Christmas Uprising (Jamaica)

Baptist War

Baptist War
Part of North American slave revolts
Date 1831-1832
Location Jamaica
Result Slave defeat
British military
Jamaican government
Rebel slaves
Commanders and leaders
Sir Willoughby Cotton Samuel Sharpe
Unknown 60,000
Casualties and losses
14 killed 207 killed
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North american slave revolts.png

1712 New York Slave Revolt
(New York City, Suppressed)
1733 St. John Slave Revolt
(Saint John, Suppressed)
1739 Stono Rebellion
(South Carolina, Suppressed)
1741 New York Conspiracy
(New York City, Suppressed)
1760 Tacky's War
(Jamaica, Suppressed)
1791–1804 Haitian Revolution
(Saint-Domingue, Victorious)
1800 Gabriel Prosser
(Virginia, Suppressed)
1805 Chatham Manor
(Virginia, Suppressed)
1811 German Coast Uprising
(Territory of Orleans, Suppressed)
1815 George Boxley
(Virginia, Suppressed)
1822 Denmark Vesey
(South Carolina, Suppressed)
1831 Nat Turner's rebellion
(Virginia, Suppressed)
1831–1832 Baptist War
(Jamaica, Suppressed)
1839 Amistad, ship rebellion
(Off the Cuban coast, Victorious)
1841 Creole, ship rebellion
(Off the Southern U.S. coast, Victorious)
1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation
(Southern U.S., Suppressed)
1859 John Brown's Raid
(Virginia, Suppressed)

The Baptist War, also known as the Christmas Uprising and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831-32, was a 10-day rebellion that mobilized as many as 60,000 of Jamaica's 300,000 slave population. Led by 'native' Baptist preacher, Samuel Sharpe, it was waged largely, though not only, by his Baptist followers amongst the slaves.


The missionary-educated rebels were attuned to the abolitionist movement in London; their intention was to call a peaceful general strike. Compared with their Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and Moravian counter-parts, the greater propensity of Baptist slaves to mobilization may have reflected a higher level of absenteeism among white Baptist missionaries; the relative independence of Black deacons facilitated greater slave ownership over religious life, including reinterpretations of Baptist theology away from European orthodoxy (for example, the emphasis placed on John the Baptist, sometimes at the expense of Jesus Christ) Thomas Burchell, a missionary in Montego Bay returned from England following Christmas vacation. A wide expectation among the Baptist ministry was that he would return with papers for emancipation from King William. There was furthermore expectation that the King's men would enforce the order. Thus, discontent escalated when the Jamaican governor proclaimed that no emancipation had been granted.

The strike

Led by 'native' Baptist preacher, Samuel Sharpe, slaves demanded more freedom and a working wage of "half the going wage rate", and promised the pastor not to return to work until their demands were met by the plantation owners. Upon refusal of their demands, the strike escalated into a full rebellion. It became the largest slave uprising in the British West Indies, lasting 10 days and mobilized as many as 60,000 of Jamaica's 300,000 slave population.

Suppression and death toll

The rebellion was suppressed with relative ease and little blood shed by British forces, under the control of Sir Willoughby Cotton. The reaction of the Jamaican Goverment and plantocracy was far more brutal. Approximately five hundred slaves were killed in total: 207 during the revolt and somewhere in the range between 310 and 340 slaves were killed through "various forms of judicial executions" after the rebellion was concluded, at times, for quite minor offences (one recorded execution indicates the crime being the theft of a pig; another, a cow). An 1853 account by Henry Bleby described how three or four simultaneous executions were commonly observed; bodies would be allowed to pile up until workhouse negroes carted the bodies away at night and bury them in mass graves outside town.

Only 14 whites were, however, killed by armed slave battalions during the course of the rebellion, which left property damage estimated in the Jamaican Assembly summary report in March 1832 at £ 1,154,589 (equaling roughly £52,000,000 in modern terms).

Many missionaries came under suspicion by the planters. Some, such as William Knibb, were arrested but later released. Groups of white colonials destroyed chapels that housed slave congregations.


The brutality of the plantocracy during the revolt is thought to have accelerated the process of emancipation, with initial measures beginning in 1833, followed by partial emancipation (outright for children six or under, six years apprenticeship for the rest) in 1834, and then unconditional emancipation of chattel slavery in 1838.

In Literature

Andrea Levy's 2010 novel recounts, through a fictional narrative, the events of the Baptist War.


Further reading

Retrieved from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptist_War