“I would rather die upon yonder gallows, than live in slavery.”
Inspirational words from an enslaved man, a Baptist deacon, a freedom fighter and the main instigator of the 1831 Slave Rebellion in Jamaica which was instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery.
Samuel Sharpe was born in Jamaica in 1801. Although he was born a slave he learnt to read and write and he educated himself by reading newspapers and books. Sam Sharpe joined the church and became a Baptist Deacon. Religious meetings were a permissible form of organised activity by slaves and Sharpe was able to use the meetings to inspire his congregations and communicate his concerns. He spoke out against the injustice of slavery and it is said that he amazed people with the power and passion of his speech.
When Sharpe was just 31 years old he instigated a plan of passive resistance, a general strike against slavery. The plan was that slaves would refuse to work after their Christmas holiday in 1831. They would continue to strike until the state owners and managers listened to their grievances. Sharpe felt that the owners might listen to the slaves as the strike was timed for the key sugar cane harvest and if the ripe cane was not cut then it would be ruined.
Sharpe hoped to inspire a peaceful resistance, indeed he encouraged the slaves to only fight physically if the managers didn’t agree to their demands. Yet Sharpe probably knew that their strike would not succeed and he made military preparations for the rebellion.
As the idea for the strike spread throughout the island to St. James, Trelawny, Westemoreland and beyond, the plan reached the ears of some of the slave owners. As Sharpe anticipated they did not react favourably. Troops were sent to St. James and warships were anchored in Montego Bay and the Black River with their guns trained on the