14 April 1816
On Easter Sunday, 14 April 1816, the slaves of Barbados rose up against their British masters. It took four days for soldiers to suppress the insurrection, which had been caused, according to one Barbados resident, because ‘the poor deluded negroes took it into their heads that they were so far emancipated by the British parliament, as to be allowed three days each week to themselves: and when their owners refused to comply with the demand, they almost immediately commenced burning the estates.’1 The violence of the rebels was bitterly condemned, although as the London Evening Mail conceded ‘not above two Europeans were killed, and but very few wounded.’ The plantation owners were, however, reported to have ‘suffered materially’ since some forty estates, valued at £175,000, were burned and ‘a great many slaves were killed and executed.’2
On the second day of the rebellion, Colonel Edward Cobb, commanding 400 regular troops and 250 militia, arrived at the parish of St. Philip to discover that ‘the system of plunder and devastation, which had been pursued by the insurgents had been very alarming in its extent… Canes, plantations, provision grounds, a few dwelling houses… have been involved in a general flame whilst household furniture of every description, Rum, Sugar, Wine, Corn and every species of food which had been stored were promiscuously scattered in the Roads and Fields near to the dwelling houses, with a rapidity of destruction that evinced the fury of the insurgents.’3
While there was outrage over this ‘loss’ to business, there was no comparable concern over the mass killing of upwards of a thousand rebels, including 70 extrajudicial executions ‘in the field’ and 144 who were executed after the revolt had been crushed.4 Even among those killed ‘in battle’, many had little or no real chance of surrendering. A British settler described in a private letter how one group of slave rebels ‘were pursued to the house of Mr. Grosset, which they occupied and fled from it as we came up, but were soon disabled. Many of them killed and wounded, leaping from the windows and rushing from the doors, a very pretty scene did it exhibit, our men following them across the fields and firing as fast as possible.’5 One of the few exceptions to this general tone of exuberance was a complaint by Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey that the militia had ‘put many men, women and children to death. I fear without much discrimination.’6
- The London Evening Mail, 5 June 1816 p. 3.
- The London Evening Mail, 5 June 1816 p. 3 and James Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Harper Collins, London, 1992, p. 275.
- Report by Colonel Edward Codd to Governor James Leith, CO28/85, The National Archives.
- John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Melita Press, London 2013 p. 31.
- A letter from a Barbadian resident dated 27 April 1816, CO28/85
- John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Melita Press, London 2013 pp. 31-32.
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