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Jamaica’s National Heroes: Samuel Sharpe

Born in 1801 in St. James, Samuel Sharpe was a deacon in the Baptist church. Although he was a slave, he

Statue of Sam Sharpe, Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay
Statue of Sam Sharpe, Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay

was also an educated man. Since religious meetings were the only forms of organized activities permissible for the slaves, Sharpe travelled widely teaching other slaves about Christianity and encouraging discussions about the fight for freedom. Sharpe became a highly regarded of the native Baptists in Montego Bay and was widely known as “Daddy” Sharpe.

He devised a plan of passive resistance – the slaves would refuse to work on Christmas Day of 1831 and after, unless their grievances regarding better treatment and their consideration of freedom were accepted by the owners.

Sharpe explained his plan to chosen supporters after his religious meetings and had them kiss the Bible to show their loyalty. They, in turn, took the plan to other parishes. Unfortunately, word reached the owners and troops, with guns drawn, were sent to Montego Bay and Black River in St. Elizabeth.

On December 27, 1831, the Kensington Great House in St. James was set on fire as a signal that the Slave Rebellion had begun. Soon after, a series of other fires broke out in the area and it was clear that the plan of non-violent resistance, which Sharpe had created was no longer possible.

Sam Sharpe Mural, Montego Bay
Sam Sharpe Mural, Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay

By the first week of January, the Rebellion was put down. More than 500 slaves and 14 whites lost their
lives.  Sharpe, who had vowed that he “would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery” was hanged on May 23, 1832 at Parade in Montego Bay. It was renamed Sam Sharpe Square in his honor.

In 1834, the British Parliament passed the Abolition Bill that ended slavery in 1838.

Sharpe was named a National Hero in 1975. His likeness can also be found on the $50 note.