Religious belief in the African American experience is sometimes taken for granted, as an assumed given. Because Africans in America have nothing but their faith in God, many have clung to it like a life preserver in the middle of an ocean – you are alive, yes, but any significant help might never come. Nonetheless, there are some who have warned to look for freedom in a practical sense; to not rely too much on the unseen when basic needs are not being met. Martin D. Delany is one such individual. Delany was a practical man, believing God, but also knowing that men and women had to fight for theirs on Earth instead of expecting to be saved by some unseen power. The following is a brief survey Delany’s life and struggle during antebellum and postbellum America, of particular concern is Delany humanistic approach towards religion and survival.
Though Delany was born in the South – Charles Town, Virginia – during the antebellum period (1812), he was not born in to servitude. Being born in the South as a person of African descent and not being born as chattel is quite an anomaly. To clarify, Delany was born to an enslaved father and a free mother, such a dynamic under Virginia law meant that he and his siblings were free as per the condition of the mother. Delany’s family moved to Northern Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, at a fairly young age. He was a bright young man, started training as a physician’s assistant in his teenage years. Interestingly, his medical training was somewhat of a trial by fire as he was immersed in the medical sciences during a cholera epidemic. Because of his skills and work ethic, Delany was accepted into Harvard Medical School, however because of outrage by racist students, he and several other African American students were not allowed to attend the college. Instead, he remained in Pittsburgh and trained in the medical arts with his mentor Dr. Andrew McDowell.
Delany’s family had a direct connection to the African continent, a fact that was never lost on him as he developed into a man. Delany’s mother was freewomen, however her parents were taken directly from the Continent. They were Mandinka from the Niger Valley and they were careful to pass knowledge of their family history down orally, never forgetting who they were or where they were from and ensuring that Delany would never forget either. Delany’s father as well was born to parents who had a direct connection to the Continent. They were Gola, from Liberia, a land that was later designated to be a refuge for emigrating Africans from the United States. Also, a land that Delany was destined to know intimately. Delany was very proud of his lineage and that pride directly impacted and shaped his understanding of nationalism and heritage.
Delany was a pragmatist, but he was still a religious man. In Pittsburgh, he became heavily involved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an active pillar of the Black community. However, as a man of science he did not just rely on faith, he believed in action and involved himself intimately in community affairs. For example, during the cholera epidemic of the 1832 he worked closely with the disease and its victims providing critical aid to Pittsburgh’s black community. Further, being a pillar of the community and earning a notable reputation, he became involved with the politics of Pittsburgh. He also began attending political conventions and eventually founded a Black-controlled newspaper called The Mystery. As a publisher he earned the attention of abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass gaining the support of abolitionist organizations throughout the North.
As history unfolded, Delany worked very closely with Douglass for the abolitionist cause (after Douglass and Garrison fell out over an ongoing dispute over the level of violence necessary for the movement). Together they founded the North Star newspaper, an anti-slavery periodical, out of Albany, New York, Douglass’s base of operations. As a duo they worked well together. Douglass handled the publishing and editing of the periodical, while Delany focused on lecturing and touring. The North Star was an important publishing effort by the African American abolitionists, however it was difficult for the duo to retain the support necessary to ensure it was as affective as possible. Eventually the periodical ran out of money and had to be abandoned. However, before the North Star project was scrapped complete, Delany was able to address significant issues related to the plight for America’s enslaved. In particular, the issue of emigration. For Delany the notion of emigration was extremely important; he never felt anchored to the US like some of his contemporaries, a likely result of his lineage.
Eventually Delany moved his family to Canada as a means of keeping them safe from would-be slave patrols and America’s unflinching racism. However, he was not just concerned about the well-being of his kin, he thought it prudent to get all enslaved Africans free from bondage by way of emigration. Nell Irvin Painter states: “Taking a sober look at race relations in the United States, Delany concluded that Afro-Americans should emigrate to Central or South American or to the Caribbean Islands, where they could become useful citizens and create a United States of South America.” Moreover, the strategy to emigrate may have been based in part on a Zionistic understanding of Black people’s status in America held by Delany. That is to say, Delany felt that Black people in America were a special, chosen people and as such were to move to hallowed lands through divine mandate.
Delany’s position on emigration was strong despite an over-arching sentiment that such an action was akin to colonization. Meaning, many African Americans opposed the idea of colonization or any method of removing African Americans from the US or forcibly uprooting an indigenous population from their rightful lands. Nevertheless, Delany organized emigration conventions in Cleveland, Ohio (1854) and Chatham, Ontario (1856) in order to begin laying the groundwork for that very act. At first Delany eyed South America and the Caribbean basin as likely destinations of America’s would-be emigrants, however by the third emigration convention (1858) Delany was looking for permanence on the African continent. Emigration to the continent was the central focus on the American Colonization Society, an organization Delany took issue with because it was controlled by whites. Despite this, Delany set his sites for Liberia as a possible home for African Americans much like the ACS; as such in 1859, Delany traveled to Liberia to begin the search for a new nation for the enslaved of the US.
The ability to turn a religion or belief system that was to suppress and oppress into one that provides a sense of self and agency is quite remarkable. Still, the ability to look within one’s self to find something that was taken from you – a sense of being and culture – and use that to survive and thrive, speaks to the endurance of the human spirit. Delany was a deeply religious man, but he always peppered his philosophy with a deep sense of humanism. African Americans had to make their own way in the world. Despite being the victims of white supremacy, it was still their obligation to reclaim what was taken and create a destiny worthy of fulfilling. Painter again states: “Even though he was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal church Delany castigate Afro-Americans for trusting in religion too fully. He believed that human affairs were regulated by three immutable invariable “laws of God”: the Spiritual, the Moral and the Physical. Black people erred by turning spiritual means toward moral or physical end, Delany said, but they should instead borrow a leaf from whites, who used wealth not prayer to improve life on earth.” Delany’s efforts to encourage African Americans to emigrate was not in the least politically pragmatic, however, his approach towards advancement through activism, advocacy and education as well as his posture towards community development and self-advocacy without the need of a deity’s guiding hand are critically important within African American historiography. Perhaps Delany’s philosophy presents the flutterings of early African American humanism as well as an opportunity for deep reflection on important of personal responsibility in human affairs.
 Frank A. Rollins. Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany. (AMO Press, 1969), 14-17. Delany mother fought to ensure that her children were born free and remain that way.
 Robert Steven Levine. Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and the Politics of Representative Identity. (UNC Press Books, 2003), 487.
 Frank A. Rollins. Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany. (AMO Press, 1969), 14-17.
 Levine, Robert S., ed. Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader. (University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 27-29.
 Ibid., 69-70
 Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 152.
 Ibid., 155.
 Ibid., 155.
 Ibid., 156-157.
 Ibid., 152.
As the history of Pan-African ideology unfolds it becomes ever more clear that Marcus Garvey represents a focal point that has shaped the Diasporic and continental African worlds. By this I mean that Garvey influenced some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, but more than that, he was deeply influenced by some of the most dynamic minds of the 19th century. Again, this only highlights the fact that nothing in this world happens within a vacuum, and that when one bears witness to a dynamic personality and philosophy it is prudent to understand what went into shaping that individual. Moreover, this illuminates the dynamic connectiveness of human life and history as well as how much the global Black community is in communication with itself, a critical aspect of community building and maintenance. To further understand this dynamic, I present the life, philosophy and personality of Dr. Robert Love.
Much of Love’s childhood is a mystery, however it did not take him long to make an impact in his community and church when he came of age. As a young man he worked as a teacher on his birth island of Jamaica before leaving for Florida where he would immerse himself in the Christian sciences. He then decided to study the medical sciences at the University of Buffalo. After graduating and armed with the inspiration of the Haitian Revolution he decided to take his knowledge and skills to Port-au-Prince. Love was deeply influenced by the life and legacy of Toussaint L’Overture and wanted to use his gifts as a man of the clothe and a lettered man of the sciences to help is people rise up and rebel against European oppression. Moreover, in addition to his academic and spiritual accolades he was also deeply involved in Prince Hall Freemasonry. He joined the Lodge while studying medicine in New York and quickly rose to prominence within his chapter and the organization at-large, opening new lodges in both Georgia and Florida, as well he was named Most Worshipful Master. With his positions, connections and education, Love worked to become an accomplished philanthropist and activist for people of African descent both in the US and in the Caribbean.
Love lived and worked in Haiti for about a decade before he took his skills back to his home island of Jamaica. In Jamaica he continued his work in the church and the community at-large, but he also began work as a publisher, founding the Jamaican Advocate, a newspaper that would be very impactful to the socio-political life of Jamaica, influencing community leaders like Marcus Garvey. Love’s primary concern as an activist was education, specifically childhood education. But children were not his only concern. He also understood that the entire Jamaican population had been held in a state of perpetual ignorance because of English colonial policies. As such, he worked tirelessly to developed greater educational possibilities for the island’s citizens, which also lead to his involvement in Jamaican politics. In 1906, he won a seat of the Jamaican House of Representatives for the Saint Andrew Parish, the home parish of Alexander Bedward and George William Gordon, where he pushed his education platform until his health started to fail. Lastly, for this very accomplished activist, he published two books before he transitioned to the realm of the ancestors: Romanism is Not Christianity in 1892 and St. Peter's True Position in the Church, Clearly Traced in the Bible 1897.
Culturally, Love was keenly aware of the importance of Africa and her children. As such, he helped set the stage for modern Pan-Africanist thought, deeply influencing generations of thinkers to come. In the Jamaican Advocate he wrote: “Africa has been the carcass upon which the vulture of Europe have descended and which they have sought to partition among themselves, without any regard whatever for the rights of the Africans.” Pan-Africanism was an important aspect of Love’s notions of the Bible, believing that enslaved Africans were much like the ancient Israelites and that the children of Africa were God’s chosen. Historically, religious belief for many African people of Jamaica rejected the notion of the happy-obedient-slave, rather, they embraced versions of Christianity that was spiritually and culturally empowering. Further, Jamaicans embraced critical elements their African traditions (such as, healing and divination) through syncritic religious systems like Obeah. Such phenomena fed into modern Pan-African ideology, thought and practice. Given this, perhaps the question concerning early Pan-African thinkers like Love is, can their cultural ideology be separated from their religious identity? Or put another way, is Pan-African thought itself a spiritual belief system? Perhaps Pan-Africanism can just be looked at as an inseparable element of particular religious systems developed in the African diaspora. As such, Pan-Africanism itself could be simply an outgrowth of the Christianity and Islam developed by enslaved Africans of the Western Hemisphere as a survival mechanism.
Out of the work of Love, Bedward and their contemporaries lies the development of Garveyism and Rastafarianism. Both traditions are politically and culturally Pan-African, however, the argument can be made that both are religious/spiritual traditions as well. The research on the religious of Rastafarianism is fairly-well established. But for Garveyism, a bit more work has to be done because the UNIA was not developed specifically as a religious movement. Garvey was a deeply religious man, often pulling from Biblical scriptures, however it is not clear if the UNIA was specifically meant to be a religious movement, despite its overtones. Nonetheless, author Randall Burkett argues that Garveyism does feature clear elements of a spiritual system, such as the tone and texture of their meetings, the used of art, the attire of organization officials, and the use of religious language. However, perhaps the most convincing pattern for Garveyism as a religious practice was the ease with which members moved in and throughout other Pan-African/Black Nationalist religious groups of the time period. Organizations such as the Nation of Islam, the African Orthodox Church and the Moorish Science Temple all shared membership with the UNIA Garveyites. By extension, the argument can be made that these movements easily shared membership because these organization had the same tone and texture of a Pan-African/Black Nationalism religious system.
In addition to Love’s effort to advocate for a Pan-African cultural perspective he also championed the cause of women. He argued that the education of women and girls was paramount for the advancement of African people. In the Jamaican Advocate he wrote: “The race must rise by families not by individuals. Men are still despised in spite of their achievements. The race rises as its women rise. They are the true standard of its elevation.” For Love, the concept of “race consciousness” meant to move and think as an organism, as one. Jamaica itself is a living memorial to the work of Dr. Robert Love. Given the economic, social and political state of the Island this comment could have a number of inferences, both positive and negative. However, to clarify, Jamaica represents the dynamic nature of African culture and history – rich and dense, but messy. Furthermore, the syncretic combination of Christian ethics and morals with Love’s understanding of Pan-African ideology created new religious beliefs and traditions that would prove to dynamically shape African American thought of the 20th century.
 Charles Reavis Price. ""CLEAVE TO THE BLACK": EXPRESSIONS OF ETHIOPIANISM IN JAMAICA." NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 77, no. 1/2 (2003): 34.
 Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race & class 28, no. 3 (1987): 29-40. Joseph Cox. Great Black Men of Masonry. iUniverse, 2002. Patrick E Bryan. The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control. University of West Indies Press, 2000.
 Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race & class 28, no. 3 (1987): 29-40.
 Joseph Robert Love. Romanism is Not Christianity. (1892). Ibid. St. Peter’s True Position in the Church, Clearly Traced in the Bible. (1897).
 Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race & class 28, no. 3 (1987): 29-40.
 Leonard E. Barrett. The Rastafarians. Beacon Press, 1997.
 Randall K. Burkett. Garveyism as a Religious Movement: The Institutionalization of a Black Civil Religion. No. 13. Scarecrow Press, 1978, 16-17.
 Patrick E. Bryan. The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control. University of West Indies Press, 2000, 233.
 Joy Lumsden. "Joseph Robert Love, 1839-1914: West Indian Extraordinary." Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (1977-1989) 7, no. 1 (1983): 25.
Alexander Bedward followed in the footsteps of the giants who walked before him – Sharpe and Bogle. However, he would make his own unique impact and contribution to Jamaica’s rich legacy of religion and rebellion. To briefly review, this series of essays has been centered on religious personalities and events that have defined/shaped American and Caribbean history. It is no accident that most of these dynamic religious personalities have also been at the center of paradigm shaping events throughout history. Furthermore, through this series, what has become clear is that particular religious beliefs have guided those who have shaped history, such as, the notion of freedom, what it means to be a human created in the image of God as well as a clear understanding of good and evil.
It is also no accident that most of the individuals discussed in these reviews are religious leaders who were themselves involved in rebellions and uprisings. When times were toughest and the overseers and enslavers were at the cruelest, it was the religious leaders that people looked to for guidance and support. As a matter of fact (or as a matter of pattern) throughout history when one is thrust into history’s light (via ambition or serendipity) that person usually has a strong standing in a religious community. They are the deacons, seers, prophets, preachers, bush doctors, witches, shamans and saints that are at the respective epicenters of their communities. As well, these are the individuals who make history, who bring the light when things are at their darkest, who inspire when things are at their most dire and who illuminate the way for the next generation.
Inspired by Paul Bogle’s stand at Monrant Bay is a man by the name of Alexander Bedward, revivalist and founder of Bedwardism. Bedward was born in Saint Andrew’s Parish in Northern Jamaica. As a youth Bedward worked on the sugar plantations of Jamaica, as well he was hired out to work in Colombia and Panama until well into his 20s. Religiously, he was baptized into the church when he came of age and quickly began to take on leadership roles within the church. When Bedward found his way back to his island home, he began developing a revivalist movement focused on the sovereignty of the Jamaican people. Bedward was a charismatic leader who was deeply involved in the community, not just as a religious leader but a faith healer as well. To elaborate, Bedward claimed he was divinely inspired to lead African Jamaicans on a path to spiritual renewal. Not only did he preach on the evils of white supremacy and hegemony, but he also advocated for fasting as a method of spiritual development. In addition, he frequently held baptisms, faith healing sessions and believed he was a conduit to the spirit world where he received messages from angels and spirits. He also taught meditation and sometimes put himself into a trance in order to converse with the spirits of the ether.
As a spiritual leader he displayed certain characteristics that made him extremely popular. For instance, he felt it was wrong to collect fees for his sermons and often spoke against this practice. He did not feel comfortable taking money from people who were already poor. While he was developing his ministry he continued to work as a migrant laborer, which meant he would not be a burden to the crowds he proselytized to, allowing him to reach as large population of Jamaicans. As well, preaching and touring helped him to have a clear understanding of the problems and frustrations his people were dealing with on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, he would often help to settle labor disputes and at times acted as arbiter to keep his followers employed. He was so successful with his ministry that he was able to develop congregations and followers throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
For all of Bedward’s work throughout the Caribbean basin, many people began to see him as the physical representation of God on Earth. Rupert Lewis, author of the article “Garvey’s Forerunners: Love and Bedward” states “Throbbing at the heart of Bedwardism was the restless frustration of the down-trodden and displaced peasant masses who looked to God for salvation, and saw in Bedward his representative in Jamaica.” Colonial authorities saw a large problem with Bedward’s gaining notoriety and power; and many of his followers saw him as a revival of Paul Bogle’s spirit. In 1895, in an attempt to thwart Bedward’s power before it grew beyond the control of the Island’s authorities, Jamaican police and the press attempted to frame him for inciting an insurrection. He was arrested on the charge of sedition and tried. His case was defended by a white lawyer named Phillip Stern who was able to have the charges dropped on reason of insanity. It is likely that Stern used the fact that Bedward claimed himself to be a prophet to get the insanity plea. Nevertheless, Bedward was committed to an asylum following this trial only to be released on a technicality shortly thereafter, enabling him to continue his ministry.
After being released from the asylum, Bedward continued his ministry throughout the Caribbean basin. Bedward ministry was, to be kind, rather eccentric. He taught that Black people needed to look toward Africa for inspiration and strength and often preached on the trials and tribulations of the Black Hebrews. However, he also made outrageous and erroneous claims which forced some to see him as nothing more than a snake-oil-pushing charlatan. For example, he would often make the claim that he was the reincarnation of Jesus and that upon his death he would ascend into heaven on a flaming chariot, must like Elijah. Much to his chagrin, he announced a date for this ascension to his followers who unfortunately took his word as literal truth and sold their all worldly goods in the hopes that they too would ascend. When he (or anyone else) did not ascend he attempted to walk his words back by claiming that the ascension he was referring to was a spiritual ascension, not a physical one.
In inspiring Jamaican resistance in the 20th century, Bedward, despite all of his flaws, is a major historical figure. That is to say, as a millenarian he directly influenced the work of Marcus Garvey and the Rastafarian movement in a variety of ways. First, Garvey like Bedward looked to Africa as a source of inspiration and strength, often relying on it as a symbol of heaven or a place where black people could be free of their white oppressors. Second, the Rastafarian movement, much like the Garvey movement, understood Black people as the literal descendants of the Biblical Hebrews. Both the Bible and Africa have been (and are) powerful symbols throughout the African experience in the New World that are consistently employed as representation of freedom. The Bible offers spiritual freedom while Africa embodies the physical freedom so many yearn for. These symbols are not to be taken lightly, particularly Africa. Meaning, as this research moves into the late 19th century and early 20th century, it will become more and more apparent that Africa incites something visceral and spiritual within Black men and women that has driven our freedom movement and moments.
 Martha W. Beckwith. Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life (1929). New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969. Barry Chevannes. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1994. Elkins, W. F. "Prophet Bedward." In Street Preachers, Faith Healers, and Herb Doctors in Jamaica, 1890–1925. New York: Revisionist Press, 1977. Robert Hill. "Leonard P. Howell and Millenarian Visions in Early Rastafari." Jamaica Journal 16 (1981): 24–39. Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's Forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race and Class 28 (1987): 29–39.
 "Bedwardites." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (Accessed December 8, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bedwardites.
 Vermont M. Satchell. "Early Stirrings of Black Nationalism in Colonial Jamaica: Alexander Bedward of the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church 1889-1921." The Journal of Caribbean History 38, no. 1 (2004): 75. Roscoe Mitchell Pierson. Alexander Bedward and the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church. Lexington Theological Seminary, 1969. Randall K. Burkett and Richard Newman. Black apostles: Afro-American clergy confront the twentieth century. Hall Reference Books, 1978.
Alexander Bedward. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/alexander-bedward. (Accessed December 2018).
 Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's Forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race and Class 28 (1987), 36.
 Alexander Bedward. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/alexander-bedward. (Accessed December 2018).
 Colin Palmer. Freedom’s Children: The 1938 Labor rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
As discussed in Part 8 of this series (Profiles in Africana Religion – Part 8: Samuel Sharpe and the Baptist War) the Baptist War was very impactful on the historical development of Jamaica. As well, this rebellion forces one to wrestle with how and why religious interpretation takes the form that it does. That is to say, Sharpe interpreted the meaning of the Bible in a way that benefitted him and his compatriots. Much the same way Turner interpreted the Bible and etherical messages he believed was receiving from God, Sharpe felt it was the Jamaicans’ divine right to rebel against unjust and hate-filled masters. Carrying on this legacy is a man by the name of Paul Bogle, who led the Monrant Bay Rebellion in an effort to achieve more rights and better conditions for the denizens of the island. The following discussion will display the history of the Monrant Bay rebellion, connect the dots between Sharpe and Bogle and investigate the dynamics and philosophy that shaped the uprising.
Bogle’s early life is not well known, except that he was born free sometime between 1820 and 1822. He grew up in St. Thomas Parish in Jamaica and became involved in the church at an early age. When he came of age he worked as a deacon and became heavily involved as an activist in the Monrant Bay community. In the community he was also a supporter and comrade of George William Gordon, one of the first Black politicians on the island. Being active in the community, Bogle’s main focus was centered on philanthropy – aiding the poor Black citizens of the Monrant Bay community transition from chattel to human. In such a position, he was poised to create change that would ultimately alter the complexion of the Island’s policies toward its African residents.
As a leader in the Monrant Bay community, Bogle keenly made his audiences aware of the issues of social justice that defined their lives. First, there was the problem of racial discrimination that planters would use to their advantage to maintain control of their workers lives and well-being. Second, like the US, being granted the right to vote did not automatically mean there was a clear path laid towards political and social freedom. Many of Jamaica’s residents were forced to pay a poll tax in order to vote, which was beyond the financial means of most of the newly freed residents of the Island. Lastly, for those who were able to acquire land after being granted freedom, much of the land left over to farm required a lot of work to produce results on top of having to deal with flooding and crop failures. And with little aid coming from the occupying government, freedom itself became a liability for many.
Furthermore, adding insult to the injury of the social circumstances in Monrant Bay, the rebellion in fact began as response to the dubious circumstances of a trial which took place on October 7th 1865 involving a Black man who was accused of trespassing. This trial triggered many emotions in Monrant Bay bringing out the worst of the protesters who were disenchanted by the system of oppression they lived under. During the trial one of Bogle’s cohort was removed from court and arrested for disturbing the proceedings. This arrest angered Bogle and the growing crowd for African dissidents even further leading them to engage the police in fisticuffs, freeing their compatriot in the process. On this day, upwards of 400 Africans fought with police and drove them from the Bay, a victory which ignited the community.
A couple days after this skirmish, on October 9th, arrest warrants were issued for Bogle and many others who resisted the police onslaught. In their effort to serving the warrants, police again were met with strong resistance at Monrant Bay causing them to fall back once again. After driving the police from their community for the second time, Bogle recognized the need to be more organized and began to gather townsfolk who were willing and able stand up to colonial forces. They developed a plan to march in mass to the courthouse on October 11th during the vestry meetings that were to take place. On the 11th Bogle and his followers marched down to the courthouse, numbering in the hundreds, in protest of their living conditions as well as mistreatment by the police and the courts. They were met with members of the local militia who were easily beaten by and forced to abandon the parish.
Bogle’s group had no qualms about using violence and fire to make their point; many where killed in the taking of the parish, as well rioters burned a number of buildings and businesses, including the courthouse. They were essentially too much for the colonial government to handle, therefore the colonists conscripted the help of local militia and Jamaican maroons. After two days colonial forces moved to retake Monrant Bay by force. The battle was fierce but the British forces eventually won out with very few able to escape. Bogle himself was caught by the Jamaican Maroons and was turned in to the colonial government. He was tried and executed quickly along with many others.
As a result of Bogle’s efforts, he has been upheld as a national folk hero in Jamaica, much like Sharpe. Not only are there monuments dedicated to him and the Monrant Bay Rebellion but as well there are a litany of folktales and songs written in his honor. To be clear, the effort to uphold certain heroes by successive generation speaks to a number of things that are culturally and philosophically relevant. To explain, iconography (hero worship to some) speaks to how a people see themselves in the past, present and future tense. That is to say, Bogle and others like him are instruments in which a people can reference when they are in need of spiritual strength and guidance. Furthermore, such an understanding of the past also feeds in to notions how a people want to grow and the direction they see their destiny heading. Kenneth Bilby author of the article "Picturing the Maroons in the Monrant Bay Rebellion: Complicating the Imagery of Commemoration”, states: “The canonization of Paul Bogle spurred the Maroons, like other Jamaicans, to give more thought than before to the Morant Bay rebellion as part of their history.” It is critical that such history is kept alive, particularly in light continued and constantly racial oppression.
 Jamaica Information Services – Paul Bogle. https://jis.gov.jm/information/heroes/paul-bogle/. Accessed November 2018.
 Jamaica Information Services – George William Gordon. https://jis.gov.jm/information/heroes/george-william-gordon/. Accessed November 2018. Peter Handford (2008). “Edward John Eyre and the Conflict of Laws.” Melbourne University Law Review. 32 (3): 822–860. Though he did not participate in the uprising Gordon was an advocate for the rebels and was accused of inciting them to riot. As such, after the rebellion he was tried for conspiracy and executed. After the execution the colonial governor who signed off on the execution, Edward John Eyre, came under fire for mishandling the uprising and the aftermath. Howard Johnson. "From Pariah to Patriot: The Posthumous Career of George William Gordon.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 81, no. 3/4 (2007): 197-218.
 E. L. Bute and H. J. P. Harmer, The Black Handbook: The People, History and Politics of Africa and the African Diaspora. (London & Washington: Cassell Publishing, 1997) 10.
 Kevin O'Brien Chang, “Paul Bogle – Defender of the People”, The Gleaner, 25 July 2012. Again, these methods of voter control and suppression were widely used throughout the American South, until the 1960s through the work of the Civil Rights Movement.
 Gad Heuman, "The Killing Time": The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica, (Nashville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 164-182. The trial itself seemed rather absurd as a man was being tried for trespassing on land that had been long abandoned.
 Ibid., 164-182.
 Kenneth Bilby. "Picturing the Maroons in the Monrant Bay Rebellion: Complicating the Imagery of Commemoration.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 72, no. 2 (2011): 574-83.
 Ibid., 574.
Most rebellions/revolts are marked in-large part by violence. When the downtrodden decide to stand-up and declare “no more” it is usually a very bloody affair for both the enslaved and enslaver. However, this is not the case for the Demerara Rebellion of Guyana. This rebellion is marked by its uniqueness in that it was largely non-violent (on the part of the enslaved). This essay will explore the strategy and ethics that went into the Demerara Rebellion. As well, of interest is the philosophy of non-violence that shaped the uprising into the unique historical moment that it is.
The Demerara-Essequibo territory of Guyana was a colony in the West Indies whose ownership shifted from the British to the Dutch and back again throughout the 1700s and the early part of the 19th century. As such, there was shifting ownership of plantations and their resources, particularly for enslaved Africans and sugar cane. The colony itself held thousands of captive Africans on large, highly profitable plantations. According to generous estimates there were about ten thousand captives spread out between close to three hundred individual plantations. On these plantations, the enslaved population was treated very poorly, which fed into feelings of animosity and resentment.
The major players of this uprising were an African born man named Quamina Gladstone and his son Jack Gladstone. They were wards of Sir John Gladstone, owner of the “Success” plantation. On this plantation, Quamina and Jack worked as drivers and coopers, which provided them with a considerable amount of freedom and influence on the plantation and off. Again, it seems that freedom of movement as well as the ethos of being African-born were a powerful combination for the enslaved leader. In planning the uprising, Quamina made it known that this was to be a non-violence revolt. It is not clear why this was the case, perhaps Quamina knew a violent revolt would end badly for both parties or maybe he just wanted to send a powerful message to the enslavers in order to push for a parley. Nevertheless, those who followed Quamina reluctantly agreed to the strategy and promised to not kill any whites, though moderate violence would be allowed.
An excerpt from the fallout of the rebellion states: “The first object of the slaves was to seize upon all the white inhabitants, and confine them in the stocks, to prevent their going to town for troops, and, after having made themselves masters of their arms and ammunition, to go in a body of town to oppose force to force. It was also determined, by the ring-leaders, to break up the public bridges, in order to impede the march of the military.” So, it seems that in addition to locking enslavers up, there was also a strategy for preventing encroachment of the military, which would also prevent further death by keeping the opposing forces from reaching one another. The British colonial forces, however, would not be as kind in their approach. Their mission was to squash the rebellion as completely as possible, which for them meant killing, maiming - and after the dust settled – executions.
When the uprising started martial law was declared and enforced by local security forces as well an ad-hoc militia was assembled to quell the mounting violence. The rebels were only armed with cutlasses, sticks and a couple firearms that were secured from plantations in their path; they were resolute in their charge to not kill. During the revolt, there were a number of significant battles. Namely, at the Reed Estate where 800 rebels stopped production on the land for a number of days, as well the Beehive plantation was also a sight where forces clashed until the rebels were squashed. However, the most significant battle for the Demerara Rebellion took place at Bachelor’s Adventure, where 1500 rebels battled with the governor’s forces for more than a day. At Bachelor’s Adventure there was a standoff between colonial forces and the rebels where Jack Gladstone himself battled alongside his rebel compatriots. The standoff at Bachelor’s Adventure eventually ended, however, Jack and his wife were not captured and remained on the run for about two weeks. Around September 6th Jack and his wife were finally brought in by Captain McTurk without any further violence.
Another interesting aspect of the Demerara Revolt is the involvement of John Smith, a white anti-slavery activist who was cited as a major reason for the uprising. To elaborate, Smith was English-born but took a position as a chaplain by the London Missionary Society on February 23, 1817. In Guyana, Smith was known for his rhetoric about the evils of slavery and was accused of inciting the enslaved Africans of Demerara to revolt against the enslavers. Moreover, Smith’s rhetoric may have involved disclosing information that led to the belief that colonial emancipation had already been granted in London but was being withheld by the island’s enslavers. To be clear, there is nothing to directly connect him to this point, nevertheless Smith was known for preaching of the nefarious nature of the colonial slavocracy directly to the enslaved and preached this same truth to power until his dying day.
After the uprising, there were a number of trials of both the revolting Africans and John Smith. Quamina was executed along with scores of other revolting Africans; to add insult to injury Quamina’s body was put on display (along with other leaders) as a warning to future insurrectionists. His son, Jack Gladstone, did not suffer the same fate. Instead he was deported to St. Lucia where he remained until his death. Smith was tried on a number of charges, which essentially boiled down to “promoting discontent and dissatisfaction in the minds of the Negro Slaves towards their Lawful Master”. Though Smith did promote the destruction of Guyana’s slavocracy, it must be said that as an abolitionist he only echoed the sentiments of the enslaved Africans. Meaning, due to the circumstances of their birth Africans did not have to be pushed to realize their discontent, it was clear to them already, Smith merely added fuel to the growing fire. Nevertheless, Smith was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. While in prison awaiting appeal Smith died of consumption before he could be heard.
The strategies of the enslaved during this revolt were admirable. Due to their non-violent approach it seems their motive was change, not the death and destruction of all whites. Being that this was done under the strict order of Quamina it suggests that he was more interested in discussion and negotiation as opposed to all out war. This type of leadership is to be admired and studied as it demonstrates forethought towards a peaceful resolution. The enslaved merely wanted better conditions, a request that the enslavers had no interest in entertaining. Therefore, what this represents in a missed opportunity on the part of the owners to work with their wards humanely rather than as animals.
 Raymond T. Smith. “History: British Rule Up To 1928.” The Negro Family in British Guiana. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1956).
 It is likely that Quamina was born in Ghana, which was also a British colony.
 Richard B. Sheridan. “The Condition of the Slaves on the Sugar Plantation of Sir John Gladstone in the Colony of Demerara 1812-1849.” (New West Indian Guide: 76: 3), 243-269. John Gladstone entrusted the care of the land and its occupants to a third party named Frederick Cort, who was fired for mismanaging the property.
 Joshua Bryant. Account of an Insurrection of the Negro Slaves in the Colony of Demerara, which broke out on the 18th of August 1823. (Georgetown, Demerara: A Stevenson at the Guiana Chronicle Office, 1824). Emilia Viotti da Costa. Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
 Joshua Bryant. Account of an Insurrection of the Negro Slaves in the Colony of Demerara, which broke out on the 18th of August 1823. (Georgetown, Demerara: A Stevenson at the Guiana Chronicle Office, 1824). Moderate violence in this case included beating and/or flogging of masters and overseers, but no killing or maiming. There are reports of enslavers also being put in stocks or tortured in the same fashion that the enslaved Africans were, but no one was allowed to take life.
 Ibid., 6-7.
 Ibid., 52-53.
 Ibid., 52-53.
 Ibid., 83-84.
 Edwin Angel Wallbridge. The Demerara Martyr. (Caribbean Press for the Government of Guyana, 1848).
 Joshua Bryant. Account of an Insurrection of the Negro Slaves in the Colony of Demerara, which broke out on the 18th of August 1823. (Georgetown, Demerara: A Stevenson at the Guiana Chronicle Office, 1824), 91. There were a few other charges tacked on to Smith, however, all of the charges basically centered on the idea that abolitionist riled up enslaved Africans.
 Ibid., 94.
The legend of Bussa’s Rebellion (April 14-16, 1816) is a key element of Barbadian history and culture. Particularly for the formerly enslaved Africans of that island, Bussa has taken on the shape of folk hero and/or saint for his efforts in rebelling against oppression and tyranny of the Barbadian planters. Moreover, Barbados has a rich history of rebellion, which has fed in to the culture and ethos on the small island for over two centuries. This essay will discuss the events of Bussa’s revolt and how it has reverberated throughout history. Further, this essay will briefly exam how Bussa’s rebellion helped to usher in the emancipation of enslaved Africans of Barbados. Of critical important for this discussion is the process of hero making that takes place in the Black community, a religious experience that requires the deification of mortal beings. Simply put, this essay will inquire on how does one become a folk hero in the black community, the sacredness of this position and the ethics that such heroes must exhibit.
There is not much biographical information on Bussa, but what is known provides important clues as to how and why he organized this revolt. First, Bussa was born in Igboland of Nigeria. At an unknown age, he was captured by African merchants and sold to English traders who transported him to Barbados. Second, it is likely he was an older man with a significant amount of influence on the planation as a driver. Evidence to this point rests in the fact that the slave trade for Barbados ended in 1807; if he was African-born he had to have arrived sometime before then. Further, for him to be African, master the language, and gain respect as well as influence 1) among the enslaved who followed him into battle and 2) among the enslavers to trusted him as a driver, he had to have been in Barbados for a significant amount to time. Further, according to Hilary M. Beckles author of “The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion”, Bussa commanded respect and had a following of close to four-hundred men and women, ready to face the planter class head-on.
Among the enslaved of Barbados there were a number of issues that contributed to the rise in animosity towards the planter class. Beyond the notion that institution of slavery was already problematic, there were issues with keeping the enslaved “employed”. That is to say, with Barbados already being a small island, there were not enough plantations (farming space) to keep the involuntary African migrants fed and occupied. This allowed space for dissention among the working class as well as opportunity to plan and organize an uprising. However, this too would prove to be problematic for the enslaved population. To elaborate, because of the topographical dynamics of Barbados, any insurrection that was to be would be hard fought and arduous for Africans. Insurrections, like Turner’s or the German Coast uprising had the advantage of the environment – swamps, wooded areas, forests – which would allow for a guerilla-esque engagement. Barbados does not have such guerilla-friendly environment.
Barbados itself has an interesting history regarding African uprisings. Meaning, up until Bussa’s rebellion in 1814 there were no large-scale rebellions on the island, only minor skirmishes and riots. There were a number of small uprisings and strikes which took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, none were particularly impactful. Beckles elaborates: “There had been aborted insurrectionary attempts in the earlier years, such as the small scale and localized affairs of 1649 and 1701, and the more general conspiracies of 1675 and 1692, but throughout most of the eighteenth century, a period now seen by many historians of West Indian slave resistance as characterized by endemic conflict in master-slave relations, the society seemed internally more stable and the slaves subdued.” This only meant that the pressure-cooker-situation that had been simmering up to that point was about to blow.
The planter class, not having experienced many large rebellions historically, felt that they had successfully kept their enslaved population in check. This was a point of pride for the planter class; their biggest worry was random runaways or small-scale strikes, but nothing that would threaten their power on the island. Beckles elaborates: “Evidence produced by prominent members of the white community suggests that the uprising was sudden and unexpected. Whites generally believed that their slaves, not having attempted any insurrections since the minor aborted Bridgetown affair in 1701, were more prone to running away, withholding their labour in protest, petitioning estate owners, attorneys and managers concerning conditions of work and leisure, than to armed insurrection.” The planters seemed to be almost haughty in their posture towards the working class, confident that there would not be an uprising, and if there was they (the planters) would be able to quell the unrest with relative ease.
From the perspective of the working class, the enslaved of Barbados believed themselves to be the owners of the island and its destiny, despite being under the yoke of the British empire. As well, because of the planters’ inability to accurately gauge the sentiment among their enslaved, there was a high level of dissention that had been brewing in the slave quarters for years. Much of this dissention was based on the overall feeling among the enslaved, that emancipation was being held from them by the imperial colonizers. There were rumors that widely circulated the slave quarters that freedom had already been granted by the crown in England, but the enslavers of Barbados were withholding this information in order to satisfy their greed. The power of these rumors as well as the general yearning for freedom, set in motion the chain of events that would result in the drafting of the emancipation proclamation for the Caribbean.
During the uprising, Bussa and many of his constituents (army) were killed and the rebellion was quelled with relative ease, however, the legacy of Bussa and his efforts continue to live on. Among the Africans who still occupy the island, Bussa is a name that brings strength and his legacy continues to inspire the push for freedom on the island. The government of Barbados has also recognized the importance of Bussa’s legacy and have erected a statue in his honor in the parish of St. Michael. In addition, Bussa was given a place of prominence in the Hall of Heroes in the Barbadian Parliament. However, despite the legacy of Bussa, Barbados remains, like many nations that began under the yoke of enslavement, a place of poverty and struggle.
The religion of folk heroes of not a widely studied phenomenon among the African diaspora, nevertheless it is a critical issues that deserves in depth analysis. In the US there are folk heroes with continue to resonate, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, just to name a few. Haiti has their heroes of the Rebellion, Jamaica has Haile Salassie and Bob Marley and Barbados has Bussa. In each case ordinary human beings with extraordinary stories are placed on pedestals as examples of strong moral conduct, ideological fortitude and uncompromising ethics. As such, these ancestors become deities, whose examples continue to guide those of us still struggle against white supremacy.
 Emily Allen Williams. The Critical Response to Kamau Brathwaite. (Praeger Publishers, 2004), 235. K. Watson, The Civilized Island, Barbados: A Social History, 1750-1816 (Barbados: Caribbean Graphics, 1979), 125-135. R. Schomburg, The History of Barbados (London, 1971), 393-400. M. Craton, 'The Passion to Exist: Slave Rebellion in the British West Indies, 1650-1832' Journal of Caribbean History vol. 13. (1980), 1.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 90. The record suggests that Bussa was likely African-born and his name may have actually been Bussoe.
 Ibid., 90. Beckles argues that he was likely a driver.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 90. It was suggested that he may have had military experience as a young man in Igboland.
 Ibid., 90-91.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 86. ““Barbados was the very worst field for such an experiment, since in no British colony was success in an attempt to obtain even a short lived freedom by insurrection so hopeless… there are no mountains, no fastnesses, no forest. European foot, and even horse, can traverse it in all directions.”
 Throughout history one of the most potent threats to a large standing army is small groups of guerilla fighters. However, for those small groups to be successful they must take advantage of the environment – trees, bushes, rivers, swamps, hills and so forth. Therefore, any insurrectionists would not be able to rely on the environment, thus nullifying a critical ally for any oppressed people.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 85.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 86.
There were many revolts in the antebellum South. The scale of these revolts was usually measured in the number of revolting Africans and whites killed. Uprisings like Turner’s in Virginia took a number of white lives regardless of the age or gender of the victims; and while Turner’s revolt is one of the more deadly exchanges between the enslaved and the enslavers of America, it was not the largest. The honor for the largest African uprising on American soil in the antebellum South belongs to the German Coast uprising of New Orleans, Louisiana. The immense scale of this uprising demonstrates the need for investigation into the how and why. Specifically: how the enslaved organized and communicated with one another and why the rebellion was sparked in the first place.
To elaborate, sentiment for an uprising had been building steam for a number of years, in part because of the Haitian Revolution. By this I mean, the reports of the Haitian revolution, both formal (printed news) and informal (word-of-mouth), contributed to a rise of the spirit of revolution and freedom that stirred within the hearts of German Coast's African population. As well, the population influx of Haitian refugees as a consequence of the Haitian Revolution put the European population of Louisiana on high alert.
Leading up to the uprising, during the late 18th century in what was to become Orleans Parish, there were a number of skirmishes and uprisings that paved the way for the German Coast revolt. For instance, in the Spanish controlled area of New Orleans, an enslaved African named Jean Saint Malo, escaped his captors and established a small but viable maroon community in the swamps. Over time, St. Malo and his community became a nuisance for the Spanish government, so much so that they sent in the local militia to capture the insurgents and dismantle the establishment. The efforts of St. Malo and the disruptions he caused the Spanish government made him a folk-hero amongst the enslaved of New Orleans. Nevertheless, because of his ability to disrupt the business dealings of the Spanish crown he was executed June 19th, 1784 as a warning to future insurrectionists. However, a decade later, again in the Spanish controlled region of Southern Louisiana, near a place called Pointe Coupee, there was another large scale uprising discovered by Spanish authorities. This planned revolt was to take place over during the Easter holiday of 1794, but, before this insurrection ever got off the ground it was quelled by Spanish authorities. As a result, 23 were killed for their part in this planned insurrection with an additional 31 beaten and tortured.
The Haitian Revolution itself became a beacon for hope in the fight against enslavement for Louisiana’s enslaved Africans. That is to say, the efforts of Louisiana’s African population were influenced by victory of the Haitian rebels just a few hundred kilometers to the South. But, there was more that just influence that came with the Haitian Revolution. After the fires of Haiti settled many of the formerly enslaved Africans of Haiti migrated to the US to the Louisiana territory bringing with them the same revolutionary flame that defeated the French and Spanish empires. This caused the Black population of the Louisiana territory to nearly triple in a very short amount to time, infusing the population with free migrant Haitian-Africans who did not come to the bayous in chains but as victors of their own war.
So, Louisiana seemed to be primed for a major uprising given its history and connection to Haiti and its rebels. Planning for the uprising is said to have taken place only a few days before the uprising started. The revolt was scheduled to take place during the period in which the harvest season had ended and planting season had not yet begun, the enslaved Africans of the region would therefore have had a bit more freedom and opportunity to organize the uprising. To elaborate, on the fourth of January, two enslaved Africans, Kwamena (a variation of the Ghanaian-day name Kwame - born on Saturday) and a mulatto name Henry, met and discussed plans for an uprising with a number of others. There was a third name mentioned in reference to German Coast, Charles Deslondes, a refugee of Haiti. However, it is not clear if Deslondes was present at the initial planning with Kwamena and Henry, nevertheless, he was named by Manuel Andry as one of the main conspirators in this revolt and therefore a principal figure in Southern Louisiana history.
The revolt began on January 8th at the Andry Plantation with the immediate bloodletting of Manual Andry and his son. After leaving the Andry Plantation (and a still living Manual Andry), the insurrectionists went from plantation-to-plantation killing Europeans and recruiting Africans at every stop. Participants of this revolt seemed to be fairly organized. They grew in number and weaponry with each plantation they encountered and organized themselves into a rank-and-file army that marched confidently to a drummer’s beat with flags hoisted proudly. By the end of the first day of this insurrection, the ad-hoc army had traversed 15-20 miles, destroyed a number of the largest and most notable plantations in Southern Louisiana and had gathered upwards of about 500 enslaved Africans. However, despite the day of triumph, across the Mississippi River the state militia was preparing to meet the African army head-on, led by Manuel Andry.
The tide began to turn on the morning of January 10th, when the Andry’s organized militia began their march towards the German Coast rebels. Later that morning the militia met the rebels head-on and engaged them aggressively. The skirmish did not last long, many of the rebels were killed and the rest absconded in to the Louisiana swamps. Over the next few weeks, many Africans were questioned, tortured and coerced into fingering accomplices and other potential rebels resulting in a slew of executions and other varying forms of punishment. In total, around one hundred Africans were killed in the fallout from the German Coast uprising.
Though it is important to fight against oppression and injustice, one is forced to ask, if the fallout and lives lost during the trials and interrogations make it all worth it. That is to simply ask, if the fight against oppression is ultimately worth it? Worth the lives lost? Worth the violent fallout? Worth the restrictions and executions? Being a person who has not risked his life for freedom, it is difficult to answer. Nevertheless, as long as people are oppressed there will be those who fight back. It is not necessarily a question of right or wrong, but perhaps a biological imperative to survive. African people simply want to live, to be, without having to justify their being-ness. This perhaps is the essence of freedom, a state of being without a need to justify that being-ness to another human being.
 Daniel Rasmussen. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. New York, 2011), 88-90.
 Ibid., 88-90. Mary Ann Sternberg, Along the River Road: Past and Present on Louisiana’s Historic Byways. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001). Nathan A. Buman, “To Kill Whites: The 1811 Louisiana Slave Insurrection” (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008).
 Ibid., 88-90.
 The bodies of the 23 Africans executed for their part in this insurrection were dismember and put on display around Louisiana as an ominous warning to future would-be insurrectionists.
 Daniel Rasmussen. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. New York, 2011), 108-109.
 Thomas Marshall Thompson, "National Newspaper and Legislative Reactions to Louisiana's Deslondes Slave Revolt of 1811", The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Series in Louisiana History, Vol 3: The Louisiana Purchase and its Aftermath, 1800-1830. (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana, 1998), 311. Rodriguez, Junius P. “Rebellion on the River Road: The Ideology and Influence of Louisiana’s German Coast Slave Insurrection of 1811.” In John R. McKivigan and Stanley Harold. Antislavery Violence: Sectional, Racial and Cultural Conflict in Antebellum America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999).
 Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), 592.
 Ibid., 592.
 Daniel Rasmussen. American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. New York, 2011), 109.
As discussed, the road towards freedom for Africans in America has been long and arduous. Success has been marginal. Many of our best and brightest have had their light extinguished much too early. Some died in the heat of battle, some cut down by an assassin’s bullet, some captured, tortured and locked away and some took their own lives as an ultimate act of sacrifice and statement of protest. Suicide is often a difficult and sometimes taboo subject to deal with. However, certain African American artists have stepped up in dynamics ways.
Literary artists, for example, have worked to deliver the grimy details of what it means to be African in America and how that affects a diverse array of people. Some have given special attention to suicide because of the conditions African in American have lived under. In Toni Morrison’s stories, for instance, thoughts of suicide are expressed deeply and in thick and complex ways. By extension, and once again in celebration of all forms or protest taken to achieve freedom, this essay will review suicide as an act of resistance against oppression with discussion of Igbo Landing.
For some, the notion of suicide is unthinkable. Even in the face of suffering, many times it is seen as necessary to endure suffering. However, the Igbo people (primarily originating from present-day Nigeria) in particular are known for their open mindset towards suicide. According to particular narratives of enslaved Africans, many Igbos embraced suicide as a way out of suffering and “wished to die on the idea that they should then get back to their own country.” This notion was put to the test sometime in the spring of 1803. To explain, in 1803 an ironically named slaver ship, the Wanderer, set sail with a full compliment of Igbo captives bound for the Americas. The ship arrived and disembarked in Savannah, Georgia where the cargo of shackled humans were sold to a St. Simons Island Plantation owner. Whilst en route to the Georgian Island the captives liberated themselves by taking control of the ship and killing their captors. Shortly after seizing control of the vessel, the self-liberated Africans ran the ship ashore in Dunbar Creek. Then, in seemingly ritualistic fashion, the former captives disembarked from the ship and walked together into the creek to drown themselves.
To provide more clarity for this issue, the article “Slave Suicide, Abolition and the Problem of Resistance” by Richard Bell lends some insight. The author asks: “Was a slave’s suicide an act of principled resistance to tyranny that challenged the hypocrisy of the revolutionary settlement? Or was it a measure of abject victimhood that begged for humanitarian intervention?” Bell poses this either/or dialectic to the problem of suicide among enslaved Africans; however, perhaps in this case both perspectives posed by Bell are equally relevant. That is to say, for an enslaved person, desperation is the modus operandi: it is the feeling that cradles the oppressed in their sleep and the sentiment that greets them in the morning. Living with that feeling makes suicide for the oppressed both an act of defiance and empowerment.
To continue, suicide is a powerful conclusion for a soul twisted by hate, desperation, hopelessness and loneliness. It is not the easy way out nor a coward’s last cry for help; is it however, an act of a person taking their own life – their destiny – into their own hands. Simply put, it is an act of power. An enslaved person has no power. They cannot eat, sleep, learn or love without the permission of their enslaver. But, when that enslaved person (or any tortured soul) decides to end their life, they strip their oppressor of any power they had over them. The enslaver can no longer use their slave’s body frivolously, they can no longer beat it, force it to do work or rape it. As well, any monetary value that the slave’s body had as a worker or a commodity is now gone, and that person whom used to be enslaved to now free.
Terry Synder argues “Self-destruction in the context of North American slavery has been overlooked in part, because of the problematic nature of all evidence for suicide. We simply cannot know how many enslaved persons - or even free people – chose suicide in early modern America. Because no systematic public accounting of deaths was undertaken when slaves were domestically dispersed, traded, and resold on the North American mainland, suicide figures for disembarkation are difficult to ascertain.” The difficulties in studying this history only highlight the importance of the work. That is to say, more work needs to be done within this field of study as part of an effort to provide a deeper understanding of the mind and spirit of the enslaved.
In sum, suicide can be an odd phenomenon to study because of the personal nature of the act. As well, cultural nuances can make the study of suicide difficult because of how particular people understand the act. For some it is taboo; and yet for others there is empowerment in the process and act of suicide. However, what is the same from culture-to-culture, is that suicide is a deeply human act. Further, it is a human act in which the actor is no more and cannot be questioned or queried about after the deed is done; thus, the difficulties. Nevertheless, with the emptiness that is left behind when one (or a group) commits themselves to the act of self-destruction, those of us still amongst the living can commit ourselves to understanding the human(s) who committed that act and their reasons. Such a commitment will inevitably help us as a species have a deeper understanding of ourselves.
 Terri L. Snyder. "Suicide, Slavery, and Memory in North America." The Journal of American History 97, no. 1 (2010): 39-62. For example, here are narratives of mothers throwing themselves over the side of slave ships whilst clutching their young, just to keep their babies from experiencing the hell that awaited them. As well, authors such as Toni Morrison have dealt with this subject intimately.
 Here are some other instances of suicide among the enslaved in African American Literature: Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones, James Baldwin's Another Country, Suzan-Lori Parks's The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Dawn Turner Trice's Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven, Shay Youngblood's Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery
 Katy Ryan. "Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison's Fiction." African American Review 34, no. 3 (2000): 389-412. The author argues: “In Beloved (1988), a woman jumps overboard during the Middle Passage; in Jazz (1992), Violet's mother, Rose Dear, climbs into a well, drowning herself in 1892; in Sula (1973), the shell-shocked veteran Shadrack institutes National Suicide Day on 3 January 1920; on the opening page of Song of Solomon (1977), Robert Smith leaps from the top of Mercy Hospital on 18 February 1931; in The Bluest Eye (1970), Pecola Breedlove wills self-disappearance through a longing to possess the eyes of another face. Toni Morrison.” To add to Ryan’s discussion of Beloved: in this story, the mother of Beloved, Sethe, killed the child very soon after she was born. Though, this is technically murder, it can be argued the essence of a suicide was presented well by Morrison. That is to say, Sethe sacrificed a large part of herself, Beloved, so that her child would not have to experience the horrors of enslavement.
 Malcolm Cowley and Daniel Mannix. The Middle Passage. Atlantic Slave Trade, Ed. David Northrup. (Lexington: Heath, 1994), 99-112.
 BlackPast.org – Remembered and Reclaimed. Igbo Landing Mass Suicide (1803). http://www.blackpast.org/aah/igbo-landing-mass-suicide-1803. Accessed July 2018. Igbos were known to be fiercely independent people who were extremely resistant to the practice of chattel slavery in the Americas.
 BlackPast.org – Remembered and Reclaimed. Igbo Landing Mass Suicide (1803). http://www.blackpast.org/aah/igbo-landing-mass-suicide-1803. Accessed July 2018. This mass-suicide had a number of witnesses who provided testimony. After this incident, during the ensuing investigation, only 13 Igbo bodies were recovered. It is believed that the other bodies may have washed out to sea.
 Richard Bell. "Slave suicide, abolition and the problem of resistance." Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 4 (2012): 525-549.
 Terri L. Snyder. "Suicide, Slavery, and Memory in North America." The Journal of American History 97, no. 1 (2010): 40.
 “Suicide Among Slaves: A Very Last Resort”. National Humanities Center Research Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. 1, 1500-1865. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai/emancipation/text2/suicide.pdf. Accessed July 2018. Discussion of suicide from these narratives are mainly from the early 20th century, however they highlight some of the sentiment behind suffering and slavery.
In African American history many times it is simply the effort, or better yet, the will to fight against a formidable enemy and insurmountable odds that defines bravery. Our leaders are rarely, if ever, successful when they choose to press the fight against white supremacy. Nevertheless, that has not stopped particular men and women from fighting for their own humanity and the humanity of those closest to them. The name Gabriel Prosser can be added the list of unsuccessful heroes who fought and died for the cause of African liberation. However, for rebellions such as Prosser’s, and many others throughout human history, the point is the rebellion itself. Such an act, regardless of the measure of success, rings throughout history as an effort to establish a sense of autonomy. By extension the review and celebration of such an act ensures that the spirit of those actions taken were not in vain.
Prosser’s life began on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. He and his brothers (Solomon and Martin) were raised to be blacksmiths and grew to be strong in stature. They were enslaved to a man named Thomas Prosser, a notable Brookfield tobacco planter who had a certain amount of clout in Henrico County. As Blacksmiths, Gabriel his family were relatively well taken care of by Thomas. Moreover, Gabriel had the added benefit of being taught how to read and write (it is not clear if he learned this skill in secret or with the permission of Thomas Prosser). As Gabriel grew he gained a certain level of respect in Henrico County from both bonds person and planters alike in large part because he was hired out as a skilled blacksmith, which allowed him visibility and a certain amount of mobility in Henrico county and the Richmond community.
Additionally, during this time period there was a zeitgeist of independence and freedom that dominated the region. Much of this sentiment came directly from the Methodist church. To explain, though the church had little respect for African people and their culture, traditions and/or religion, what the Methodist church did respect was the need for human freedom. For the Methodists, human bondage was an egregious sin that led to greed and cruelty against one’s fellow man. This, combined with the Quakers growing political power in the region, worked to convince the planters of Henrico County that it was not only spiritually prudent to abolish slavery but also economically so. This made the region ripe for change.
In the weeks and months leading up to the attempted insurrection there was dispute with the enslaver of Gabriel, Thomas Prosser, and a neighboring landowner named Absalom Johnson. Apparently, Gabriel and his brother Solomon were in a physical altercation with Johnson, which left him injured. As a result, he filed charges against Gabriel’s enslaver because he was responsible for any action taken by his property. In this case, Solomon was tried and acquitted for his part in the altercation. For Gabriel on the other hand, his accuser moved to have Gabriel tried for maiming which carried with it the possibility of him being executed for his crime. However, there is a very interesting quality with regard to the Prosser case: because of his position as a slave preacher, when he was put on trial for the maiming of Absalom Johnson Prosser claimed “benefit of clergy”. “Benefit of clergy” is a significant piece of legislation developed in 12th century England, which put the defendant outside of the bound of secular court. Therefore, if a member of the clergy is charged with a crime, instead of being tried in a civil or criminal court, the individual claiming “benefit of clergy” is to be tried in an ecclesiastical court under canon law. This law essentially boils down to a member of the clergy accepting divine authority over state authority. And in this particular case, the “benefit of clergy" law saved Gabriel’s life, at least for a time.
Prosser’s rebellion was planned for August 30, 1800. Leading up to the 30th Gabriel and his brothers recruited more than 30 (enslaved) people and even had the sympathy of a number of poor whites in the area. However, the plans for rebellion were postponed due to torrential rain. This delay was all the land-owners of the region needed; they got wind of Prosser’s plans and were therefore able to go on the offensive. Knowing their plans were foiled, Prosser and his brothers went on the run and remained at-large for a number of days until there were finally captured and executed for their crimes.
It is doubtful that Prosser would have able to plea for his life a second time under the “benefit of clergy” clause, despite the fact that no body was killed in this thwarted rebellion. Regardless, what is critically important here is that Prosser provided future generations with the courage to fight against a powerful enemy. From Gabriel Prosser to Sanda Bland, the list is long and the names are many of our heroes that have fell to violence for only speaking their truth in search of freedom. Furthermore, the unfortunate and uncomfortable truth of our reality as African people is that a hero’s life is often a short one and one day one of us may be called on to set that example once again.
 Bert M. Mutersbaugh. "The Background of Gabriel's Insurrection." The Journal of Negro History 68, no. 2 (1983): 209-11.
 Joyce Tang. "Enslaved African Rebellions in Virginia." Journal of Black Studies 27, no. 5 (1997): 598-614. Tang argues that Virginia in particular was a hotbed for rebellion because of nine legal features that were not on the book in any other state. Tang states: “First, enslaved Africans were prohibited to travel to any place without their "'master's" permission. Second, they were forbidden from lifting their hands against any White Christians. Third, Whites were guaranteed the absolute right to discipline their "property"-enslaved Africans. Fourth, enslaved and free Africans were not allowed to carry any arms. Fifth, association with others, Whites and non-Whites, was unlawful. Sixth, all Africans, regardless of their status, were not allowed to learn how to read and write. Seventh, enslaved Africans could not practice their own religion. Eighth, once they were freed, Africans had to leave the colony within a specific period of time. And ninth, enslaved Africans were subject to forced relocation to Liberia after emancipation.” All states had some types of law on the books to control their African population. However, Virginia may have had these points of legislation on the books in part because they are a commonwealth.
 Douglas R. Egerton (1993). Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 21–22.
 Reading and writing was seen as a serious problem for the enslavers of Virginia, particularly after this Rebellion. So much so, that in the months following Prosser’s action enslavers passed more stringent restrictions on free Blacks and the tighten up the laws on the literacy of Africans.
 Douglas R. Egerton (1993). Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 8-9.
 Ibid., 11-12. Arguments were made in the Virginia legislature that this course of action was economically and politically necessary in order to survive the social turmoil caused by the approaching revolution.
 Joyce Tang. "Enslaved African Rebellions in Virginia." Journal of Black Studies 27, no. 5 (1997): 599-600. “Such factors as (a) changes in the plantation economy, (b) a large concentration of enslaved Africans in the colony, and (c) the prevalence of antislavery and revolutionary philosophies had fostered the development of revolts.”
 Bert M. Mutersbaugh. "The Background of Gabriel's Insurrection." The Journal of Negro History 68, no. 2 (1983): 209.
 J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (4th ed. 2002) pp. 513–15.
 Jeffrey K. Sawyer, "Benefit of Clergy in Maryland and Virginia", American Journal of Legal History 34, no. 1 (January 1990): 49–68.
 Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 692-93, 44 L.Ed.2d 508, 515-16, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 1886; (1975).
 Douglas R. Egerton (1993). Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 10-11.
 C. Ruth Ebrahim. “Virginia State NAACP Conference requests pardon of Gabriel”. The Caroline Register, Oct 2006. Accessed June 2018. “[T]he execution of the patriot and freedom fighter, Gabriel, whose death stands as a symbol for the determination and struggle of slaves to obtain freedom, justice and equality as promised by the fundamental principles of democratic governments of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America.”
Some might take it as ironic that some of the most religious individuals in African American history are also the most rebellious. However, this actually seems quite appropriate. Meaning, through the development and evolution of religious belief amongst enslaved Africans, for survival sake many adopted and molded the tools most useful to them in order to secure freedom. Further, being that religious belief (particularly the Christian religion) was the tool most accessible to the enslaved, it became that most potent of weapons.
To elaborate, before Nat Turner used the power of religious prophecy to tear through Southampton, Virginia Denmark Vesey worked within the African Methodist Episcopal Church of South Carolina to fight against the system of slavery. Vesey’s story started in the Caribbean. Specifically, the island of St. Thomas where he was born under the birth name Telemaque. The name “Denmark” is likely a moniker given to him as a nickname because his birth Island was at the time the ward of Denmark. However, his last name “Vesey” was an adopted name of his owner Captain Joseph Vesey of Bermuda who acquired Telemaque at a fairly young age.
The youth remained bound to Captain Vesey until 1799 when he was able to purchase his own freedom. As a free man, Denmark Vesey worked as an independent carpenter and eventually earned enough resources and reputation to start his own carpentry business. Vesey eventually attempted to settle down and raise a family, but family can be a complicated notion for both enslaved and freed Africans in colonial America. To explain, Vesey courted and married a woman simply known as Beck. However, Beck was still enslaved and therefore her freedom was extremely limited as compared to her husband. Eventually the couple became pregnant, which meant that their child would be the property of Beck’s enslaver. This was of course due to the laws of the time, which states: “WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall commit fornication with a Negro man or woman, he or she se offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.“ While the above quoted legislation is centered on children between an English man and an African bondswoman, free African men had absolutely no rights to their enslaved offspring.
At one point Vesey attempted to legally purchase his wife in order to secure her freedom and the freedom of their children. However, by law Beck and all of her offspring were the property of the slaver and he had no intention of liberating her or her offspring. It is not clear, but this may have been the reason why Vesey sought retribution from the American slave system. That is to say, the institution of slavery was horrific by all accounts but perhaps for Vesey, it was not the institution itself that caused him to organize a revolt, but very personal desire to free his family. Nevertheless, apart from speculation his exact inspiration is not clear.
To elaborate further, according to the historical record Vesey’s revolt started because of a number of circumstances. First, Vesey was definitely rattled by his inability to free his wife and child from their enslaver. However, apart from his family, Vesey also had a number of friends and close associates who were enslaved as well as members of his congregation. Vesey was a well-known carpenter as well as an active member of the Charleston community and a leader of the AME Church of the city therefore he had a deep investment in the community. As such, he had a deep understanding of the conditions his people lived under and their desires for freedom.
Second, as a literate person Vesey was also exposed to the congressional conversations and debates concerning the free/slave state status of Missouri. So, as was the case with Nat Turner, a person’s ability to read, and therefore their capacity to be informed about the popular political and social debates of the time, inspires a strong sense possibility. This point should not be taken lightly – meaning, there is a reason why reading was forbidden for the enslaved - the more educated a person or population is, the more difficult they are to control.
Lastly, like Turner, another form of inspiration for Vesey was his particular read of the Bible. Vesey employed imagery of the Bible - the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, David’s defiance and destruction of Goliah and Joshua’s March around Jericho - as inspiration for a proactive and aggressive approach to freedom in antebellum America. So, again, there is a clear ambivalence with the manner in which Biblical symbolism is interpreted and used depending on one’s place in the society. Appropriately, because Africans were on (or extremely close to) the lowest wrung, it is fitting that stories of the oppressed rising up against their masters with divine aid are critically important stories.
The revolt was planned for Bastille Day, July 14, 1822. This date is significant because of its association to the French Revolution. As well, Vesey drew inspiration from this day because of its association to the liberation of Africans of Saint-Domingue. The fact that Africans in Virginia drew inspiration from Africans in the Caribbean demonstrates a level of Pan-African collective consciousness that is critically important to the study of this era. That is to say, despite the notion that African people worked separately towards freedom while suffering at the hands of a common enemy, is not supported by the historical narrative. Instead, throughout this history of the New World there are clear examples of Africans connecting their struggles and working towards collective freedom.
On that faithful day in July, the plan was to seize parts of Charleston, particularly close to the harbor, so the rebels could steal away in a vessel for Haiti where they could cement their freedom. However, none of this was ever fully realized. Before the day of the planned conspiracy, city officials and land-owners caught wind of the uprising due to wide spread rumors and internal leaks. As a result there was dozens of arrests and an investigation ensued. Many of those arrested where beaten, tortured and some were executed. After the dust had settled from the arrests and trials, a total of 67 people had been convicted and 35 executed including Vesey.
History has looked back upon Vesey and the Charleston plot in interesting and conflicting ways. On one hand, it is considered a blow to the slave system of the time and a great effort for an oppressed people seeking freedom through violent action and self-determination. On the other hand, the plot itself may never have been more than overheard rumors and the work of over active imaginations. It is difficult to know what is true because no revolt ever took place and the would-be conspirators were killed without an opportunity to have their side of the story added to the historical record. Nevertheless, the story of Vesey has inspired many to seek a deeper understanding of what freedom means, both in the individual and collective context.
 Douglass Egerton. He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey, 2nd ed. (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1–4), 2004. Egerton suggests he may have been of Akan origin.
 Ibid. According to the historical record, Denmark won a local lottery of over 1,500 dollars, which helped him secure his freedom.
 Library of Congress. “Slavery and Indentured Servants.” https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awlaw3/slavery.html. Virginia Law: Act XII, Laws of Virginia, December 1662 (Hening, Statutes at Large, 2: 170). The Latin expression for this law partus sequitur ventrum, it stated: “that the social status of a child followed that of his or her mother. Thus, any child born to an enslaved woman was born into slavery, regardless of the ancestry or citizenship of the father.”
 Lerone Bennett. Before the Mayflower: A history of black America. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).
 George Dangerfield. The Awakening of American Nationalism: 1815-1828. (New York: Harper & Row, 1965). During this historical period the debate centered around allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state while Maine entered as a free state.
 Deborah G. White. Freedom on My Mind, Volume 1: A History of African Americans, with Documents. (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016), 178.
 Richard C. Wade. “The Vesey Plot: A Reconsideration. The Journal of Southern History Vol. 30, No. 2 May 1964.
 James O’Neil Spady. “Power and Confession: On the Credibility of the Earliest Reports of the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy.” (William and Mary Quarterly, 38 (2), 287-304.
 Richard C. Wade. “The Vesey Plot: A Reconsideration. The Journal of Southern History Vol. 30, No. 2 May 1964.