Paul Bogle achieved his distinction as a National Hero of Jamaica by demonstrating his undaunted and rebellious spirit through his efforts that assisted with the eradication of the unjust system that plagued Jamaica due to its disdain toward the black population in his time. This was the norm in those days as Jamaica was going through a transitional phase and was not far removed from the extirpation of slavery. Though slavery had been a thing of the past there was still some residue present which brought about drastic measures from the Black population in Jamaica.
Bogle was born in 1822 in Stony Gut, Morant Bay in St. Thomas. The community consisted of small farmers including Paul Bogle himself who owned 500 acres of land. His formative years coincided with the days of slavery, but he lived to see it abolished in 1834. During the post slavery years the White population still sustained a significant level of power that was a cause for concern amongst Blacks and he saw the need for a rearrangement of the system. One of the few privileges that Black Jamaicans had was electoral voting. However, due to the requirements that included knowing how to read and write and also having to pay a high fee, many people were exempted with the exclusion of Paul Bogle among relatively few who met the criteria. Statistically the blacks outnumbered the whites 32 to 1 but as a result of the requirements only a few could vote. Jamaica went through a rough two year drought in 1863-1864 that left the poorest farmers struggling financially. Rumors also started circulating that White owners were hell-bent on bringing back slavery.
October 7th 1865 saw the first indication that the Black community was taking matters into their own hands. A Black Jamaican had been charged with and found guilty of trespassing on an abandoned plantation. The local population made a collective decision to protest against it and a group from the village of Stony Gut freed the man by force. Upon their return to the village Bogle found out that there were arrest warrants for 27 men of the village which included a multitude of offences, among them, assaulting the police and rioting.
Perhaps Paul Bogle’s most defining moment came on October 11th 1865, three days later, when he led 200-300 Black men and women into the town of Morant Bay, in what became known as the Morant Bay Rebellion. Their motive for the march to the court house was to protest about the arrest warrants but as they arrived, there was an immediate encounter with the local militia, who out of trepidation, opened fire killing seven of the protesters. This escalated to a riot that resulted in 18 more killings. The group of participants grew to 2,000, resulting in 2 additional murders within the following few days.
Out of concern that the revolt would disseminate island wide, Edward Eyre, the British Governor at that time, called upon some troops to quash the revolt, but by the time they got to the scene the tension had defused. Unfortunately, this did not prevent the barbarous retaliation of the authorities.
An estimated 500 Jamaicans were murdered by troops, 354 were arrested and later executed, and 600 punishments including floggings and prison sentences ensued.
GEORGE WILLIAM GORDON
On October 24th, Paul Bogle was arrested and executed at the courthouse. Another National Hero and Paul Bogle’s close friend George William Gordon, who had very little involvement in the mutiny, was arrested in Kingston, tried under martial law and hanged on October 23rd, the day prior to Bogle’s death.
The insurrection had a great effect on Jamaica and Britain. In Britain it gave rise to consequential public furor with people dividing into two camps: those who were for Governors Eyre’s response and others who felt that he should be tried for murder.
Liberal Politicians, like Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mills, were amongst those who were opposed to Eyre’s actions. They set up the Jamaica Committee and Eyre was charged twice with murder but was not present on his trial. It is said that he returned to the UK in August 1866.
The ripple effect of the riot’ caused the Jamaican Assembly to renounce its charter and Jamaica became a Crown colony in 1866.
Tarik Daley is a Researcher and Blogger