When the English took over the colonisation of Jamaica from the Spanish, they imported thousands of Africans as slaves to work on plantations of wealthy Englishmen. Like other colonised islands, the slaves rebelled regularly.
The most well-known Jamaican slave rebellions are the 1831 Christmas rebellion, led by Samuel Sharpe and the Maroon Wars led by Queen Nanny. Both were awarded Jamaican National Hero status but there is another who deserves an honourable mention.
There were many revolts and uprisings in Jamaica but most were localised and were put down with little effort. The 1760-1761 rebellion, commonly known as Tacky’s Revolt or Tacky’s Rebellion was not so easy to quell.
Tacky’s Rebellion was a combination of several uprisings that happened across Jamaica during this period. It is regarded as the most significant British Caribbean slave rebellion in the eighteenth century and stands a close second to the 1790 Haitian Revolution in terms of resistance.
Before being enslaved, Tacky had been a Coromantee Chief from the Guinea area of the West Coast of Africa (present-day Ghana). Tacky was also a wealthy merchant and slave trader himself until he was captured and sold off into slavery when he was defeated by his rivals.
As a slave in Jamaica, he was put in the position of overseer at the Frontier plantation in the northern parish of St Mary, most likely due to the position of power he had held back in Guinea. This position gave him the opportunity and means to discreetly raise a small army.
Tacky’s Rebellion started in the early hours on Monday, 7 April 1760. There must have been a great deal of planning beforehand as the rebels were successful in seizing control of Frontier and the neighbouring Trinity plantation, killing slave masters or estate managers before heading to the nearby town of Port Maria. There it was an easy task to raid Fort Haldane where munitions were kept to defend the port. They seized supplies of muskets, gunpowder and shot.
Now fully armed, they moved on to overrun the plantations at Heywood’s Hall and Esher. By dawn the following morning, hundreds strong, they had fought their way inland, capturing estates and killing European settlers where they found them.
According to colonial administrator, slaveholder, and historian Edward Long, Tacky and his army planned to wipe out the entire white population. If any Blacks refused to join the cause, then they would be enslaved. After which, the island would be a new West African state. It’s not clear what he based these assumptions on.
At Ballard’s Valley, the rebels stopped to rejoice in their success. Obeahmen went around the camp distributing a powder that they claimed would protect the men from injury during battle and boldly declared that Obeahmen could not be killed. Perhaps deceived by how easily they had so far swept through St Mary, they began to believe these assertions and that freedom was a real possibility. During this rest period, one slave from Esher took the opportunity to slip away and sound the alarm.
Maroons honour their treaty
On 9 April, Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Moore, dispatched a detachment of the 74th regiment, comprising between 70 to 80 mounted militia from Spanish Town. Maroons who were bound by treaty to suppress slave rebellions joined the militia on the march to Saint Mary Parish.
The Maroon contingents were commanded by Moore Town’s white superintendent Charles Swigle, and the Maroon officers reporting to him were Clash and Sambo from Moore Town, Quaco and Cain from Charles Town, and Cudjo and Davy the Maroon from Scott’s Hall. There is no record of how the Maroons felt about fighting and killing slaves who wanted the same freedom that they themselves enjoyed but it has to be said that they played an important role in crushing the rebellion.
It is also evident that they and their white allies understood the importance of religious belief in the uprising, as when the troops found the insurgents, they immediately targeted the obeahmen, capturing one and hanging him from a tree.
Shaken by this, some slaves returned to their plantations whilst Tacky and the rest of his men took to the mountains where they were joined by a group of runaways who had previously been enslaved on the French island of Guadeloupe. These men had been involved in an armed uprising there and so had seen something of military operations and gained many skills. But despite a number of tactical victories, the rebels were eventually tracked down and killed by parties of Maroons.
Tacky and the remainder of his men went running through the woods being chased by the Maroons and their legendary marksman, Davy. While running at full speed, Davy shot Tacky and cut off his head as evidence of his accomplishment, for which he would be richly rewarded. Tacky’s head was later displayed on a pole in Spanish Town until a follower took it down in the middle of the night. The rest of Tacky’s men were found in a cave near Tacky Falls, having committed suicide rather than go back to slavery.
Tacky’s rebellion only lasted a week however, the revolt did not end there, as other rebellions broke out all over Jamaica lasting until the following year. Many of these rebellions were rightly or wrongly attributed to Tacky’s cunning and strategy which is why they all fall under the banner of “Tacky’s Rebellion”.
One of the most notable uprisings that year was the revolt waged by Apongo which also began on 7 April and went on until October of the following year.
By the time order was restored between 400 and 500 slaves had been killed and many hundreds more were transported and re-sold.
About 60 white people lost their lives.