Active Revolts were the most daring form of active resistance employed by the slaves. This normally resulted in bloodshed, as slaves and whites died and a large number of properties were destroyed. There were four major slave revolts in the

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Resistance and Revolt by V. Watson

Passive and Active resistance

Slaves hated slavery and they rejected this imperial ideology by active and passive rsistance.


Revolts were the most daring form of active resistance employed by the slaves. This normally resulted in bloodshed, as slaves and whites died and a large number of properties were destroyed. There were four major slave revolts in the Caribbean. These were:

  • Berbice/Coffy Revolt (1763)

  • Haitian Revolution (1791)

  • Barbados/Bussa's Revolt (1816)

  • Sam Sharpe/Christmas Rebellion (1831)

  • The Haitian Revolution.


  • Slaves' resentment of the ill- treatment they received from managers/overseers.

  • The lack of provisions available to the slaves.


The revolt took place under the leadership of Coffy, an Africa-born slave. It began on the Magdalenburg Plantation on the Conje River, and quickly spread to the Berbice River. This revolt was one of the most prolonged battles of enslaved Africans against whites. It lasted for a full 20 months, from the close of February 1763 to December 1764.

The slaves had two major contentions:

a) they were badly treated by the whites,

b) they desired a designated area where they could live in freedom.

The whites, being unable to suppress the rebellion, solicited the support of Native Americans. It was at this point that the dominant class began to crush slave resistance.


By October 1763, Coffy had committed suicide, rather than submit to defeat.

Despite their heroic resistance, most of the Africans succumbed to fever. It was not until December 1764 that all remaining Africans were captured.

Seven leaders in the revolt were broken at the wheel, while two others were severely beaten, branded under the gallows and deported from the colony.

Barbados/Bussa's Revolt (1816)

  • Slaves' belief that emancipation was being withheld.

  • Activities of nonconformist missionaries.

  • Barbadian planters' refusal to accept the Slave Registration Bill.

  • Failure of the Amelioration Proposals (1823)


The slave revolt was started by Bussa and Jacky and quickly spread through-out Barbados.

A day into the revolt, martial law was declared.

This, in essence, crushed the rebellion.


Bussa died during the conflict.

In the end, 214 persons were executed, including Franklin,

and 100 exiled to Sierra Leone.

Missionaries, who were in any way sympathetic to the slaves, were persecuted.

Chapels were damaged and the ministers threatened violently.

Some of these missionaries were eventually forced to flee to neighbouring islands.

The revolt was quite damaging to whites, as a fifth of the sugar crop was destroyed.

Sam Sharpe/Christmas Rebellion (1831)


  • Slaves' belief that emancipation was being withheld.

  • Noncomformist missionaries' activities.


The strike began on the Kensington Estate in St James under the leadership of Samuel Sharpe.

Sharpe believed that slaves had been freed by England and that the planters were withholding this freedom.

He organised a strike for wages - they would not return to work until they were paid. However, this act of civil disobedience quickly turned into a revolt as slaves began destroying cane fields and damaging other property.


The militia was called in and successfully quelled the revolt.

During the revolt, 400 slaves and 10 whites were killed.

In the end, 100 slaves were executed, including Sam Sharpe; another 100 were flogged. Missionaries who were blamed for encouraging the ideas of freedom and equality for slaves experienced the destruction of chapels.

Missionaries such as William Knibb, Thomas Burchell and H.G. Pfeiffer suffered persecution.

Revolts and rebellions of the slaves to their enslavement is active resistance.

Haitian Revolution (1791).

It represents the first successful slave revolt in the entire Caribbean.

We measure its success by the outcome: the fact that the slaves were able to permanently overthrow or abolish the system of slavery and proclaim an independent Haiti (1804) ruled by an ex-slave Toussaint L'Overture.

There are always the general causes with the main one being the slaves' desire for freedom.

That is the driving, motivating force behind every rebellion. But you must also check for specific and immediate causes. These might have something to do with a grievance or an incident on a particular estate for example. Or there might be a more widespread issue such as the slaves' response to the which sparked the rebellions in Barbados and British Guiana respectively.

There are certain common results or effects irrespective of where or why the revolt occurred. For example:

On the slave population

  • Death penalty

  • Stricter laws

  • Divide and conquer

(Reward for disclosing rebellion plans eg. Domestic slaves felt that they had much to lose if they were demoted to the fields, for withholding information, even though their working conditions were not glorious.
On the estates (or is it the planters?)

  • destruction of property,

    • buildings are destroyed and animals are hurt.

    • Decrease in output

    • Decrease in profits

    • Increase in expenditure for repairs

    • Maybe even bankruptcy

  • Loss of time

  • Increase in security for a short term

  • Returning to England because of fear of life

  • Get more slaves


  • subtle methods used by the slaves.

  • not easily detected.

  • When slaves activities are suspected the resistance is in its final stage.



The African slaves in particular believed that after death their spirit returned to Africa.

The Ebos, it is argued, were more prone to committing suicide.

  • work slower

  • below productive capacity.


  • Wound animals

  • Intent to harm or kill

  • Cost enslaver money to replace animal

  • Cannot turn sugar mill at harvest time because of injury


  • Arsenic was probably the most common form

  • own concoction from trees and shrubs

  • potions' that they obtained from the obeah men,

  • In 1774 an overseer on a Barbadian plantation was murdered (poisoned) by his slaves.


  • A slave would pretend to completely misunderstand every order given to him or her by pretending to be stupid or insane. (Quashie syndrome)

  • Some planters would keep such a slave for entertainment purposes

  • a planter, could only afford one fool at a time, so this was not a widespread tactic or typical method that the rebellious slave would employ.


  • to escape the back breaking work and recuperate in the estate 'hospital'.

  • pretend to be sick

  • prolong an old illness

  • even inflict fresh injuries on themselves

Both Rebel Woman and Caribbean Generations give us an account of a slave called Jenny

She had a finger wound and spent one week in the place for sick slaves. Not ready to return to the plantation she rubbed dirt in the wound and then tied a packthread in the wound so that it cut deep into the flesh. She almost lost the finger but that did not matter to her. She had found a way to beat the (slave) system and that brought her such satisfaction that the pain was viewed as nothing more than a necessary evil!


Running away or 'pulling foot' was a fairly common means of resistance.

Colonies with hilly interiors

  • presence of Maroon and Bush Negro villages

  • Grenada or St. Lucia or mountains (Jamaica ­ the Cockpits)

  • dense forested interiors (British Guiana).

  • St. Lucia's runaways were called brigands while Dominica and St. Vincent also had sizeable maroon communities.

cities of refuge. Runaways

Cuba and Puerto Rico were viewed as could slip away on one of the many ships that plied the Caribbean waters doing trade. In the crowded busy harbours, ports and towns of the cities ­ Bridgeport, Port of Spain, Kingston, etc., fugitives could easily pass as free men.

cost of recapturing

the fugitive delayed the recapturing process and that delay offered the slave an excellent chance to make his or her get away.

cost of advertisement

The planters had to underwrite the in the press, or use posters in public places.

Search parties

This was very costly and it was arguably cheaper (depending also on the length of time it took to recapture the slave) to just buy another slave


  • Caribbean Revision History for CXC, Peter Ashdown and Francis Humphreys

  • History of Jamaica, Clinton V. BlackThe Haitian Revolution and its Effects, Patrick E. Bryan

  • Caribbean Story Book 1, William Claypole and John Robothom

  • Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, Vol 1, Richard Hart

  • Maroon Societies, Richard Price

  • Sam Sharpe: From Slave to Hero, C.S Reid

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