What were the roles of Sabina Park, Cubah and John Dunbar in the struggle against slavery?


Sunday, June 10, 2018

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JEWISH history is the psychic glue that holds that nation together for thousands of years of struggle, oppression, resentments, revolts, slaughter and triumph.

The King James version of the Bible is one of the voluminous collections of books that contains a continuing story of the cycles of defeats and victories of the ancient Jewish nation. Many Negroes in Jamaica clinging to their Bibles have so, through repetition, become more than familiar with the Biblical material that they are able to quote correctly any part of the scriptures without error in sequence or without hesitation.

But yet, sadly, these people know very little or nothing about the broader history of our mother country, Africa and the story of the Africans in the Diaspora. And so today I wish to introduce (or is it reintroduce?) three slave leaders, two females and a male — Diasporic Negroes who in their own way and styles led and fought against European slavery spanning 332 years on the island of Jamaica.

Sabina Park and Cubah Cornwallis, operating in Kingston and surrounding areas, attacked the edifices of the cruel system of slavery from different angles.

Sabina Park murdered her four-month-old child and in her deposition in the Half-Way-Tree court, admitted that she had killed her child- and proceeded to give her reason for doing so. Sabina's complaint, according to the Crown witness, was that “she had worked enough for 'Backra' (Master) already and that she would not be plagued to raise the child…to work for white people”.

Sabina Park was found guilty of murder by the court and hanged. She was buried on the Liguanea Plain at a place that bore, in perpetuity, her name — Sabina Park.

Sabina Park, the slave, was owned by Joseph Gordon, father of National Hero George William Gordon. She was one of 17 slaves on Goat Island, a property also owned by Joseph Gordon, a Scottish planter who was given huge acreage of land in Jamaica after the restoration of the Monarchy in England, by King Charles II, grandson of King James of the Bible. It was King James' second son, Charles I, who was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell, abolishing the British Monarchy until 1660.

In the meantime, Cubah, known among the slave population as “the Queen of Kingston” presided over several slave conspiracies and sabotage leading up to the military coup at Fort Augusta in May 1808, led by slave John Danger. It may be argued that a nation without a clear understanding of its past is like a group of people travelling without a guiding light —the past is a nation's guide to the present and the future. Without this historical beacon, a nation or a people is bound to flounder.

Blot out through redactions, omissions, half truths or downright lies a people's history and you blot out their ability and motivation to move forward and be creative. Blot out a people's history and you blot out their identity and source of information. Blot out a people's history and you instill in them the feeling of impotence — the fear of confronting problems head-on and solving them. Obliterate a people's history and you instill in them the crippling forces of self doubt and insecurity. Obliterate a people's history and you destroy all traces of the common, unifying cultural thread in their social and national fabric.

If a person is told over and over again that he or she is from a worthless background, this person will be inclined to internalise and accept this negative portrayal. Thus, this negative condition invariably paves the way for this person to reject his or her cultural background, and accept another. The Europeans' grand design to blot out the history of all people of African ancestry was done through educational socialisation, or the lack of it, and there is enough evidence that both pernicious approaches were used against the Negro slaves and along their intergenerational continuum.

Yet, it is inconceivably puzzling that those Europeans overseas, particularly people such as Professor Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel of Germany, Richard Burton of the London Anthropological Society, Professor Hugh Trevor Roper of Oxford University et al… and those domiciled within Jamaica and the Western Hemisphere, behaved as if the “Kakanabo” stories masquerading as the history of our ancestors would stick and resonate with us, the future generation.

Heavily influenced by racial prejudice even after emancipation of slavery, the Colonial Board of Education in Jamaica, comprised of an all-white plantocratic elite, dictated what items of information regarding our history should and should not be included in the school curriculum, both elementary and secondary. So Clinton Vane Black (not his real name) left out of his book, History of Jamaica, the Sam Sharpe Rebellion — the very penultimate event that ended the enslavement of our black ancestors.

The history book The making of the West Indies, a companion to Black's book History of Jamaica, only listed the rebellion — without one iota of supporting information to give clarity to the Sam Sharpe Rebellion of 1831/32. It took, ironically, Richard Hart in his seminal work The Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, to give comprehensive details of what transpired and how the rebellion sped up the death knell of British slavery throughout its empire.

The Sam Sharpe Rebellion accounts, including Inez Sibly, the great granddaughter of the Reverend William Knibb, are saturated with dishonest recording, reporting and accounting of that significant rebellion of 1831/32.

Here are some major omissions: (1) On the evening of December 27, 1831 at the official opening of the Salter's Hill Baptist Church in St James, Knibb threatened the slaves that if anyone participated in the rumoured impending rebellion, that person would be expelled from the church. That threat riled up an already fuming set of slaves who, upon hearing Knibb's comments, walked out of the church, calling him a mad man! Knibb was insulted and he returned to Falmouth to teach all slaves a lesson.

(2) William Knibb, in response to the insult by the slaves at Salter's Hill Baptist Church, on January 7, 1832 gave his church in Falmouth to be used as a military barracks and a jail to fight the slaves in rebellion. The leader of the planters' organisation — the Colonial Church Union — which was formed to take revenge against the slaves in rebellion, Major General John Gaynor and Sergeant Hamilton Brown (Brown's Town) used the Falmouth Baptist Church — built by the Reverend Moses Baker some 45 years before Knibb arrived in Falmouth from Fullerfield Baptist Church in Westmoreland in 1830.

Some 35 years before, Reverend Knibb arrived in Jamaica to teach in 1825. He was ordained a Baptist minister while here in Jamaica in 1827 — two years later.

(3) During the massacre at Lima, Adelphi in St James, 200 slaves suspected of taking part in the Christmas Rebellion were put before a firing squad in the square of Lima and shot.

The Anglican Church in Adelphi was closed for religious services during the counter-military operations against the slaves and was converted into a military barracks and a jail.

(4) Knibb owned a 79-acre property in the parish of Trelawny called Grumble Pen where he raised horses, even for the racing industry. Grumble Pen was sold to the London Land Bank set up by the Quakers and other anti-slavery activists to purchase land for free villages ahead of emancipation.

Since the planters domiciled in Jamaica would not support the efforts by knowingly selling land to resettle slaves after emancipation, moreso at the start of the process for the establishment of free villages, Grumble Pen's name was changed irreversibly to Granville, a free village, which means a place to resettle slaves who were now free. It was initially paid for by the London Land Bank then cut into smaller pieces and purchased by the ex-slaves. And so was the Sandy Bay property in the parish of Hanover, owned by the Reverend Thomas Burchell, also sold to the Land Bank in England and turned into a free village, but retaining its name.

Sibly embellished these stories in her book History of Baptists in Jamaica (1965) and omitted salient facts while glamourising her great-grandfather Rev William Knibb and his friend Rev Thomas Burchell, particularly for the English audience and readership.

These two men pastored the Falmouth Baptist Church in 1827 and 1830, respectively, and so it was over 140 years after both men arrived in Falmouth that Inez Sibly wrote her book giving an account of their sterling work and stewardship towards the slaves in Jamaica. She was paid well for the production of her book which is a source of embarrassment, and so the Reverend Clement Gayle in his book Pioneer Baptist Preachers in Jamaica has done some corrective work. God bless him. I was told he is still alive and would love to visit with him, even if he is not able to talk with me, because his book speaks.

Now I come to John Dunbar, the slave at Kensington Estate, St James.

Sibly in her book claimed that a slave who was nameless and drunk prematurely lit the trash house at Kensington Estate which triggered off the Sam Sharpe Rebellion.

The Reverend Sam Reid and Deacon Don Carter Henry, clearly after reading Sibly's book, have reproduced what they found there without fact-checking Sibyl's account, including that a column of slaves on reaching Long Hill in St James stopped to quarrel among themselves about who was to be crowned “King” when they arrived in Montego Bay. That also is not the truth, which makes the effort to produce a History of the Baptist in Jamaica stillborn, but with myriad plagiarist writing theses and other papers with information copied from Sibly's book.

This more than anything else is what has perpetrated the corpus of mainly nonsense. But some of us are looking to see how much longer this whole sordid matter will be left to fester, and wonder why it has not been decisively dealt with long ago.

I attended a funeral service at William Knibb Baptist Church in Falmouth, Trelawny, recently and saw a stone inside the church. Written on it, dedicated to the Rev James Mann, was: “the first pastor of this Church”. That absolutely is not correct. The Rev James Mann was the third. Before him was the Rev Moses Baker, and next the Rev John Rowe (1814-1816), who died suddenly but not before starting a non-conformist school attached to the much later named church… William Knibb.

The Rev John Rowe received approval from the Trelawny Vestry (parish council ) to start the school, so it was official. The Rev Moses Baker and John Rowe were omitted from Inez Sibly's book published in 1965. Unfortunately, it is that farcical piece of Baptist history that has been heavily relied on to tell the Baptist story by most writers and preachers. This is a moral conflict, if not a moral crisis.

John Dunbar, the slave who lit the trash house at Kensington, St James, sending a fire signal across western Jamaica to start the Sam Sharpe Rebellion 1831/32, was a sober and upright man. If John Dunbar was a careless, flippant, wishy-washy drunkard as reported by Inez Sibly, he would not have been chosen by his fellow slaves, Sam Sharpe and his lieutenants, to carry out such a huge task as to send the first fire signal across western Jamaica to start the 1831/32 slave rebellion. So who was this nameless slave (John Dunbar) that Inez Sibly did not bother to know about?

Kensington Estates, like all other large estates, had its own slave hospital and armoury. John Dunbar was the resident doctor (medicine man or myalist healer) at that hospital. Dunbar was respected alike, both in the white society and the slave society... man of cool demeanour and an ardent Christian at Salter's Hill Baptist Church.

It is time these myths, lies and embellishments in all aspects of Jamaican history be sanitised and cleaned up, not the least of which is the history of evangelism and the Church in Jamaica.

Sometimes as I sat and listened, as a Christian and a Negro, to our history, I felt most insulted... but more disappointed by the dishonesty and pervasive carelessness masquerading as scholarship.

Political historian Shalman Scott served as the first mayor of the city of Montego Bay.

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