Samuel Sharpe was a Jamaican preacher who led a 10-day slave revolt on the island nation that moved the British Empire to end slavery in 1833. The so-called “Baptist War” because of the denomination of many involved, or the “Christmas Rebellion of 1831,” left over several hundred slaves dead.
Sharpe was born around 1801, according to most accounts, in the parish of St. James in Jamaica. He was given the privilege of education and became a notable deacon in the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay. During Sharpe’s study of the Bible, he came across the passage, “No man shall serve two masters” from the book of Matthew. That verse would become the rallying cry of the revolution.
On December 25, 1831, Sharpe plans for passive resistance began. Several Jamaican parishes in planned not to work and to demand freedom from plantation masters. They timed the rebellion to damage the important sugar cane crops which ripened at that time. Word of Sharpe’s rebellion began to spread and an armed group of rebels began marching and setting fires to plantations.
While loss of white life was minimal, with just 14 white soldiers dying during the revolt, over 200 Black lives were lost in the 10-day clash and over 300 more were executed via hangings and other violent means. Sharpe surrendered to the St. James military troops and placed all the blame squarely on his soldiers regarding the failed revolt.
The authorities hanged Sharpe on March 23, 1832, but not before he said these parting words, “I would rather die upon yonder gallows, than live in slavery.”
Sharpe’s rebellion is seen by some historians as the final straw before the British Empire abolished slavery, despite cries from pro-slavery supporters saying they would stand with America in keeping Jamaica a slave state.
The Jamaican government has recognized Sharpe as a national hero. His image appears on the face of the Jamaican $50 bill.