On this day October 11, 1865

The Morant Bay rebellion began when Paul Bogle led 200 to 300 black men and women into the town of Morant Bay, parish of St. Thomas in the East, Jamaica.

Edward John Eyre

The rebellion and its aftermath were a major turning point in Jamaica’s history, also generated a significant political debate in Britain. Today, the rebellion remains controversial, and is frequently mentioned by specialists in black and in colonial studies.

On October 7, 1865 a black man was put on trial and imprisoned for trespassing on a long-abandoned plantation, creating anger among black Jamaicans. When one member of a group of black protesters from the village of Stony Gut was arrested, the protesters became unruly and broke the accused man from prison.

When he returned to his home, Bogle learned that he and 27 of his men had warrants issued for their arrest for rioting, resisting arrest, and assaulting the police.

A few days later on October 11, Bogle marched with a group of protesters to Morant Bay. When the group arrived at the court house they were met by a small volunteer militia who panicked and opened fire on the group, killing seven black protesters before retreating.

The black protesters then rioted, killing 18 people (including white officials and militia) and taking control of the town. In the days that followed some 2,000 black rebels roamed the countryside, killing two white planters and forcing others to flee for their lives.

Governor Edward Eyre sent government troops to hunt down the poorly-armed rebels and bring Paul Bogle back to Morant Bay for trial.

The troops were met with no organized resistance but killed blacks indiscriminately, many of whom had not been involved in the riot or rebellion: according to one soldier, “we slaughtered all before us… man or woman or child”. In the end, 439 black Jamaicans were killed directly by soldiers, and 354 more (including Paul Bogle) were arrested and later executed, some without proper trials. Other punishments included flogging for over 600 men and women (including some pregnant women), and long prison sentences.

Gordon, who had little – if anything – to do with the rebellion was also arrested. Though he was arrested in Kingston, he was transferred by Eyre to Morant Bay, where he could be tried under martial law. The speedy trial saw Gordon hanged on October 23, two days after his trial.

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