• Jacqueline Cameron

August 1, 2021, Marks 183 Years Since the Emancipation Declaration was First Read

Jamaica Emancipation; Jamaican Independence; Jamaican Heritage; Jamaican History; Jamaican People; Jamaica Attractions; Jamaica Culture

The Old Kings House, Spanish Town
The Emancipation Declaration was Read From the Steps of the Old Kings House in Spanish Town

“I rejoice I am a slave no more, and you are slave no more, Jamaica is slave no more. Amen!”

Ex-slave, Thomas Gardner, shouted these words in Jamaica on August 1, 1838, as he celebrated the abolition of the system which had dehumanized his fellow Negroes in the British Caribbean and England for more than 150 years.

With similar jubilation, thousands of ex-slaves, who gathered at town centers and churches in every British Caribbean colony, broke into joyous celebrations after hearing the final words of the Emancipation Declaration, affirming their full freedom from slavery.

"The hour is at hand, the Monster is dying...in recounting the mood in his church that night he said- "the winds of freedom appeared to have been set loose, the very building shook at the strange yet sacred joy."

William Knibb, non-conformist Baptist preacher and abolitionist, at the dawning of August 1, 1838

The Emancipation Act 1838 was passed by the British Government following a sustained abolition campaign, underscored by bloody slave uprisings in the colonies and widespread public outcry against slavery.

Emancipation Means Hope for Change

As we celebrate Emancipation on August 1, we honor the sacrifice and struggles of a resilient people – the Jamaicans. The atrocities of the Middle Passage, the whippings, the long and hard days of unrewarded work on the plantations, the executions, the rebellions… I can only imagine! So we recall the victories and the sacrifices as we celebrate our freedom, as the Emancipation road was a painful one.

Don’t ask why Jamaicans are resilient, creative, assertive, persistent… it’s due to the lessons of a long, hard road to freedom. Now our flag represents that resilience which is known world-wide through well-known personalities such as Usain Bolt… and little-know personalities such as hard-working Adrian who owns a little shop on Palisadoes Road selling natural Jamaican products.

Happy Emancipation Day!

Emancipation Day Celebration Dawn
A New Day of Emancipation Dawns Over the Nation of Jamaica

What is Emancipation?

Emancipation Day is observed in many former European colonies in the Caribbean and areas of the United States on various dates to commemorate the emancipation of slaves of African descent.

The period of enslavement in Jamaica began with the first European colonizers, the Spanish. The arrival of the Spanish in 1494 led to the decimation of the indigenous Tainos. In less than a century, the Tainos all but died out. They were required to work as forced laborers on Spanish plantations and in their mines, and as a result, many died due to exhaustion, others died falling victims to famine and diseases, and others were brutally killed.

The Tainos in their livelihood
The Taino People

According to Philip Sherlock and Hazel Bennett (1998), when the Spanish settlers found their labor force depleted, they turned to Africa for replacements. Bartholomew las Casas, a Spanish priest, recommended the use of Africans in Jamaica and other Spanish territories when Indian labor had diminished. Until then, the only Africans on the island were personal household servants of a few settlers. These servants did not come directly from Africa, but from European countries where African slavery was already institutionalized.

When the English invaded Jamaica in 1655 and subsequently captured the island, the enslavement of Africans became far more degrading. During 1655 and 1658, the Spanish freed and recruited the enslaved Africans in their battle against the English. Many of these Africans fled to the interior. Here, they interbred with the free Tainos and became the Maroons. Over time, the ranks of the Maroons were swelled by Africans who sought freedom from enslavement on the plantations of the English.

Close to 1 million enslaved Africans were imported to Jamaica. Most of the African captives came from the Gold Coast (present day Ghana, Togo and Benin) and the Bight of Biafra (including present day Nigeria, Cameroon and the Equatorial Guinea). The inhumane treatment for the Africans began at the point of capture.

The villages were raided to get sufficient numbers for the voyage to the West Indies, and in some cases, the Africans consisted of prisoners of war. Once captured, they were forcefully brought to the African ports of departure in chains where they awaited the arrival of a slaver. The journey from the African coast to the Caribbean took on average five to eight weeks in good weather. This leg of the journey was referred to as the Middle Passage or the Atlantic Passage.

The conditions of the Middle Passage were unspeakable. The slavers were usually overcrowded and this led to unsanitary conditions, resulting in the outbreak of various diseases, including small pox and dysentery. Many Africans died as a result of these contagious diseases, and others died from inhumane treatment. Over 2 million Africans, or 10 per cent of the total shipped, lost their lives in the Atlantic crossing, and maybe another 4 million died as a direct result of capture and enslavement within Africa.