were held in different towns, and many of these were presided over by Mr. George William Gordon who was a Member of the House of Assembly. Gordon made fiery speeches inside and outside the House of Assembly, where from 1864 he represented St. Thomas-in-the-East. He had in St. Thomas a political supporter and religious follower called Paul Bogle who exercised considerable local influence.
That incident which provoked the rebellion occurred on October 7, 1865 when a court session held in the eastern town of Morant Bay charged a poor black man accuse
of trespassing on a long abandoned plantation. A band of blacks from the small village of Stony Gut, about four miles away, entered the town of Morant Bay armed with bludgeons, protesting the man’s unjust detention. When one of the bands was arrested, the group became unruly and attacked the police, freeing the man from custody. On October 10, 1865, police entered the village of Stony Gut they were surrounded by hundreds of poor blacks and handcuffed.
Here Paul Bogle, one of the respected leaders of the peasants in the area, wrote a petition to the Governor and declared that “an outrageous assault was committed upon us by the policemen of this parish, by orders of the justice…of which we were compelled to resist. ” (Heuman ‘The Killing Time’) The next day, October 11, 1865, as many as five hundred blacks entered Morant Bay in columns, blowing horns and carrying flags. They were armed with cutlasses, sharpened sticks, and a few older guns. One man was heard chanting, “we will kill every white and Mulatto man in the Bay, and when we finish, we will return and go to the estates. (Heuman ‘The Killing Time’) They soon confronted a hastily put together volunteer militia, of not more than thirty men, guarding the courthouse. The so-called rebellion spread to the surrounding plantations, but only lasted a few days and fewer than a hundred white people would be killed. However, Governor Eyre’s reaction was swift and brutal. Hundreds of blacks, most innocent bystanders, were rounded up and executed by firing squads or hangings, most without any sort of trial, “weslotered all before us…man or woman or child,” as one soldier recalled. (Jamaica Committee.
Facts and documents relating to the alleged rebellion in Jamaica, and the measures of repression. London: Jamaica Committee, 1866, pp. 27. ) They were strung up in the burnt out archway of the Morant Bay Courthouse as a warning to future trouble-seekers. (Parliament, Papers Relating to the Disturbances in Jamaica Part II, (London, 1866,) 9. ) Gordon was arrested as the instigator of this rebellion, but there was no evidence whatever that he had deliberately instigated it. He was illegally transferred from Kingston, tried by court martial at Morant Bay, found guilty and hanged.
Bogle was captured and hanged. The riots of the 1850’s , the struggle against eviction, the Revival and the events of 1865 really constitute a single chain of events whose source lay deep in the oppressive economic and political conditions of the people in the post-emancipation period. (p. 26a) Post- Emancipation was that period where many ex-slaves were willing to continue working on plantations but often found planters were not willing to offer good wages and conditions. There were various issues associated with post- emancipation, as the blacks desired lands which were rent free.
The blacks also resented the existing labour-service system: “The people were freed in 1838 but the material basis of real freedom was denied them” (p39). The American civil war caused sharp increase in wholesale prices. Flood followed by drought -1864-1865, this caused a decline in estates in production (from 600 after emancipation to 300 in 1865). By this time the majority of ex-slaves wished to remove themselves from the estates
on which they suffered so much in the days of bondage; that the ex-slaves were. This process was known as ‘the flight from the estates’.
The movement of ex-slaves from the estates was not a flight from the horrors of slavery. It was a protest against the inequities of early freedom. Thus, the working people the entire post- emancipation economy, the social and political system, remained bound to slavery, even in freedom…. by the end of the first decade it was obvious that a profound crisis was accumulating” In conclusion, The Morant Bay rebellion was a horrific event in history which affected Caribbean Societies. It was driven by years of neglect and inhumane living conditions. Hundreds of lives were lost to ensure this change happened.
In relation to the development of Post- Emancipation, though the slaves were freed the rebellion instilled fear of another uprising. Bibliography Articles: * Edward Bean Underhill; Dr Underhill’s Letter. A Letter Addressed to the Rt. Honourable E. Cardwell, with Illustrative Documents on the Condition of Jamaica and an Explanatory Statement, (London, 1866,) 12. ) * Edward Bean Underhill, The Tragedy of Morant Bay: A Narrative of the Disturbances in the Island of Jamaica in 1865, (London, 1895,) 3. * Duncan Fletcher, Personal Recollections of the Honourable George W.
Gordon, Late of Jamaica, (London, 1867,) 86. ) * Jamaica Committee. Facts and documents relating to the alleged rebellion in Jamaica, and the measures of repression. London: Jamaica Committee, 1866, pp. 27. * Parliament, Papers Relating to the Disturbances in Jamaica Part II, (London, 1866,) 9. ) * Sarah Winter, “On the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica and the Governor Eyre-George William Gordon Controversy, 1865-70? Books: * David Dabydeen, John Gilmore, Cecily Jones. The Oxford Companion to Black British History. Oxford University Press, 2007. * Finalson, William Francis.
The history of the Jamaica case; being an account, founded upon official documents , of the Rebellion of the Negroes in Jamaica, Etc. * Gale L. Kenny. Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834-1866. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010. Reviewed by Beth A. Salerno (Saint Anselm College). Published on H-CivWar (March, 2011) Commissioned by Hugh F. Dubrulle. * Hewan, Clinton. G. Jamaica and the United States Caribbean Basin Initiative: Showpiece or Failure? Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. , New York 1994. * Heuman, Gad. 'The Killing Time' The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica. Witter, Michael. , and Beckford, George. Small Garden Bitter Weed: Struggle and Change in Jamaica. Maroon Publishing House, Morant Bay, Jamaica 1982. * Robotham, Don. , and Bogle, Paul. The notorious riot": The socio-economic and political base of Paul Bogle's revolt. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of West Indies (Mona, Kingston, Jamaica). 1981. Journals: PIETER C. EMMER. Scholarship or solidarity? The post-emancipation era in the Caribbean reconsidered. In: New West Indian Guide/ Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 69 (1995), no: 3/4, Leiden, 277-290 Websits: http://www. ristolreads. com/small_island_read/read_more/morant_bay_rebellion. htm http://www. branchcollective. org/? ps_articles=sarah-winter-on-the-morant-bay-rebellion-in-jamaica-and-the-governor-eyre-george-william-gordon-controversy-1865-70 http://www. jamlink. com/index. php? option=com_myblog;show=economic-development-in-jamaica-1838-1938. html;Itemid=40 Name: Reanne Nurse Student ID: 2011030436 PlS 200 Question: Describe the Morant Bay rebellion; identify its causes and results. How significant was this rebellion in the development of the post- emancipation societies of the Caribbean?
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