Morant Bay Rebellion

Topics: Black people, Edward John Eyre, Morant Bay rebellion Pages: 5 (1634 words) Published: May 25, 2013
A courthouse filled with white planters and judges, is surrounded by a mob of hundreds of black labourers, and set ablaze.  A white flag calling for peace is put out, at which the people scoff.  Anyone trying to flee is hacked to pieces. In the end twenty-five people are dead, including eighteen justices, magistrates, and volunteer guards from inside the courthouse, and another thirty-one people are injured.  What could possibly have enraged this mob to the point that they would massacre a group of local politicians and innocent people in such a horrific manner? The causes go much deeper, in this essay I seek to describe the Morant Bay rebellion, identify its causes and results and state how significant was it in the development of post- emancipation. The origins of what took place on October 11, 1865 are much larger than any single event that immediately preceded the ‘Morant Bay Rebellion.’  They included years of neglect by a government that by no means represented the masses of former African slaves, an economy that was sliding out of control, leading to enormous unemployment rates, and high prices of any imported food or clothing, which left people practically nude and starving in every city and town on the entire island of Jamaica.  Even the most basic institutions such as hospitals or housing for the old and poor were neglected. All these causes directly or indirectly led to the violence that spread out of control in the once quiet town of Morant Bay.  When the government had so little respect or care for the people, the disregarded masses would rise up at the slightest provocation, against any figures of authority.  That is exactly what happened at Morant Bay. Mr. Edward John Eyre became Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and in 1864 he was made Governor. The disputes between the planters and the labouring population had grown bitterer and more intense every year since the emancipation. Under his administration, taxes were increased and he himself, early in 1865, described the colony as in a state of degeneration. In January 1865 the Reverend Dr. Underhill, a Baptist minister in England, sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies a letter on the condition of Jamaica. In his letter he complained of the treatment which the lower classes received at the hands of the planters, and urged that certain reforms should be instituted. His letter was sent to General Eyre for the latter’s comments. The publication of Underhill’s letter in the Jamaica Guardian on 21 March, 1865 results in the organization of public meetings known as ‘Underhill Meetings’. These meetings were held in different towns, and many of these were presided over by Mr. George William Gordon who was a Member of the House of Assembly. Gordon made fiery speeches inside and outside the House of Assembly, where from 1864 he represented St. Thomas-in-the-East. He had in St. Thomas a political supporter and religious follower called Paul Bogle who exercised considerable local influence. That incident which provoked the rebellion occurred on October 7, 1865 when a court session held in the eastern town of Morant Bay charged a poor black man accused of trespassing on a long abandoned plantation.  A band of blacks from the small village of Stony Gut, about four miles away, entered the town of Morant Bay armed with bludgeons, protesting the man’s unjust detention.  When one of the bands was arrested, the group became unruly and attacked the police, freeing the man from custody.   On October 10, 1865, police entered the village of Stony Gut they were surrounded by hundreds of poor blacks and handcuffed. Here Paul Bogle, one of the respected leaders of the peasants in the area, wrote a petition to the Governor and declared that “an outrageous assault was committed upon us by the policemen of this parish, by orders of the justice…of which we were compelled to resist.” (Heuman ‘The Killing Time’) The next day, October 11, 1865, as many as five hundred blacks...
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