The Rebellion started Easter Sunday Night April 14, 1816. It started with canes being burnt in St Phillip, signaling prematurely to rebels in central and southern parish that the rebellion had begun. The rebellion quickly spread from the parish of St. Phillip to neighboring parishes where there were minor outbreaks of arson but no skirmishes with the militia. However in parishes such as St. Lucy and St. Peter there was no reported fighting. Up to seventy estates were affected, leaving whites fleeing to Bridgetown in considerable panic. There has been debate on how many whites were actually killed during the rebellion but it is believed by historians to be one or two. There was no great massacre done by the rebels, or damage to property, mostly plunder and burned canes. All in all, it is said that up to 25% of the years sugar crop was burnt and property damage was estimated at £175,000 which undermined the economic base of the planters.
Each plantation actively involved in the insurrection had a leader. Two crucial plantations were Simmons Plantation, lead by John and Nanny Grigg and mostly importantly Jackey, as well as Bailey plantation, lead by King Wiltshire, Dick Bailey, Johnny and Bussa after whom the revolt was named. Jackey was a Creole slave head driver at Simmons Plantation in the parish of St Phillip. He was very instrumental in the build up to the rebellion as he coordinated meetings and discussions about revolting. Coercion played a part in getting some slaves to take part, as John who was Jackey’s assistant practiced this as he threatened that slaves’ houses would been burnt if they did not take part . Bussa, after whom the rebellion is named, is seen as the key player and overall leader of the 1816 rebellion. Bussa was an African driver at the Bailey Plantation at St. Phillip and to assume the position he did, it is believed that he was respected by both slaves and planters alike. He was the only African in his position and it is said that 92% of the slave population was Creole. The Times newspaper, Barbados, 1876, describes the rebellion as “The war of General Bussa”. Bussa commanded a total of 400 enslaved men and women to fight against the whites.
Barbados had been under British control for a long time and there had been no slave rebellions for over one hundred years, when rebellion broke out in 1816.
In the planning and organization of the rebellion, slaves were not alone; a propaganda campaign was being done by three free colored literate men; Cain Davis, Roach, and Richard Sarjeant. Each had a role to play in contributing to the rebellion. Davis, for instance, held meetings with slaves from several different plantations. He informed slaves of the emancipation rumors. This is important as this propagated the slaves’ desire to be free. Sarjeant played his part as well, employing the same tactics as Davis, as well as to mobilize slaves in the central parishes. The final day of planning took place at the River plantation on Good Friday night April 12. It was disguised by the cover of a dance, and leaders such as Bussa, Jackey, and Davis were present. The Rebellion was to begin on Monday and from there the start of arsonist attack upon the white community, canes and buildings. The subsequent panic from the attacks would result on Tuesday or Wednesday, the murder of the white men across the island. That was not the case as the rebellion broke out earlier than originally planned believed to be the result of drunken slave relaying erroneous information to the rebels.
The Bussa rebellion of 1816 was not that expected as it is believed that slaves began to plan the rebellion soon after the House of Assembly discussed and rejected the imperial Registry Bill in November 1815. This Bill called for the registration of colonial slaves. As a result of this the rebels had discussed from February to rebel in April. The rebellion surprised the white community who believed slaves were well treated and enjoyed a level of freedom not had in other territories.
2016 marks the 200th anniversary of this event and for the most part Barbadians are ignorant to much of what transpired prior, during and after the rebellion. Barbados would gain its independence 150 years later and in its 50 year of this independence Barbados pays little acknowledgement to what the Bussa rebellion meant then and what it means to us now. If value of work equates to higher positions in every endeavor of our daily lives, what CONCLUSION then must we draw of the physical and physiological position of Bussa in our lives today. Are we encouraged to draw closer to General Bussa and the African men and women that rose above the illusion of what was considered good treatment for a slave in those times to agitate for true liberation? I would say no. Bussa is located in a physical position that one has to risk life and limb by crossing a busy highway at a round about to get close enough to the statue to read the plaque on it. I am quite sure the majority of Barbadians have not crossed this highway mentally or physically to know more about General Bussa. Lord Nelson on the other hand a noted Anti Slavery Abolitionist who detested Barbados and would have loved to see the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade continue is positioned in a safe place in our minds and in our capital Bridgetown.
Could it be that in our 50th year of colonially disguised independent rule we subconsciously encourage Barbadians to be conformist to a system that masks their modern slavery?
Brother Olutoye Waldron asks this question of Barbados as we set in motion celebrations for 50 years of Barbadian Independence.
"WHAT ARE WE CELEBRATING?
We simply can't be celebrating the fact that we've reached 50 years; that of itself is not worthy of celebration since we can't stop time from passing.
So are we celebrating the fact that we have severed all colonial ties with our erstwhile imperial masters? No: we are still bowing down to Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and our leaders still pledge allegiance to Her (as we did for the past 300+ years); our Police Force is "The Royal..." and our citizens are still being called Knights, Dames and Commanders of the BRITISH EMPIRE.
Are we celebrating advances in our education system? No: more than 60% of students still leave secondary without certification in any subject; the opportunities for university education offered by the Father of Independence has been scaled back, rendering higher education unaffordable to thousands of working-class people. ( I add to brother Olu's sentiment on our education system to say it has also produced a population of African descended people who seek desperately to divorce themselves from their ancestry and pre colonial history and heritage".)
Are we celebrating advances in our economy? No: our economic status has never been worst in the last 50 years - with repeated failing grades in our credit ratings; high unemployment among our young people, who are now being asked to look overseas for employment as they did back in the hard times after Emancipation. (Adding to this we are master consumers and how can one truly be independent when we depend on everyone one else for almost our every want and need?)
Are we celebrating advances in our social services? No: with many rural districts continuing to be plagued by water outages, forcing residents back to the stand (pipe)-tank; welfare recipients and NIS pensioners experiencing hardship getting their pensions;
Are we celebrating advances in our living standards? No: with the never-ending increase in taxation many have had to cut back on their quality of life while others have been forced to reach into their savings just to get by; the number of beggars has increased.
The post Independence period for us, then, has been one of retrogression almost across the board. So as we wine and dine and gaze at the dazzle of the fireworks, let us pause and remember the heights from which we have plummetted over the last 50 years".
I once read in an article in one of our national newspapers on a previous Independence Day, comments made in a sermon by a white priest presiding over a congregation of 99% Black people here in Barbados, that the island was better off before the advent of independence. No one even threw a hymn book at him in disgust, lol. Maybe they agreed.
What has Independence done for Barbados beside given us a flag and an anthem?
As always we invite you to share your comments with us on the article.
Source from " The Emancipation Wars", Bro Olutoye Walrond and Simba Simba