Factors that influenced the American Revolution and its impact on Jamaica


Sunday, August 26, 2018

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It was not only events in England that influenced the course of Jamaica's history during the period of British colonialism, but also events in its far-flung corners, not the least of which was the American War of Independence (1775-1783).

Within a year of the start of the American Revolution the Continental Army, led by George Washington, and the Parliament declared political independence from British rule in 1776. As news about that monumental declaration spread throughout the Empire, the Jamaican slaves noted for their untiring series of the largest numbers of revolts and rebellions within the Western Hemisphere, except in the case of Brazil a colony of Portugal, carried out back-to-back revolts in the parishes of Hanover and St James in 1776 and again in 1777.

Although the first revolt eventuated great alarm among the whites and ended with the execution of 30 slaves, the defiance and resoluteness of the slave population in these parishes were not dampened nor diminished, and so the next year an alarming insurrection occurred. It involved a large number of slaves who had taken a blood oath to massacre all the whites. Those involved were either burned alive, gibbetted, hanged, or transported.

The slaves in those two parishes and the rest of Jamaica were fully aware that The American Revolution against England was in full swing. The momentum of defiance against English slavery in Jamaica reached an all-time high after the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783. Between 1784 and 1832, the end of the Sam Sharpe Rebellion, ... activism among the Jamaican slave was commonplace. In 1798 about 43 slaves formed themselves into a bandit camp and for months created terror among the white population.

Towards the end of 1806 a conspiracy was discovered in St George's parish (one of the 22 parishes until immediately after the Morant Bay Rebellion). In 1808 three Coromantee and several Chamba slaves who were recruited to the West India Regiment, while being drilled, mutinied, and killed two of their officers — Lieutenant Thomas Ellis and Major Darley. The attempt was a military coup started by slaves in the Second West India Regiment based at Fort Augusta.

In 1815, over 250 Ibo slaves revolted. Some were executed. Between 1823 and 1824 more slave rebellions broke out. The last and most ambitious of all the slave rebellions on the island broke out after Christmas 1831 — the damage to property and to people were simply horrendous. This became known as the Sam Sharpe Rebellion. It is open secret that revolutionaries from the United States of America and from Haiti were here working with the slave population to bring down the plantocractic Government of colonial Jamaica and gain freedom.

The American victory over Great Britain, followed by the mainland French Revolution, The Haitian Revolution — as a colony — led by Toussaint L'Overture and Jamaican Myalist and military strategist Boukman over France, all converged to provide evidence to subjugated people that they, too, can, through revolt and revolution, free themselves of political and economic shackles. The mother of all revolutions in the western hemisphere — The American Revolution triggered — other major revolutions around the globe, for which space does not allow to explore at this time. For it is time to look at the cause of the American Revolution, the fulcrum of philosophical, political, economic, and cultural change globally. Historians contend that no single event caused the revolution on continental America inclusive of her 13 colonies. It was instead a series of event that led to the war.

Eventually, it all began a disagreement over the way Great Britain treated the America colonies and the way the colonies felt they should be treated. Colonial American felt they deserved all the rights of Englishmen. The British, on the other hand, felt the colonies were created to be used in the way that best suited the Crown and Parliament. This conflict is embodied in one of the rallying cries of the American Revolution: No Taxation Without Representation.

Despite what seemed to be an appealing rallying cry, the support for the rebellion was: One third of the colonists supported, one third of the population supported Great Britain and the other third was neutral. The French, bitter rivals and enemies of England, supported the rebels with ships, soldiers, sailors, and other resources. The Statue of Liberty is a gift from France to America and was casted (made) in France!

The philosophy of these Americans who felt they deserved all the rights of Englishmen harmonised and converged with that period of time known as the Enlightenment. It was a time when thinkers, philosophers, and others began to question the politics of Government, the role of the Church (Anglican), and other fundamental and ethical questions of society as a whole. In the period, also known as the Age of Reason, many colonists followed the train of thought.

A number of revolutionary leaders had studied major writings of the enlightenment including those of Thomas Hobbs, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, and Baron de Montesquieu. From these the founders of the republic gleaned the concept of the social contract, the consent of the governed, and seperation of powers.

Locke's writings, in particular, struck a chord, questioning the rights of the governed and the overarch of the British Government. It spurred the thought of a “republican” ideology that stood up in opposition to those viewed as tyrants, in this case the British Crown and Parliament. New taxes were enforced by Great Britian in 1764, which were the Sugar Act and Currency Act. The Sugar Act increased already considerable taxes on molasses and restricted certain export goods to Britain alone. The Currency Act prohibited the printing of money in the colonies, making business rely more on the British economy through the use of British currency throughout the Empire.

Feeling unrepresented, overtaxed, and unable to engage in free trade with other countries, the colonists turned to the phrase: “No Taxation Without Representation”. Arising from this situation the incident that became known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was the last straw which precipitated, shortly thereafter, what is known in history as the American War of Independence. But not all enslaved people fought against the British as very early in the war the last Colonial Governor of the state of Virginia began to give freedom to those slaves who fought for England. Consequently with that incentive many enslaved blacks joined with England against the Americans.

Those enslaved blacks fighting for the English and after the revolution was lost, had to leave the United States of America. They were transported to Nova Scotia, Canada (still British territory), while others were shipped to England. But after a while those in England were seen as having too much presence on the streets of London in particular.

Sierra Leone (Mountain Lion), West Africa was purchased and those black war refugees were further transported to that West African country. This return to Africa had significant symbolism for the war refugees as it was from that location that many of their ancestors were seized and transported to the New World in slave ships. Some, through private arrangements, arrived in Jamaica and the rest of the Carribean.

Rev George Liele, Moses Baker, Thomas Swiggle, George Gibbs, and Samuel Oughton the founders of the Baptist faith in Jamaica out of that situation. So too were Reverend Frank Spence, Prince Williams et al in The Bahamas; Rev Thomas Paul in Haiti; and the Rev William Hamilton in Trinidad and Tobago.

The impact of the American War of Independence was multifaceted and global. It requires volumes to tell the whole story, but we have made a start even in underlining, once again, the interconnectedness of our global village and the interdependence of human existence, despite our immediate motivations and interests.

Shalman Scott, a political historian, served as the first Mayor of the city of Montego Bay.

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