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Jamaica’s National Heroes: Paul Bogle

Paul Bogle was born free about 1822 in Stony Gut, near Morant Bay in St. Thomas. He was a Baptist deacon and landowner.

On October 11, 1865, thirty-one years following the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, Bogle led about 300 men and women to Morant Bay Courthouse, in protest against poverty and injustice and a lack of confidence in the authorities.

Paul Bogle
Paul Bogle

The community had a number of grievances. Small farmers had been hit hard by drought the previous year and rumors surfaced that the white owners had intended to bring back slavery.

White owners, who were outnumbered 32 to 1 by the majority black population, still controlled power. And even though, Jamaicans were legally allowed to vote, the requirement that they had to be able to read and write and pay a high fee in order to do so meant only a few, Bogle among them, could enjoy that privilege.

The incident that brought matters to a head was that arrest warrants had been issued for 27 men of the village. The men were among those who had freed one of their number who had been found guilty of trespassing on an abandoned plantation and thrown in jail.

When Bogle and his group arrived at the courthouse, they were met by a local militia who opened fire killing seven protestors. Eighteen people were killed during the riot that ensued and the peaceful protest turned into what is now known as the Morant Bay Rebellion when more than 2,000 others joined in.

Fearful that the uprising would spread to the rest of the island, Edward Eyre, the British Governor at the time, sent troops to Morant Bay to quell the revolt. By the time they arrived, however, things had calmed. Unfortunately, this did not stop the brutal response of the authorities.

Nearly 500 Jamaicans were killed by troops, 354 were arrested and later executed, and 600 punishments including floggings and prison sentences were carried out.

Paul Bogle was arrested and executed on October 24th at the Courthouse. His friend and supporter George William Gordon, another National Hero, who had very little to do with the uprising, was arrested in Kingston, tried under martial law and hanged on October 23rd.

The rebellion had a huge impact on Jamaica and Britain. In Britain, it caused significant public outcry with people falling into two camps: those who supported Governors Eyre’s response and those who believed that he should be tried for murder.

Those opposed to his actions, including liberal politicians, like Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill, set up the Jamaica Committee. Eyre was charged twice with murder but never made it to trial. He returned to the UK in August 1866.

As a result of the riot, the Jamaican Assembly renounced its charter and Jamaica became a Crown Colony.

Paul Bogle was named a National Hero of Jamaica in 1969. His likeness appeared on the Jamaican $2 note from 1969 until it was phased out in 1989, and on the 10c coin since 1991.

Jamaican $2 with image of Paul Bogle
Jamaican $2 with image of Paul Bogle

According to a friend and descendant of Bogle, many family members, fearing further reprisals by the authorities, scattered to other parts of the island, some even changed their names. However, the Bogle name still lives on and is mentioned in music by several Jamaican musicians including Steel Pulse, and most notably Bob Marley, who sings in “So Much Things To Say” “I’ll never forget no way they turned their backs on Paul Bogle, so don’t you forget no youth who you are and where you stand in the struggle.”