The Easter insurrectionsMonday, April 05, 2021
Dudley C McLean II
Human blood is heavy; he who has shed it cannot run away. — African proverb
Easter 2021 will mark the 261st anniversary of the 1760–1761 Jamaican insurrections known as Tacky's War and its offshoots that followed in 1765 and 1766. The 1760-61 uprisings are understood to be the largest and most consequential of these. According to Jennifer Conerley (2018), “By the time the British maintained control of Jamaica 18 months later, over 60 whites and 500 slaves were dead. As the colonists turned to rebuild the island they measured about £250,000 in damages at the time. Tacky's Rebellion became the most significant attack on the slave system in the Caribbean until Saint Domingue (Haiti) Uprising in 1791.”
Prince Tacky's insurrections occurred during the period 1750 to 1800, dubbed the Age of Revolution, as the then world was turned upside down, beginning with the aborted 1760 Prince Tacky's War in Jamaica, followed 16 years later, in 1776, by the 13 British colonies in North America's successful revolution, gaining independence from its European colonial rulers.
On continental Europe, a revolution in France in 1789 led to the execution of King Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, and the declaration of a republic based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. These principles had emerged from a deep-rooted revolt by many classes against the whole order of society.
News of the success of the revolutionaries in France, with their message that all people were created free and equal, stirred the first successfully led revolution in Haiti by an educated enslaved, Francois Breda, who called himself Toussaint L'Overture in 1791. His chief strategist was Dutty Boukman, a Jamaican-born Voodoo priest, who escaped from Jamaica because of the harsh Obeah Act enacted in 1760 and the avoidance of betrayal by the Maroons into the hands of the English.
The ideals of the French Revolution were short-lived due to Napoleon Bonaparte's failed invasion of Russia. Returning to France, he became its self-proclaimed emperor in 1804, and later colluded with the Americans, Spanish, and the English in establishing a systematic universal status of white privilege in retaliation to the world's first black republic. It is this “white privilege” or “scars of injustice”, that deputy secretary of the United Nations Isabelle Durant (March 25, 2021) calls the “racist attitudes and beliefs, legitimised by laws and institutions of finance, education, and religion” still evident today.
Leaders and soldiers of Africa
The intensity of the Jamaican insurrections was connected to the type of enslaved people brought to the island, especially those from the Akan and Igbo peoples. The aims and tactics employed by the educated rebels made it clear to observers that many had been leaders and soldiers in Africa.
Prince Tacky was a member of an African royal dynasty when he was captured and sold into slavery and ended up in Jamaica. As John Thornton has argued, “Africans with military experience played an important role in revolts, if not by providing all of the rebels, at least by providing enough to stiffen and increase the viability of revolts.”
Prince Tacky's rebellion in 1760 sent shock waves throughout the British imperial system resulting in the response of the Jamaica Assembly in passing harsh laws designed to reinforce control. However, these laws failed to have the desired effect of suppressing future uprisings.
Historian Edward Long, writing a decade later, in 1774, referred to Tacky as the slaves' “generalissimo in the woods”, and laid the inspiration for the rebellion itself upon his shoulders. He also said that, “The rebel slaves would escape into the wilderness and wage a two-month-long guerilla war against loyal slaves, white militia, and Maroon brigades.”
According to Thomas Robert Day (2016), “There was a fear among readers at the time that Tacky's plan was to drive all the whites from the island and proclaim its independence from Great Britain.” The news reports identified the leadership of the rebellion as foreigners, not disloyal English slaves or subjects, but rebellious others. Specifically, the papers highlighted “Two Coromantee Negroes” and “three other chieftains of their country” as the cadre of instigators.
The Derby Mercury, Bath Chronicle, and Weekly Gazette, and Ipswich Journal reported on the success of “loyal Jamaicans” and the uselessness of the independent companies who had been called in for aid. The loyal Jamaicans reported in these British newspapers included the Maroons, who did not support the insurrections of the enslaved and had collaborated with the colonial authorities to not only quell such rebellions, but capture the runaways who sought refuge for a fee. The rebels were eventually tracked down and killed by parties of Maroons. Prince Tacky was reportedly shot by one of their sharpshooters. In all, some 400 rebels were executed and about 600 were sent to be enslaved workers in the Bay of Honduras for their parts in the revolt.
The resurrection of the insurrection
The season of Easter heralds the penultimate Christian festival of the resurrection event of Jesus, the Christ. In Christ our natural familial and tribal claims are remade in one body through the cross, so that Jews and Gentiles together, as one new humanity, may lay claim to the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2: 11-16).
Who, then, are my mother and my brothers? “Whoever does the will of God” (Mark 3:34-35). As the first collect for 'mission of the Church' bears witness, God has made of “one blood all the peoples of the Earth”. That being so, “bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh” ( Book of Common Prayer, Church in the Province of the West Indies, p 201) First Collect for Mission of the Church).
In light of the power of the blood of Jesus to unite us “as one new humanity” in the “commonwealth of Israel”, so too the spilled blood of our ancestors who gained emancipation through their varied insurrections for the freedom of the majority ought to have precedence over any other groups in the fight for freedom in Jamaica and its ultimate symbol of African pride; that is the establishment of Haiti as the world's first black republic.
We need to rediscover and be motivated by the glories of our past as African-derived peoples, forged by the spilled blood of our ancestors against oppression, and become reunited to a common vision of making Jamaica a better, all-inclusive place for everyone.
Dudley Chinweuba McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester, and is executive director of the Associación de Debate Bilingüe Xaymaca (Adebatex), promoting debating in Spanish in high schools. He is also a graduate of Codrington College, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login