The largest slave rebellion in Barbadian history took place during the Bussa uprising in April 1816. The rebellion takes its name from the African-born slave, Bussa, who led the rebellion.
During the slave trade era, many embittered Africans expressed their displeasure through rebellion, and every european nation and their colonies saw their fair share of rebellions.
In Barbados, the largest of such slave rebellion(s) took place during the Bussa uprising in April 1816. The rebellion takes its name from the African-born slave, Bussa, who led the rebellion.
Bussa, who is reportedly of Igbo origin, is believed to have been born free in West Africa, captured by African traffickers, sold to European slave traders, and taken to Barbados as a slave in the late 18th century, where slavery had been legal since 1661 under the Barbados Slave Code.
Although not much is known about him, available records reveal that a slave named “Bussa” served as a ranger on “Bayley’s Plantation” in the parish of Saint Philip. In contrast to the typical slave, Bussa would have had more mobility in this position, which would have made it easier for him to organize the revolt which began on the Bayleys Plantation and spread to other nearby plantations.
The slaves rebellions were born out of a strong desire to overthrow the oppressive white plantocracy and claim their freedom. It is said that plans for the rebellion began after the House of Assembly’s rejection of the Imperial Registry Bill in November 1815.
The Imperial Registry Bill, which would have recorded Slaves in the British colonies, was discussed and rejected by the House of Assembly in November 1815, it was also resented by plantation owners in Barbados, who feared it as a step which might one day lead to Emancipation and the loss of their slave “property”.
The Assembly’s rejection of the bill marked the beginning of the insurrection. According to historians, slaves interpreted some of the parliamentary proposals as preparatory to emancipation, and retaliated when emancipation did not take place.
The rebel leaders (Bussa, King Wiltshire, Dick Bailey, Nanny Grigg and Johnny) met on Good Friday, under cover of a dance, and they planned to kickstart their revolt on 17 April.
The rebellion began prematurely on 14th April 1816 in the southeast parish of St Philip, spreading to most of the southern and central parishes of Christ Church, St. John, St. Thomas, St. George and parts of St. Michael. Bussa commanded some 400 rebels, men and women, most of whom were believed to be Creole, born in the islands.
The white plantation owners were totally caught off guard. The slaves fought valiantly against the local militia troops and it was reported the rebellion spread from plantation to plantation until about half of the island was caught up in the insurrection. It took three days for the well armed local militia and the imperial troops stationed on the island to defeat the pitchfork wielding insurrectionists with their sophisticated firepower. Bussa was killed in battle, and the ringleaders and 214 others were executed after normalcy was restored.
Although the rebellion failed, its influence was significant to the future of Barbados and was never forgotten. In 1985 more than a century later, the Emancipation Statue was erected at the roundabout in Haggatt Hall, St Michael. In 1999, Bussa was recognized as one of the national heroes of Barbados. There is also a national holiday “Emancipation Day”, which commemorates the emancipation of the slaves.