18 June 1760
A letter, dated the 18 June 1760, from the British Caribbean territory of Jamaica and subsequently published in newspapers across England, Scotland and Ireland, described, with a grudging respect, the resilience of slaves who ‘are gibbeted alive in terrorem (and) commonly live from four to eight days, which under the intense heat of this country, where thirst becomes so importunate, is amazing; for no one is suffered to give them any kind of liquid or sustenance.’1
Most, if not all, had been condemned for suspected or actual participation in a slave insurrection on the island. The leader of the rebellion, Tacky, a former Ghanaian chief, was killed while trying to escape the British and his severed head brought to Jamaica’s capital Kingston, where it was displayed on a pole. Two other leading rebels, Fortune and Kingston, were among the many slaves gibbeted. They slowly died from thirst in Kingston’s main square. Fortune surviving seven and Kingston nine days.
Some four hundred suspect rebels were shot dead by troops or militia, five hundred condemned to penal servitude on the island of Roatan, off the Honduran coast, and others burned to death by fire. One witness recalled how one of the victims ‘being chained to an iron stake, the fire was applied to his feet,’ adding that ‘he uttered not a groan, and saw his legs reduced to ashes with the utmost firmness and composure.’2 A few of the luckier rebels managed to commit suicide prior to capture.3
Despite the gruesome horrors of the British crackdown, many rebel slaves continued to fight on. In another letter, also dated 18 June 1870 and cited in the British press, a ‘gentleman in Jamaica’ explained that ‘the regulars and their militia have killed several, and taken numbers prisoners, who have been hanged, burned and hung up alive in chains: yet these punishments have not sufficiently intimidated the rest; they keep to their mountains and fastnesses where it is very difficult to get at them; and they sally forth whenever they find an opportunity, and burn and lay waste everything they meet belonging to the whites.’4
- ‘Extract of a letter from Jamaica 18 June,’ the Leeds Intelligencer, 9 September 1760 p. 2, ‘Foreign News (London Evening Post 2 September 1870) cited in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 15 September 1760 p. 2 and ‘Extract of a Letter from Jamaica, 18 June,’ the Dublin Courier, 8 September 1760 p. 1.
- James Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Harper Collins, London, 1992, p. 248.
- Richard Gott, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, Verso, London 2011, p. 32.
- ‘Extract of a letter from a gentleman in Jamaica dated June 18,’ The Caledonian Mercury, 25 August 1760, p. 3.
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