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The Baptist War (1831-1832)

The Baptist War, also known as the Christmas Rebellion, was an eleven-day rebellion that mobilized as many as sixty thousand of Jamaica’s three hundred thousand slaves in 1831–1832. It was considered the largest slave rebellion in the British Caribbean. The name Christmas Rebellion came from the fact that the uprising began shortly after December 25. It was also called the Baptist War because many of the rebels were Baptist in faith.

Jamaica, like most British Caribbean colonies, was overwhelmingly slave and black. The enslaved outnumbered the whites on the island, by far the largest British Caribbean colony, twelve to one. They revolted in 1831 partly because of an economic depression that affected some impoverished whites and made them allies of the rebels. Tensions were high as well because the abolition of slavery was being debated in the British Parliament, and Jamaican planters, disturbed at that prospect, made inflammatory speeches and wrote articles in the newspapers, attacking emancipation. Their attitudes and actions contributed to the agitation and discontent of the slave majority.

The planning and organization of the revolt came from enslaved leader Samuel “Daddy” Sharpe, who had been given limited freedom to move around the island. Sharpe used this freedom, especially the ability to travel on a traditional holiday or religious service, to discuss and plan for the actual revolt. At the end of a regular prayer meeting in mid-December 1831, Sharpe and a selected group of leaders stayed behind to discuss the plans for the revolt. Sharpe recalled examples from the Demerara Slave Revolt in 1823 in Guyana and rebellions on Caribbean islands to encourage his followers. He then had them swear on a Bible to follow the plan he outlined.

On Christmas Day, the leaders of the uprising went on strike, demanding more free time and a working wage. They refused to return to work until the plantation owners met their demands. The strike escalated into a full rebellion when the planters refused their demands. On

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