On this day in history, some fifteen hundred black men and women slaves in Jamaica began an uprising that lasted until October of the following year.
The British had conquered Jamaica in 1655, taking it from Spain. Jamaica was valued for its sugar and coffee crop, and therefore became hugely dependent on African slaves. The colony’s slaves, however, greatly outnumbered their white masters, and mounted over a dozen uprisings during the 18th century, including the so-called Tacky’s War in 1760.
This revolt was named for the leader of the rebellion, Tacky (Takyi), who had been a tribal chief in modern-day Ghana before his enslavement.
Over the course of eighteen months, an estimated sixty whites were killed, but over five hundred slaves died. Another five to six hundred were sent to be enslaved workers in the Bay of Honduras for their parts in the revolt.
Jamaican slaves would not cease their efforts to be free, however, and on Christmas Day in 1831 as many as 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves went on general strike. “The Baptist War” (the revolt was led by the slave Samuel Sharpe who was also a Baptist preacher) became the largest slave uprising in the history of the British West Indies. Slaves burned and looted plantations for several days, causing a great deal of property damage, and resulting in the death of 14 whites and approximately 300 slaves. Three hundred more slaves—including the ringleader Sharpe—were hanged. Only one year later, the British Parliament abolished all slavery in the British Empire.