1800-1859 | Executions | Slavery | Trinidad and Tobago

Rebel slave plotters seized, hung and their heads impaled on Poles

Brigadier General Hugh Carmichael -
(via the National Army Museum and Wikimedia.)
Brigadier General Hugh Carmichael –
(via the National Army Museum and Wikimedia.)

25 December 1801

About 120 slaves on two Tobago plantations, Bacolet and Belvedere, planned to launch a surprise uprising on Christmas Day evening 1801. They would set fires among the sugar cane, kill those whites who came to extinguish them and then seize any remaining arms they found in the planters’ houses. A false attack on the main town Scarborough would then draw the 300 strong British garrison into the countryside, allowing the rebels to rush Fort King George, capture the harbour and send messengers out to slaves on other plantations to join them.1 The goal, as the Lancaster Gazette explained, was to gain ‘freedom to themselves and the full possession of the country.’2

The ‘horrid plot’ was only discovered, according to the Morning Chronicle, when, less than a week before Christmas, a planter ‘surprised two of the slaves, while conversing on the object of their intended enterprise.’ Brigadier General Hugh Carmichael, commanding the garrison, waited until the last minute before ordering his troops to seize about thirty of the ringleaders on Christmas Day, who were all tried by court martial starting on 26 December.3

A letter dated 27 January from Tobago and cited in the Caledonian Mercury remarked, with amazement, that ‘it is impossible to conceive with what secrecy and regularity the affair was managed. Although 120 negroes were concerned in the plot, yet not one of them was to have given the least hint of it.’ The correspondent added that ‘martial law has been in force ever since (Christmas Day), and a Court Martial is constantly trying them. Seven have yet been hanged, some of them were hung upon the estates they belonged to, and others in the market place, and their heads cut off and put upon poles in terrorem. There are still upwards of one hundred of those vagabonds still in custody.’4


  1. ‘Conspiracy in Tobago,’ The Caledonian Mercury, 19 April 1802, p. 4 and ‘A letter from Tobago dated the 1st of January’ cited in the Morning Post, 20 March 1802, p. 3
  2. ‘Wednesday’s Mail,’ The Lancaster Gazette, 27 March 1802, p. 2
  3. Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2009, p. 157 and the Morning Chronicle, 1 March 1802, p. 2
  4. ‘Conspiracy in Tobago,’ The Caledonian Mercury, 19 April 1802, p. 4.

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