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Demerara Rebellion 1823

The Demerara Rebellion of 1823 in the Crown colony of Demerara-Essequibo (now part of Guyana) involved more than 10,000 slaves. The rebellion, which took place on 18 August 1823 and lasted for two days, was led by slaves with the highest status. In part they were reacting to poor treatment and a desire for freedom; in addition, there was a widespread, mistaken belief that Parliament had passed a law for emancipation, but it was being withheld by the colonial rulers.

In 1781 the colonies on the Essequibo and Demerara were placed under the protection of Great Britain by a squadron of Admiral Lord Ronnsr’s fleet ; but, in 1783, the French took temporary possession of the whole Dutch settlements, which, in 1796, surrendered to the British forces under the orders of Sir Ralph Annacaonma, and commanded by Major-General ers. These settlements were, however, restored to the Dutch by the treaty of Amiens, in 1802, but again taken possession of by England on the breaking out of the war in 1803; since which period they have belonged to Great Britain. In 1812 all distinctions between the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara, whether of jurisdiction or otherwise, were abolished — the office of commander of Essequibo was done away with, the courts of civil and criminal justice of both colonies united at Demerara.

In 1807 the slave-trade was only finally abolished. By an additional article to a convention signed at London, 13 August, 1811, Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice were finally ceded to Great Britain, with the condition that the Dutch proprietors had liberty, under certain regulations, to trade with Holland. Under the Dutch, Demerara and Essequebo constituted one government, and Berbice another, which arrangement continued in force under the British Administration down to the year 1831, when the Colonies of Demerara, Essequebo, and Berbice were united unto one government, and called British Gniana.

A serious insurrection of the slaves took place on the east coast of the Demerara river, in 1823, which was finally suppressed. There were several causes tending to produce the insurrection of the slaves in 1823, of which these are the chief. The slaves were subjected to immoderate labour, To barbarous severity of treatment, And to vexatious opposition to their religious instruction. These irritating circumstances formed an inflammable train, so to speak.

His Excellency Major-general John Murray, Lieutenant-governor and Commander-in-chief in and over the United Colony of Demerara and Essequibo, &c., received on the 7th of July, 1823, instructions respecting the amelioration of the condition of the slaves from the King's government at home, which he was bound, in loyal obedience to His Majesty's commands, to promulgate. General Murray refused to obey his sovereign, and kept back these instructions for several weeks. In the meantime, something about these orders from home leaked out, and an exaggerated idea of the boon intended by the home government, was formed by the slaves.

The slaves, inflamed by false hopes of freedom, agitated by rumors, and irritated by the suspense and ignorance in which they were kept, exasperated by ancient, as well as more recent wrongs, (for a sale of fifty or sixty of them had just been announced, and they were about to be violently separated and dispersed,) were satisfied with combining not to work; and making their managers repair to the town, and ascertain the precise nature of the boon reported to have arrived from England.

No mercy was shown to the slaves. With regard to them, there was a tremendous slaughter — a most reckless and unnecessary waste of human blood. Under the influence, certainly not of humanity, nor of wisdom, but of an ill-judged and unwarrantable severity, it was deemed necessary to make terrifying examples of not a few, by killing them on the spot. Many were wantonly shot by the Militia soldiers for mere sport.

On the 25th of August a Court Martial was assembled in Georgetown, for the trial of the remaining prisoners, who amounted to near two hundred. Chief Justice Wray sat as a member of this Court Martial in the character of a Lieutenant Colonel of Militia. A great number of persons were found guilty by this Court, many of whom were sentenced to death, and others to receive from two hundred to a thousand lashes. Two were executed on the parade-ground on the 26th of August, and the next day, two more. On the 28th, four were executed; on the 6th of September, six; on the 12th of September, nine; on the 9th of January, 1824, four; and on the 10th, one.

Among the four executed on the 9th, was the leader Paris. He was hung in chains near the Fort. Several were hung in chains along the east coast road; and others were decapitated, and their heads stuck on poles. In addition to these capital executions, seventeen prisoners were subjected to most severe floggings, and sentenced to be worked in chains. On the 24th of May, 1824, there still remained fifty prisoners under sentence of death; but these bloody proceedings had excited the horror of the British public, and they were now arrested by orders from home.

Although the Colony — no longer disturbed by insurrectionary movements — was restored to its ordinary tranquillity, yet martial law, first proclaimedon the 19 August 1823, continued in force until 19 January, 1824. The shock occasioned by the insurrection of the slaves in Demerara in 1823, was communicated to Berbice, but no display of dissatisfaction was manifested by the slaves in the latter district, nor any attempt made by them to co-operate in the revolt. It had been too quickly suppressed to allow of the hope of success to enter into the bosoms of the others, and the result only acted as a warning to keep them in good behaviour.

Instigated chiefly by Jack Gladstone, a slave at “Success” plantation, the rebellion also involved his father, Quamina, and other senior members of their church group. Its English pastor, John Smith, was implicated. Smith, a Missionary of the London Society, being accused of inciting the negroes to rebellion, was condemned to death—a sentence which was commuted at home, to total banishment from the West Indies. Smith died in prison pending the sentence. The members of the London Missionary Society and many Others, believing him innocent and his sentence undeserved, erected to his memory in the City of Georgetown, a place of worship called Smith Chapel.

The largely non-violent rebellion was brutally crushed by the colonists under governor John Murray. They killed many slaves: estimates of the toll from fighting range from 100 to 250. After the insurrection was put down, the government sentenced another 45 men to death, and 27 were executed. The executed slaves’ bodies were displayed in public for months afterwards as a deterrent to others.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2017 17:47:06 ZULU