http://mcys.gov.gy/african_heritage_agh_demerara_slave_revolt.html The Demerara Slave Revolt
The 1823 Demerara revolt was the first major revolt in the Caribbean where Christianized slaves played a prominent role. Many of the rebels were members of Bethel Chapel, a church which the London Missionary Society has established at Plantation Le Ressouvenir in 1808, when it sent its first missionary, John Wray, to Demerara. Wray was sent in response to a request from Hilbertus Hermanus Post, a Dutchman who owned the plantation, for a clergyman to instruct his slaves in the Christian faith. From the outset most slave owners on the East Coast of Demerara were very disturbed by this development. They feared that the missionary’s teaching would make the slaves more discontented and rebellious. They were particularly concerned about the impact on slaves of doctrines such as the equality of all men in the sight of God and Christian brotherhood. These doctrines seemed incompatible with slavery, an institution based on the subordination and inequality of man. The misgivings of the slave owners were expressed publicly shortly after Wray’s arrival by a correspondent in the local Gazette who observed that “it is dangerous to make slaves Christians, without giving them their liberty. He who chooses to make slaves Christians let them give them their liberty. What will be the consequence, when to that class of men is given the title of “beloved brethren”, as is actually done? Will not the negro conceive that by baptism being made a Christian, he is as credible as his Christian white brethren?” Many planters believed that the two likely sources of slave revolts were the evening meetings conducted by Wray and his efforts to teach slaves to read. They feared that slaves who learned to read would be influenced by anti-slavery literature and by parts of the Bible which seemed opposed to slavery. They were also very disturbed by evening church service which provided slaves with a good reason or excuse for leaving the plantation in large numbers without proper white supervision, a situation which afforded slaves a splendid opportunity to plan rebellions in secret. The leaders of the rebellion in 1823 in fact did use the church organization to organize the revolt, religious activity being employed as a cover for political discussion. Several of the meetings where the uprising was planned took place immediately after the conclusion of services at Bethel Chapel. The final such meeting place was held on the middle walk of Plantation Success after the midday service at Bethel Chapel on Sunday, August 17, 1823, the eve of the outbreak of the revolt. The revolt was due partly to the increased discontentment of Christianized slaves over the imposition of new restrictions on the practice of their religion as a result of their masters’ erroneous interpretation and application of a circular issued by John Murray, the Governor of the colony, on May 16, 1823. The circular required slaves to obtain written permission from their masters to leave their plantation to go to Bethel Chapel and to hold religious meetings on their plantations at night. Slave owners, however, wrongly used the circular to withhold permission from the slaves who wished to attend church or conduct night services. Christianized slaves were also prompted to rebel in 1823 because religious instruction gave them an enhanced value of self-worth which intensified their sense of the injustice of slavery. This was reflected in the remarks made by a group of rebels to Murray at the outbreak of the revolt. They told the Governor that they wanted their “right…God has made all men of the same flesh and blood. They were tired of being slaves.” The revolt was also significant because it was a rare occasion in Caribbean history that the supreme leadership of a slave rebellion was attributed to a white man. Rev. John Smith, who assumed responsibility for Bethel Chapel in 1817, was accused...
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