How and why did the enslaved Africans of Barbados rebel in 1816?
Resistance among enslaved Africans began the moment they were captured, and took many different forms. Some chose to do the following:
- Speak their native language in private
- Perform African rituals like drumming
- Appear to accept Christianity, but secretly practise their religion
- Run away
- Poison their masters
- Pretend to be sick in order not to work
- Damage tools or machinery
Many Africans also showed their resistance through rebellion. The most successful rebellion took place in Haiti in 1791. Here, the enslaved population drove out the French and British and set up the first black republic. In Jamaica, a group of Maroons, or runaway Africans, formed their own settlements in the mountains. For the next 150 years they fought against the British and helped to free others.
Slave rebellions tended to be less threatening in Barbados than on other Caribbean islands. Barbados had a well-armed police force and there was nowhere to hide. Unlike Jamaica, which still had forests, most of the land in Barbados had been cultivated to produce as much sugar as possible.
On Sunday 14 April 1816 a major rebellion broke out in Barbados. This rebellion was carefully planned and organised by the senior enslaved men and women who worked on several estates and plantations.
The rebellion started in the evening in the southeast parish of St Philip, spreading to most of the southern and central parishes of Christ Church, St. John, St. Thomas, St. George and parts of St. Michael. Three days later it was put down by the local militia (soldiers) and the imperial troops (the King's troops) stationed on the island. Martial law (army rule) was declared on Monday 15 April, and was lifted on 12 July.
1. Read Source 1. This is a letter from James Leith, Governor of Barbados, to Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and Colonies, 30th April 1816.What evidence is there in this source that these events are viewed as serious?
- How many troops and weapons were used to control the rebellion?
- In what ways did the insurgents show their rebellion?
- What is the writer´s view of their actions?
2. Read all parts of Source 2. This is a letter from Colonel Edward Codd to James Leith, his report of the insurrection.
- What is the attitude of the writer to the insurgents?
- How many men were killed on both sides?