What Were the Causes of the Jamaica Revolt in 1831?

The 1831 Jamaica revolt helped end slavery in British territories.
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The Jamaican Revolt of 1831 proved to be an important step to ending slavery in British colonies. The rebellion was fomented through the agitation and activism of a slave, Sam Sharpe. What Sharpe intended as a peaceful protest ended in violence. An estimated 14 whites died in the two weeks of the revolt, but more than 500 black slaves lost their lives, many in the trials that followed. Sharpe was executed in May 1832, but within six years, British slavery had been abolished.

1 Long Term Causes

As slaves, plantation workers on Jamaica had few labor rights, but by 1831 the British Parliament in London was debating the abolition of slavery. Sam Sharpe was aware of the debate in London and told other slaves about it through his role as a Baptist preacher. Religious worship was the only kind of collective meeting slaves were permitted. Sharpe’s goal was to improve the working conditions of his fellow slaves.

2 Short Term Causes

Conflict over Christmas vacation allowances provided a short-term cause for the rebellion. Up to 1830 slaves had been allowed three days off work, but in 1831 this was reduced to two days. As Christmas Day, 1831, fell on a Sunday, the traditional day of rest, Sharpe argued that slaves should have the following Tuesday off work. He developed a plan for passive resistance, in which slaves would refuse to work, but when the strike began on Dec. 27, 1831, it quickly accelerated into violence.

Rita Kennedy is a writer and researcher based in the United Kingdom. She began writing in 2002 and her work has appeared in several academic journals including "Memory Studies," the "Journal of Historical Geography" and the "Local Historian." She holds a Ph.D. in history and an honours degree in geography from the University of Ulster.