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Erik Flanagan


Over the years hundreds of thousands of people have attempted to portray the black person’s struggle and suffering that has occurred with the development of our world. There is, however, no way to accurately depicted the feelings and emotions of these people because the majority have never experienced it or let alone even imagined the lives that these people were forced to live. Slavery was one of the most horrific and in human acts ever instilled on a race of people ever in our world's history. People were stolen from their homelands, broken apart from their families, and were thrust into a lifestyle that inhibited their every move and instilled harsh punishments on them. It is almost impossible for many of us to comprehend the mindsets that these slave owners possessed, but history paints a truly horrific and emotional picture for us all to see.

In speaking about slavery many quickly think of the African struggle under the possession of the whites, but slavery is not nearly as recent an occurrence as 1492 when Columbus reached the New World. For thousands of years slaves have been used for means of menial labor and the general dirty work of the more wealthy proprietors. Slaves were used in the creation of the pyramids in Egypt, work on Mayan temples in South America, and even used by the Mongols in northern Asia as a part of the Mongolian fighting machine. The enslavement of the Africans, however, created a legacy of oppression and tyranny that carried on much longer after the abolition of the systems. The reason for this is that African slaves were not looked upon as humans at all, but as a commodity that could be abused and sold purely for the purpose of making a profit. In most other instances of slavery throughout history motives like religion and love for a king drove the souls of the men and women laborers. This is the major striking

difference between the Africans enslaved by the white man from the early fifteen hundreds until today. Although today slavery is abolished in all of Europe and America the people of Africa are still in a sense enslaved by the values and memories of the whites throughout. They face oppression every day politically, economically, and socially that are still griming reminders of the enslavement of their people not to long ago.

In Jamaica slavery was an industry that that was fueled by people’s greed and visions of what African people were. Africans were not actually people at all but a resource that could be bought and sold with no issue of morality. These people were believed to be nothing more then savage beasts that, with training, could bring in tremendous profits with very little money on the part of the owners. These were precisely the views in Jamaica by the wealthy whites that set the stage for the longevity of enslavement instilled on people of color. During the development of Jamaica Black men and women not only had to break the chains of slavery to free themselves, but also rise above the values of the whites that had been so unchanged for so many years. In reality their social enslavement is actually a much harder and more tiresome task then simply breaking off the shackles of the plantation owners. Their social enslavement is dug deep into the minds of many people in Jamaica, and the fact that most of these people have been in the possession of the power for hundreds of years makes their task all the more difficult. Along with this struggle was the interjection of colonialism into Jamaican society, which brought further social stratification, and left Blacks further down on the social ladder. Colonialism brought new problems for Blacks because now they also had to compete economically with the new influx of whites and other immigrants. The struggle of the Black men and women in Jamaica over the last five hundred years has been one of heartbreak and broken promises. Not until the last half of a century have the blacks of Jamaica been given a voice in political matters of the country that has inhabited and controlled them for hundreds of years. The voice however, is still very weak and feeble against the political and economic power of the white man in Jamaica.

The values and morals of the white man in Jamaica have been prevalent from their first introduction in 1494 by good old Christopher Columbus. Columbus sailed from the New World and came upon Jamaica on May 5th and marveled at the wonders of the Island. This is a direct quote from Columbus himself describing his first sight of the Caribbean jewel.

". …there silhouetted against the evening sky, arose sheer and darkly green Xamayca. It is the fairest island that eyes have beheld: mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky; very large, bigger then Sicily, and full of valleys and fields and plains."(Floyd, 1979, p. 25)

This demonstrates the absolute beauty of Jamaica in its entirety. It is a very powerful and vibrant image, but also dramatically contrasts the actions and attitudes of Columbus and his crew on setting foot on the land.

At the time of the Spanish infiltration the island of Jamaica was inhabited by hundreds of native people known as the Arawak Indians. These people were gentle and peaceful people and were virtually unprepared for the onslaught by the Spanish settlers. Explorers set out across the island in search of gold and jewels, which proved no avail, but did realize the profit that could be made from the natives as free workers for them. Soon almost all of the Arawaks were under the blanket of slavery with no defense against the powerful white oppressors. Columbus observed a natural landscape with a tone of awe and wonderment, a land of unmatchable beauty. The Arawaks, however, provided a tone that contrasted powerfully and give a real account of the passions of these white men.

" Vast numbers died as a result and thousands more committed suicide by hanging themselves or drinking poisonous cassava juice to escape from their bondage. Mothers are said to have murdered their children rather then let them grow up and suffer the slavery they had known." (Floyd, 1979, p. 31)

The Spanish settlers of the time used every ounce of available resource (the Arawaks) that they could get their hands upon for their own profit. Although this time in European history is noted for it's vast leaps in exploration and prosperity, this quote explains the means by which they achieved their goals. This exploitation of the native people of Jamaica by the white man displays the framework that was so deeply grained in to the minds of the future white rulers that effected the treatment of Blacks. By the mid seventeenth century there was not a drop of pure Arawak blood left on the island of Jamaica (Carley, 1963, p. 23). African slaves were brought in by the Spanish as laborers over the years, but the majority came with the new British rule over Jamaica.

Over the course of the mid sixteen hundreds the Spanish rule of Jamaica was beginning to look very tedious. An array of attacks by many different European countries challenged the Spanish supreme rule over the island in the West Indies. All of the countless attacks did what they has intended and the Spanish rule became weak and weary. They became afraid of any ships approaching the harbors, and would send the women and children up into the mountains at any sight of them. It was inevitable that their reign over the island was coming to an end (Gardner, 1971, p. 38). What this meant for the thousands of slaves in Jamaica was unknown, but soon a new chapter in the book of enslavement and brutality was to be written. The major player in the overtaking of Jamaica by the English was a man named Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell did not target Jamaica because of its lush fertility and beauty or its vast resource (slaves), but out of a general desire to kick the Spanish out of control of the New World. Jamaica became a target because of its lack of population and defense, and was easily taken by the vast British Ocean fleet (Floyd, 1979, p. 33). As with the invasion of the island by Columbus, the British did not wait a moment before instilling their supreme rule over the slaves and formulating ways by which a profit could be made. Once the British took over Spanish slaves obviously did not stick around to see what new happenings would occur with the new rule, and many fled into the interior of the country where British soldiers would not venture because of their lack of guerilla warfare knowledge. In these early times of the British enforcement the leaders did not plan very efficiently and soon needed support from overseas. Upon arrival they slaughtered the livestock of the island and quickly diminished there only food supplies (Floyd, 1979, p. 33). They needed a way to get supplies and begin the process of developing the fertile land that they now possessed. The simple solution to this was colonization and what better way to entice perspectives then with cheep land and even cheaper labor.

The beginning of colonization in Jamaica was the step that paved the way for hundreds of years of slavery and oppression of Africans. Although many attempts were made to find wealth in silver and gold throughout the country, the new proprietors soon realized that the real money was in the agriculture. Endless fields of sugar cane reached throughout the Jamaican plains that could prove to be very profitable if harvested and exported. The problem with cane, however, is that it takes a vast amount of manpower and endurance to get it cut and therefore needed vast numbers of people. A sugar cane field of about five hundred to one thousand acres would take about two hundred and fifty hands to harvest it (Floyd, 1979, p. 38). This was a tremendous amount of labor that Jamaica did not possess. Within no time ships began making the long three-month journey to Africa to acquire the free labor that they needed to get the plantations running and ultimately colonize the country.

In a short time Jamaica became the largest export of sugar in the world. Tremendous estates popped up all over the island and each had slave labor as its backbone. The slave trade shipped about five thousand slaves a year during the peak of the plantation productions, and this is exactly how they came here: shipped (Carley, 1963, p. 38). The slave vessels were extremely over packed and the ship crews gave no impression that they had any humanity in them what so ever. These thousands of Africans were herded like cattle, shackled with restraints, and stuffed in to slave ships like neatly piled lumber. These men and women were taken from all over Western Africa, different tribes with different languages, all thrown together as one. The majority of these slaves were brought from tribes like the Coromantes from the Gold Coast and the Ibos from Nigeria. The white men at the time gave no heed to certain relations between families and had no concern for the specific tribes of the Africans, they were all just cattle to them that needed to learn a life of servitude.

It is interesting to see the way that the whites stereotyped different tribes with different attitudes and personalities like different breads of dogs. The Coromants were thought to be extremely troublesome and rebellious and the Ibos were much more accepting of their servitude (Floyd, 1979, p. 39). How these men could actually rip a family apart and think nothing of it is just the beginning of a mindset of the white man that transcended long into the future. The depiction of the trip of a Negro from his homeland to the cane fields of the plantations demonstrates and portrays a vivid image of the mental and physical suffrage that these people endured.

In the beginning there was the great round up of the men and women by the fierce slave traders. These men and women of Africa were in no way prepared for the onslaught of European men with powerful weapons and chains and were round up relatively easily. If any did get out of line they would simply be slaughter on the spot by the whites to demonstrate their superiority. Once packed into the ship the Blacks were subjected to an unimaginably horrific journey. In shackles with barley enough room to move themselves these men and women were forced to defecate on themselves. Their lives were kept barely alive with the least amount of nourishment possible, and infection and disease ran ramped. We have all seen movies depicting these actions, but only by comprehending the amount of time these people were inflicted by this can anyone come close to understanding. At least these people had no knowledge of the lives that they had fallen into or the apprehension would have been unbearable. After the three month long journey the blacks were divided into groups depending on their physic, bought at the marketplace, and sent out to begin their new future.

Throughout the late sixteen hundreds and seventeen hundreds the sugar plantations flourished as did the colonization of the island. The word began to spread of the wealth that could be acquired as a plantation owner in the West Indies and the phase "as rich as a West Indian planter" actually became a familiar saying (Floyd, 1979, p. 41). In 1760, however, the first uprising and demonstration of the power of the Negro’s occurred under strong willed and outspoken slave called Tacky. The rebellion flared throughout Jamaica destroying many estates in an attempt to relieve themselves from their bondage. The rebellion was soon overthrown with many casualties (mostly blacks), but did give the first glimpse of freedom to many Negro slaves throughout the country. In the end the whites inhuman perception of the blacks was again demonstrated, not with the simple execution of the leaders of the rebellion, but the fact that they were disgracefully hung in iron cages and left to starve in the center of Kinston (Floyd, 1979, p. 42). The images of the Black person as unruly savages by the whites were continually being established and enforced with these actions. Although emancipation was less then seventy-five years away these views were becoming increasingly deep rooted in the white run society.

By eighteen hundred the slave trade had spread throughout every reach of Jamaica and the treatment of the blacks never lessened. At one point the slave to white man ratio reached 14 to 1. The sugar industry had become so large that most of the plantations were owned by people who never even set foot on Jamaican soil. These men only saw the profits rolling in and the dirty work was far away from their untainted hands. Throughout black history this seems to be a very prevalent theme. The people that actually owned and profited off of the industry of slavery never usually saw the treatment of these people. They simply sat in their comfortable homes while these savage "animals" worked their fields. In many stories written about the oppression of the black person they are often referred to as the invisible people. They have been hidden under a blanket weaved of persecution and misconception that many felt, and still feel, is easier left unturned. Although these beliefs in the minds of many whites are the hardest things to break, the first steps were taken in the direction as the eighteen hundreds rolled on.

In the early eighteen hundreds a new fear began to brew in the mind of many British plantation owners. Britain began to take on a new industrialized economic system and many feared that the slave-based economy of Jamaica could cause ruin. Talks began to occur about the emancipation of the slave network and with the leak of some of this information to the community brought upon a new revolution. Not a physical revolution at first, but a mental realization that paved the way. Slaves began to realize what freedom was. Many of the slaves at the time were born into the shackles and had no knowledge of any life beyond the one that they lived (if it could be called a life). Some slaves that were especially competent in the ways of reading and rhetoric began to watch important developments unfold and were able to portray these occurrences to other illiterate slaves. The slaves slowly began to realize the anxiety of the plantation owners as they watched the economic decline of their slave-based systems. Also there had been many revolutions throughout the world at the time that fueled the fire. In Haiti the French rule over the slaves was challenged and freedom was won, and in France the French revolution had just recently occurred (Barrett, 1997, p. 39). News of these rebellions began to spread throughout the Jamaican cane fields but something more powerful also began to happen, the blacks began to realize what these things meant and there thoughts were opened to drive them. Another key factor in the mustering of rebellious thoughts was the growing incorporation of religion in the minds of the Jamaican slaves.

One of the largest forms of oppression instilled on the black person in Jamaica was the fact that they were not allowed to participate in religious activities or education. This was due to the fact that slave owners feared that if slaves were able to practice religion then they would realize, through God, the horrible mistreatment that they were being inflicted with. If they became educated then it would be easier to communicate amongst each other and organize. They would be able to comprehend salvation and be able to understand what freedom was. This would therefore loosen the grip that the whites had over them. This was exactly what happened during the early eighteen hundreds, and coupled with the rebellion issues that were occurring throughout the world the slaves were able to get a clear perception of the tyranny that they were being forced to endure.

Around this time Christianity was beginning to spread dramatically throughout the slave population. They generally associated with one of two faiths under Baptism. The more predominantly white run sect was called the London Baptist Mission, and the other, which was started by a slave who immigrated to Jamaica from America, was called the Native Baptist Church (Barrett, 1997, p. 40). These two religious, with the help of some widely respected slave speakers, spread the passions of God and salvation throughout the slave population and set up for rebellion. This was the first great step in the liberation of the slaves from the mental enslavement which had been so strong from the beginning, and which also had been the white mans biggest crutch over them.

Finally in 1831 the boiling point was reached in Jamaica and the slaves lashed out against their oppressors. The leader of this rebellion was a man named Samuel Sharp. Sharp was a slave who was very powerful due to his intelligence, his ability to project his feelings, and his overall passion. His mission was to distribute the axes that could cut the chains of the mental enslavement that had controlled them all for so long. He informed slaves of the way of God and taught them what it meant to be free. This quote by a fellow conspirator of Sharps displays Sharps skills and passions over the situation of slavery.

"He (Sharp) referred to the manifold evils and injustice of slavery; asserted the natural equality of man with regard to freedom; and, referring to the Holy Scriptures as his authority, denied the white man had any more right to hold blacks in bondage then the blacks had to enslave the white." (Ibid, 126/ Barrett, 1997, p. 41)

Using his vast powers of oration and passion Sharp organized the largest slave rebellion in the history of Jamaica. Now that many slaves had begun to long for their freedom and realize the situation that they were in, all that was needed was a spark to get the revolution rolling. This ignition came with a belief that local plantation owners were withholding emancipation forms granted by the King in order to sustain the business of the sugar fields (Carley, 1963, p. 51). This notion coupled with the new realization by many about freedom and salvation fueled the fire of rebellion throughout Jamaica.

The start of the revolution was intended to be a non-violent one lead by Sharp against the despotism of slavery. He simply encouraged slaves not to return to work. This, however, proved futile once the revolution got under way. Slaves lashed out and destroyed everything that they could that represented the hundreds of years of injustice and cruelty instilled upon them. They burned and pillaged estates and countless cane fields throughout Jamaica. Many white plantation owners fled with their families off of the island for fear of a complete takeover. The rebels then headed toward Montpelier in an attempt to take the city. They were met, however, by resistance that their primitive weapons could not defend against, but after this loss the passion of freedom had spread. Hundreds then began to join the slave army with a newfound passion.

The major turning point in the battle came with the introduction of General Cotton into the picture as commander and Chief against the rebels. He fully realized that the insurrection had grown to great numbers and he decided to use a tactic that had been used for centuries by the white man…he lied. He spread the word to the slave army that if they relinquished their weapons that no harm would come to them. He also assured them that slavery had been in fact abolished. This of course was not nearly the case. Cotton left the island soon after his proclamation and slaves began to return to their masters with the intentions of legitimate work. Plantation owners, however, proceeded to slaughter the returning slaves fortuitously. Many slaves also fled to the mountains where they were hunted down and massacred by soldiers and paid Maroons (Barrett, 1997, p. 48). Again another chapter in the desecration of the black person, by the means of manipulation and lies in order to gain control, was written in history after the Sharp rebellion.

The British lost the mental control of the slaves and therefore offered them the leeway to strike out against them physically. As with many other times in the past the white men felt that the only way to gain this control back was with deception. They did not feel that the blacks were ever worth compromising with because of their view of them as a lower race. This perception displayed how the values of the whites had varied little since the beginning of the enslavement of the Africans, and how these values had also filtered into the political aspects of society much more then before. Positive things did, however, come out of the rebellion besides the taste of freedom for many slaves. Sam Sharps dedication and passion lead the way toward freedom in the minds of thousands of slaves and also opened up a new consciousness. Sam Sharp was the last to be executed after hundreds on May twenty third 1832, and sadly did not live to see his ultimate goal become a reality, which his rebellion helped to compel. A quote from the royal commission displays the revolutions influence.

"…(the rebellion) demonstrated to the Imperial Legislature, that among the Negro’s themselves the spirit of freedom had been so widely diffused as to render it most perilous to postpone the settlement of the important question of emancipation to a later period."(Bleby, Death Struggles/ Barrett, 1997, p. 40)

In 1834 the emancipation bill was finally passed which granted freedom to black slaves throughout Jamaica. This, however, was in reality only the first series of steps in the long path toward abolition. Although the British legislature had decided that it was time for freedom of the blacks, many powerful whites felt that a transition period was needed. They felt that if direct freedom was bestowed all at once then freed slaves would quickly fall into "barbarity"; the civilization that had been created would be destroyed (Floyd, 1979, p. 44). This, however, was an obvious misconception that was only reinforced by sustaining white feelings of black savagery. Therefore, in an attempt to cultivate the black men of Jamaica, the King ordered a four-year transition period were slaves would have to remain on their plantations and work for wages. This four-year time period proved that the white mans values were still far from evolving. Plantation owners were resentful of the emancipation and obviously took out their frustrations on their new "workers". They attempted to get everything out of the system that they could before it completely disappeared. Its attempt at getting the black ex-slaves to fall into the groove of working for wages also fell through. The wages were extremely low, if any at all, and they were simply being forced to remain on the places that represented years of horrific treatment and oppression in their minds. In 1838 the slaves were finally free as it was written on paper, but freedom from the mentality was still far in the distance. During the beginning of the colonization of Jamaica the motives of enslavement were mainly economical, but in the time after the Emancipation it can be seen how this prejudice infected every aspect of society.

Over the next hundred years after Emancipation Blacks were susceptible to the sustained feelings that loomed from slavery times. The view of them as inferior beings continued to exclude most from the economic and political occurrences of the nation. With the end of the slave labor force also brought an end to the sugar prosperity of the island. Once freed many did not remain at their original plantations and went searching for work. No profits could be made from the fields without the labor so many were cut and used as grazing land for cattle and other livestock (Carley, 1963, p. 51). The freedmen were granted the ability to purchase land, but the only land that the Blacks could get were scarce pieces in the hilly regions of Jamaica that offered nothing for good farming. Besides this fact , however, Blacks had trouble acquiring land because planters that still possessed land were reluctant to sell it to Negros because it effected their prosperity. They were afraid that with the beginnings of pheasant communities would come the end to their prosperity. These whites made it difficult for many Blacks to acquire titles, that were needed to posses land, through lying and manipulation. This deception and insecurity of the times can be seen as the foundation for the dramatic amount of "agricultural malpractice" that is still very prevalent today (Carley, 1963, p. 53).

Throughout the eighteen hundreds Jamaica was in a tremendous amount of unrest with the Blacks receiving the brunt of the opposition. Freedman and women were in a constant search for wages which began to slowly open up with industrialization, but these workers were treated almost as harshly as they were under slave times. Besides the fact that wages were minimal, the employers no longer cared about the health of these people because they were always replaceable. If a slave became ill then the owner was loosing money, but if a factory worker got sick then he could just be replaced (Carley, 1963, p. 55). These values held by the white owners reinforced the feelings toward Blacks, once again, as simply parts of machinery. This de humanizing thought had still not been lifted more then an inch in over 50 years.

In 1865 the feeling of economical oppression of Black laborers became so turgid that it finally burst. In 1964 Governor Eyre took over the task as Administrator over the island. The economically situation had become so terrible in Jamaica that many felt that there was nowhere to go except up. This, however, was proved drastically wrong with the introduction of Eyre into the scene. Eyre gave virtually no concern to the workers of Jamaica in an attempt to revise the system, and simply brought in a harsh tyrannical rule over the country. The people of Jamaica had had enough oppression by this time and in 1965 rebellion occurred in the area of Morant Bay (Carley, 1963, p. 55). Many government officials were killed in the revolt but it was quickly overthrown as to the fact that many Blacks had very few means of defense. It did, however, prove very powerful in compelling the country to take a step away from the more tyrannical approach of ruling the country. Eyre was removed from office and Jamaica broke free from the "representative institution" that it had been for so many years. It was then to be known as the Crown Colony (Berrett, 1997, p. 63).

Although independence was not achieved until 1962 a snowball of emotion and desire had begun to role faster and faster. This now began to shed off the oppression and horror of the past during colonization and slowly picking up power and prestige. A book that is almost like a tour guide of Jamaica from the early 1930's reflects some of the more depressing sustaining attitudes of the whites even long after emancipation.

" (referring to the decline of the plantations) Theoretically slavery may be all wrong; far be it from me to defend it; but economically, at least in the tropics, it seems the only solution…the free Negro is never to be depended on as a field laborer…. he is (however) the only man fitted to be a field laborer. …but if we actually face the facts….we shall be faced to admit that their decadence dates from the abolition of the slaves, and that freeing the blacks spelled doom for the island. But to return to the important events in Jamaica’s past. In 1837, the first steamship to visit Jamaica arrived in Kingston." (Verril, 1931, p.101)

Although the end of this passage seems almost humorous in its ludicrousy, and it almost seems like it was intended to make light of the entire situation. It is a strong depiction of the feelings that still loomed in Jamaica a hundred years after the slaves were freed. Many many whites were still infected with the values that were filtered down through the years from slavery times, but many also were beginning to achieve a new realization and enlightenment.

The history of Jamaica's evolution from a peaceful and self sufficient nation into a country of lies and oppression can be mapped in parallel with the incorporation of the white man and the progression of a set of values instilled by them. The beginnings of these values seemed to stem from the all-encompassing power of greed, but once established, dilated into an in-humane feeling of superiority based virtually on a fear of the unknown. Black civilization was unknown to the whites and therefor condemned and eradicated. These Black men and women were simply parts of a machine intended solely for profits. They were not human because they were different, and the whites attempted to spread this infectious thought throughout Jamaica. Sadly, the thought did spread and as a result hundreds of thousands of people, just like you or I, had their humanity brutally bashed down mentally and physically and were left to fend in a world that was evolved against them. Just how knowledge and realization was the driving force behind the Blacks finally breaking from their bondage, whites in a sense must do the same in order to emerge from the shroud of misconception that many still hold. People must learn from the situations of the past and break free from the longing for superiority and domination over others.


Barrett, E. Leonard. (1997). The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bridges, George. (1828). The Annals of Jamaica. London: Frank Cass and Company Limited.

Carley, Mary. (1963). Jamaica: Old and the New. New York: Fredrick A. Praeger Publishing.

Floyd, Berry. (1979). Jamaica- an Island Microcosm. New York: Saint Peters Press.

Gardner, W. J. (1873). A History of Jamaica. London: Frank Cass and Company Limited.

Green, Cencilia. (1997). Historical Roots of Modern Caribbean Politics. Against the Current. Vol. 12, (4), 34-38.

Hart, Richard. (1999). Towards Decolonisation: Political, Labour, and Economic Development in Jamaica. Kingston: Canoe Press.

Manley, Michael. (1975). A Voice at the Workplace. Washington D. C.: Howard University Press.

Verrill, A. Hyatt. (1931). Jamaica of Today. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.