Samuel Sharpe: The Enslaved Preacher Who Sparked a Rebellion on Christmas Day in Jamaica in 1831

Samuel Sharpe was an enslaved Jamaican who is remembered for leading a rebellion against British colonial rule on Christmas Day in 1831. Sharpe, who was born into slavery in Jamaica in 1801, was a literate and intelligent man who was deeply concerned about the plight of his fellow enslaved people.

Samuel Sharpe: The Preacher Who Led a Rebellion in Jamaica on Christmas Day
Portrait of Sam Sharpe by Barrington Watson

Samuel Sharpe was born into slavery in the parish of St James, Jamaica, on a plantation owned by Samuel and Jane Sharpe. Unlike other slaves, Sharpe was allowed to become educated, for which he was well respected by his enslaved peers.

Sharpe became a well-known preacher, leader and missionary in the Baptist Church, and spent most of his free time travelling to different parishes in Jamaica, educating the enslaved about Christianity, which he believed promised freedom.

He was also bothered about the brutal treatment of the enslaved population in Jamaica and the fact that they had few rights or freedoms.

In the years leading up to the rebellion, Sharpe became involved in the Baptist movement and began to spread the message of abolition and freedom to his fellow enslaved people. He became a leader among the enslaved community and devised a strategy of passive resistance, persuading slaves to refuse to work on Christmas Day.

Samuel Sharpe
The rebellion (Christmas Rebellion or the Baptist War), which lasted eleven days was sparked by the refusal of plantation owners to grant enslaved people the same rights and freedoms as free people.

The rebellion which is known as the Christmas Rebellion or the Baptist War, became the largest slave uprising in the British West Indies, mobilizing as many as 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves.

The rebellion began on December 25, 1831, with a strike by enslaved workers on a sugar plantation in the western parish of St. James. The strike quickly spread to other plantations, and by the end of the first day, as many as 20,000 slaves had joined the rebellion.

The strike escalated after Kensington Estate in St James was put to the torch on December 27, where cane fields were set on fire and the great house burnt to the ground.

The uprising quickly spread and in a matter of days, 60,000 of the 300,000 slaves in the island armed themselves with whatever weapons they could find, including torches, machetes and sticks, and they burned several other plantations and the houses of any planter they could find.

The British authorities responded to the rebellion with brutal force, using soldiers and militia to put down the uprising and killing over 200 of the rebelling slaves. The rebels were no match for the well-trained and well-armed British forces, and the rebellion was crushed within a week.

Sharpe and many of his followers were eventually captured and put on trial. Sharpe was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged on May 23, 1832, along with a number of his followers.

The execution of Sharpe and his followers and the subsequent reprisals by slave owners sparked condemnation both in Jamaica and abroad and even provoked two detailed Parliamentary Inquiries. Many saw it as a gross injustice and a blatant example of the brutality and oppression of the British colonial authorities. Sharpe’s execution became a rallying cry for the abolitionist movement, and it helped to galvanize support for the fight against slavery.

In the aftermath of the rebellion, the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which formally abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. Sharpe’s sacrifice and leadership in the rebellion played a significant role in this historic event.

Today, Samuel Sharpe is remembered as a hero in Jamaica and is celebrated as a symbol of resistance and freedom. His legacy lives on as a reminder of the importance of standing up for what is right and fighting against injustice.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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