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Countdown to Freedom

Sunday, July 29, 2012    

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THE brick facade is almost all that's left of King's House in Spanish Town. If its walls could talk, it would surely tell of hundreds of great moments and spectacular events, including visits by the British monarchy, to which it played host.

Its most profound tale, however, would arguably centre on 1838 and the events leading up to the declaration of emancipation in the British colonies.

The mansion, built in 1762 to be the official residence of the Governors of Jamaica, provided the backdrop of the greatest moment in Jamaica's history. It was there, on the white steps, framed by towering white colums that Governor Sir Lionel Smith read the Proclamation of Freedom, officially ending the practice of slavery here.

The following are a list of events that led to and followed the proclamation:

August 1, 1834: Emancipation Proclamation was read, declaring all slave children under six years of age, free. All other enslaved persons were to be apprenticed to their former masters for six years, after which they would be made free.

March 1836: In the face of widespread criticisms of the system, a select Committee from the House of Commons was appointed to enquire into the conditions and laws of the Apprenticeship System.

November 1836: Governor Sir Lionel Smith tried to get laws passed to remedy certain abuses under the Apprenticeship System, but the Jamaican Assembly opposed.

July 31, 1838: At midnight, Sir Lionel reads the Proclamation of Freedom to a large crowd of about 8,000 people gathered at the Celebration of Emancipation in the Square of Spanish Town, the then capital.

* The celebration involved the burning of a hearse containing shackles and chains that were used to restrain slaves.

* Many climbed hills and trees waiting for the dawn that symbolised the start of their new lives as free men.

* When morning broke, large congregations joined in thanksgiving services in churches around the island.

1893: Emancipation Day, having been celebrated every year since 1838, was declared a public holiday.

1947: Autonomy from Britain was granted.

1958: Jamaica became a key member of the British-sponsored West Indies Federation.

1962: Jamaica gained Independence from the British on August 6, 1962.

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