12/25 – The Christmas Rebellion

Caribbean slaves harvest sugar under the watchful eye of British slave-masters in 1823. (William Clark)

On this day in 1831, over 60,000 slaves in Jamaica revolted against their colonial masters. As the abolitionist movement gained momentum in London, slaves in British Jamaica – producers of sugar, cotton and coffee – began discussing strikes and peaceful protests in order to gain a living wage. Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe, the leader of the rebels, planned to resort to violence only if the slaves’ demands for decent wages was not met; their demands were ignored, and soon tens of thousands of rebels took to the streets. British troops stationed on the island were quickly overwhelmed by the rebels (who were armed with farming implements and a few firearms), but after calling in the support of militant Maroons – freed slaves of Jamaican descent – Sharpe’s rebellion was quickly crushed. 14 British soldiers had been killed, but the bloody retribution claimed the lives of 207 slaves.

As a result of the Brits’ brutality, thousands of slaves fled from their plantations into the hills. Back in England, news of the Christmas Rebellion galvanized the abolitionist movement and resulted in the creation of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which emancipated slaves in all British colonies by 1838.

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