The historian, Edward Long, writing in 1774, extolled the fertility and beauty of Westmoreland. King’s Valley was a fertile glade, a lively and picturesque scene with delicious springs and cooling rivulets and land that produced sugar as fine as that of the Liguanea Plain, “inferior to none in the West Indies.” George Robertson, the Scottish artist, would paint idyllic landscapes of Westmoreland’s properties but for those whites whose fate it was to live in the parish, there was another reality of ongoing, smouldering insurrection from within, and sporadic invasion of the enemy from without.
Jamaica, taken from the Spaniards in 1655, was from 1660 onwards developed as a sugar plantation colony. After a century of British ownership, plantation slavery was now engrained in every aspect of life on the island. By 1775 there were 210,000 inhabitants on the island: 193,000 enslaved persons and 13,000 white. For the enslaved and their descendants there was no hope; for the whites, there was a sense of resignation and isolation. Stranded on a tropical island, which the majority could never leave, they acknowledged in conversations with each other that “the warm sun and the blue skies were all that were agreeable in Jamaica.”
The few resident owners and the many attorneys and overseers, now mainly Scots, lived in a constant state of alarm, moving from one crisis to the next. Since the ending of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748 there had been respite for eight years but with the commencement of another war in 1756, tension returned. Martial law was instituted, monthly musters of the militia now had to be taken seriously, and in addition, guard duty became part of a day’s routine with watches at the Savanna-la-Mar Fort, particularly at its magazine where the gunpowder was stored. Sometimes at vulnerable spots, like the bridge over the Cabaretta, guards also had to be posted. Confirmation for residents living along the coast that Britain was at war with France and Spain came when they heard “great guns fired out at sea” in February 1757. In late March it was rumoured that the French fleet, consisting of several men-of-war, had arrived in the island of Hispaniola. They heard, too, that the Greenwich, a British man-of-war, had been captured by them. On April 7 of that year, those in town were aware of the presence of French prisoners under heavy guard and learnt that they were from a French privateer captured in Little Bay off Old Hope property. Claret taken from the French ship was on sale in the town.
There must have been considerable discussion in the taverns and great houses of Westmoreland when it was also learnt that English possessions on the African Guinea coast had been captured by the French. This could have grave implications for the slave trade and further supplies of slaves.
War increased the physical demands made on all white men in the parish; it also taxed the resources of every plantation; provisions for feeding their slaves like plantains, salt fish and salt meat frequently had to be given to parties of soldiers or 6.3 Jamaica Almanack 1788 sailors who might arrive suddenly on the property and expect to be fed. There were instances when as many as 22 soldiers from a regiment in the area would turn up. There were numerous occasions when an overseer had to fork out provisions from his stores; or “broach” a valuable puncheon of last year’s rum to make grog or punch for men who might overnight on the property. Even bread and cheese and porter were sometimes provided. Estate equipment, too, was taken away: a cart, or pad ropes and crooks. On occasion even a horse might be seized and pressed into service. Sick soldiers, unable to reach to the fort, sometimes had to be cared for. To hasten recovery more than one valuable fowl would have to be sacrificed for broth, as well as a slave taken off his other duties to act as nurse. While all these distractions were taking place, the planter still had to ensure that the routine of planting and reaping the crop and the manufacture of sugar was continued. But all these additional burdens had to be endured as the alternative, that is, French capture of the island, was a worse fate.
There was some comfort to know that British warships were not too far off in case of insurrection. Indeed, the people of Westmoreland felt flattered and honoured when Admiral Holmes wrote to say that if needed, he and his “head men” would come in the Cambridge to their rescue. On the other hand, planters were put at greater risk when members of the military did foolish things like the careless sailor who fell asleep under a bush and had his weapons stolen from him. Slaves on a property drumming at night, in lantern light, making a noise and carousing also added to the danger of attack by an enemy.
The year 1760 was a year of insurrection. It began in the parish of St Mary with the well-known uprising, now referred to as the Tacky Rebellion. It was a Coromantee insurrection. Tacky, a young Akan prince from the Gold Coast, planned to overthrow the planters of the area and set up his own state. Renowned for his great physical strength and high intelligence, he was an outstanding organizer. The writer, George Metcalf, makes the claim that “he constructed a vast silent conspiracy which stretched over the whole island.” Whether this was so or not, there were many rumours regarding persons who might be behind the islandwide “risings”. At Easter, in April 1760, Tacky and 100 followers in St Mary suddenly rose and massacred 20 settlers on outlying estates belonging to Ballard Beckford, Zachary Bailey and William Beckford. William Beckford’s loyal slaves carried the news swiftly to Lieutenant-Governor Moore in the capital, Spanish Town. Tacky and his followers escaped to the woods but the superior forces of Lieutenant-Governor Moore finally crushed them. The Maroons, in keeping with the treaty signed in 1739, came to the rescue of the planters and ruthlessly hunted down the rebels. Tacky was eventually slain by a Maroon sharpshooter.
A terrible period of revenge by the authorities and the terror-stricken planters set in. Public tortures, executions and deportations took place on an unprecedented scale. Between 300 and 400 blacks perished and about 60 whites. Some 600 slaves were deported to Belize.
It was wartime. Westmorelites speculated as to the possibility of “black Jesuits” having been sent into the island to stir up trouble and some were on the lookout for suspicious persons like Frenchmen in disguise. “A tense silence,” says Metcalf, “settled over the island.” Through the writings of Bryan Edwards, the historian, the events of the St Mary insurrection have become part of Jamaica’s recorded history. A movement started in the north western parish of St James was quickly suppressed but what took place in Westmoreland, two months later in June, was just as serious as what had taken place in the parish of St Mary. It, too, was mainly a Coromantee uprising.
Unlike St Mary, the parish of Westmoreland had no historian like Bryan Edwards to publish an account of its events. A more likely reason, however, why little is known of what occurred in Westmoreland and why the insurrection has remained obscure, is that there was, if not a deliberate policy to suppress the information, a reluctance to publicize it because of the disastrous effect it was thought that it would have on “Business.” The acting governor mentioned in a letter that “the Credit of the Island would have been greatly hurt by any imperfect account carried home of this Disaster.” Hence he delayed the departure of the fleet for a week.
At the far end of the island in St Thomas-in-the-East, Nathaniel Phillips of Phillipsfield, writing to his father and his partners, Hilton & Biscoe in London on April 19, 1760, had this to say about the event in St Mary:
It gives me Infinite pleasure that I can now inform you that this Island is freed from the Troubles of uneasiness it has been under for 8 or 10 Days past, occasioned by an Insurrection of about 100 Negroes in the Parish of St Marys. About 40 rebellious Negroes, not yet accounted for the rest are taken Prisoners & killed.
They have killed 12 whites (servants on the Plantations).
Marshall Law was proclaimed and an Embargo, laid on the shipping, both which it is said will be taken of tomorrow. It has put a stop to all Business. Every Body being obliged to act in a military Capacity.
Then again, on June 9, and 10, 1760 he wrote about the event in Westmoreland.
To Hilton & Biscoe
Lady Mary to sail from Kingston on 12th instant with the rest of the Ships from Blewfields.
To Father in London
June 10, 1760
There has been another Insurrection of a great many negroes in Westmoreland which, thank God, is now almost suppressed.
It has detained the Fleet some Days.
This second Rebellion I am afraid will hurt the Credit of the Country.
To Hilton & Biscoe
Lady Mary, under Peter Grigg Master leaving under Convoy of his Majesty’s ship Dreadnought. They have been detained 7 or 8 days on Account of an Insurrection…
Itwill be a heavylosstothePlantersin thatpartoftheCountry .
Westmoreland was more important to “Business” than any other parish in Jamaica. It was from Bluefields that the fleet sailed. A letter from the Custos of Westmoreland, Col. James Barclay to his stepson in London, illustrates well the state of anxiety which all whites in the parish were experiencing. He wrote:
I am now to acquaint you of the Gratest [sic] Rebellion that ever was known to us now in this parish viz the whole of Capt. Forrests plantation ditto of Woodcock, the whole of George Williams and all of Mr Jones’s. Asides others that have Joyned them make out about 1100 negroes they had killed a great many white people but now I think we begin to get the better of them, and have taken and killed & hanged above three hundred of them. I have scarcely layess [sic] down out of my cloths this fortnight its a terrible time…
Barclay also relates how the white women were transported to a ship in the harbour for safety. Only his wife, who had armed her slaves, had remained behind at their property, Llandilo, once owned by the Kirkpatricks.
The authorities thought that like the St Mary rebellion, the rising in Westmoreland would be suppressed quickly if it were nipped in the bud but this was not to be the case. Companies from both the 49th and 74th regiments were involved in the operation, besides two detachments of Maroons, and the militias of the parishes of Hanover and St James.
At the meeting of the Council in Spanish Town on June 14, the lieutenant governor told the members that “Immediately upon receiving an Express from Westmoreland that a Rebellion was broke out there. A quantity of Arms and Ammunition was dispatch’d to those Quarters.” He reported that the number of slaves in the rebellion was increasing, and that he had sent down two detachments of 60 men each, and another detachment of 25 men to the adjoining parish of St Elizabeth where the planters were very apprehensive that their slaves would join those of Westmoreland in the uprising. Rear Admiral Holmes also sent directions for 100 marines to be sent to Westmoreland on board the Cambridge.
At the local level, besides Col James Barclay, other militia men involved in operations were Major Cope, Col Witter and Col Spragg who gained a reputation for “cutting off heads.”
The reproach fell upon Capt Arthur Forrest, who more often than not, lived abroad. The fact that the insurrection started on his estate, Masemure, would never be forgiven or forgotten. Masemure was an estate directly to the north of Savanna-la-Mar. Forrest had purchased several blacks from the French island of Guadeloupe who were skilled in military operations and were very dangerous.
Edward Long tells us that the Coromantee “surrounded the mansion-house” in which Mr South, the attorney of the property, was dining with friends. South and the overseer, Smith, were murdered. The account is taken up by Thomas Thistlewood who tells us that three ships captains who were visiting Masemure had a narrow escape; Capt. Hoare was badly chopped up and all “ran on foot” to the Bay.
After the massacre at Masemure, the rebels burned buildings and canefields and then withdrew into the woods where they erected a strong breastwork across a road in a rocky area and created an encampment where they built their huts. As news of their success spread, their numbers grew to about 1,000, including women whose part was to carry the baggage and do the cooking.
Thomas Thistlewood relates how neighbours came galloping up to his house at Egypt estate to alert him of what was happening, and to say that he, too, would be murdered if he did not leave immediately. The men rode bare back and their clothes were all torn off.
With all that was taking place it is a wonder that Thistlewood found it possible to make his jottings. “Risings” had taken place in Salt Savanna near Egypt and at New Hope owned by Colin Campbell; “a boy and two men come running from Jacobsfield in pieces.” He recorded that Coffee, a slave, belonging to Mr Foot was among the prisoners taken.;
Salt River Long Quaco burnt;
Dover of Paradise (mentioned in James Barclay’s letter)hanged;
Jersusalem plantation taken;
Salt Spring negroes from the Campbell property in Hanover go on strike; rebels passed through Glasgow moving towards the Cabaritta;
Moorland negroes in revolt; Thomas Williams’ negroes taken in; house of Mr Williams of Quacoo Hill burnt.
Until the publication of Douglas Hall’s work in 1989, hardly any information had been available to the general public on the Westmoreland rebellion of 1760 but now many interesting details have emerged which should give researchers leads for further research of this little-known period of Westmoreland’s history.
Listed here are the names of some of the Africans who played important roles in the insurrection.
Apongo, King of the Rebels
Apongo, King of the Rebels, also known as Wager; he had been in Jamaica for about nine years from around 1753/54 and had close connections with the elder Mr Cope who had been governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Guinea coast of Africa, and knew about his family background. Apongo had been a prince in Guinea. Sometimes he came to visit Mr Cope at Strathbogie in Westmoreland and on these occasions Mr Cope would treat him with respect, setting out his meal formally on a tablecloth. It was said that Cope had really wished to purchase Apongo from Forrest when next he came to Jamaica, and then to return him to Guinea, his home, which was a country that had had to pay tribute to Dahomey… (Dahomey had become a very mighty kingdom since the rule of King Agaja who reigned from 1708 to 1732). The story goes that one day when Apongo went hunting in his homeland, he was surprised by an enemy, captured and shipped to Jamaica where he had been sold to Capt. Forrest of Masemure estate. Another story says that Apongo was in England with Forrest and that he sailed on the Wager with him to Jamaica, and that was how he got his other name, Wager. Rumour had it that Apongo had planned to wait until the June fleet left and then make his attack on the planters. However, he had a quarrel with his wife who disclosed his plans. Apongo was caught by Capt. Furree of the “Moroons” [sic] and was sentenced to hang for three days in chains and then to be burnt. He died before the three days was up.
Aguy, a hunter for the king in Guinea; was one of Thomas Williams’ slaves at Old Hope.
Simon was one of the king’s captains in the same kingdom as Aguy. He also was a slave of Thomas Williams; he managed to escape and went east with a group of rebels. Goliath was from Masemure, owned by Forrest.
Davie also was from Masemure.;
Fortune also was from Masemure; he was cited as the chief offender.
Cardiff, who greatly angered Custos Barclay by taunting a slave by the name of Tackey, was “slow burned.”
There was also someone referred to as a grandee who was intended to be a king. His hair was cut in the shape of a cap.
Many of the captured rebels were kept in a dungeon known as the Salt River Dungeon. From there, they were either taken to their public death in Savannala-Mar or taken to a ship for transportation to Belize where they would be sold to British logwood cutters for very little.
By the end of June 1760, the insurrection had been quelled, but even in the months of September and October, to the end of the year, there were many indications that there was a great deal of mopping up still to be done. Although it had gone underground, in the years to come, given the slightest provocation, insurrection would flare up again. In spite of the vigilant patrols that Col. Cudjoe’s Maroons had been making regularly in keeping with the treaty of 1739, as mentioned on p. 51, the rebels had managed to build a fortified town in which they had stored provisions. The town had “palisades and sundry walls.” As to whether the Maroons were aware of this structure or that it had escaped their notice, is a matter for conjecture. Judging from Thomas Thistlewood’s comment that “Cudjoe’s negroes behaved with great bravery” it would seem that the Maroons did play an important part in preventing the rebels from winning, although some of Cudjoe’s earlier warnings had gone unheeded. On July 6, 1760, Thomas Thistlewood had six of his neighbours to dine with him along with a party of Maroons headed by Col Cudjoe, and Capt Quaw. Other planters in the area must also have invited the Maroons to dinner and to discuss the general state of affairs.
Fear of invasion by the French and Spanish would last for another three years until the war’s end. This meant that the planters of Westmoreland spent many hours doing militia duty or patrolling their own properties throughout the night. In December 1761 the French invaded Negril’s guard house and captured some slaves. There were several other attacks; one was carried out on Col Barclay’s polink. The sound of more cannon was heard at sea; 33 Spaniards were captured. A group of 72 Spaniards, five French, one Italian and one Maltese robbed a Mr White at Bluefields; they were caught off the coast of Hanover, and were paraded through the streets of Savanna-la-Mar, carried to Bluefields by sea and then made to walk to Parker’s Bay in St Elizabeth. With the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1763 incursions into the island ceased and there was some respite for the next twelve years, until war began again.
Small slave revolts and killings, however, did not cease. The slave population had increased and the ratio of slave to free was now approximately twelve to one. In 1764 there were rumours of revolts in Westmoreland and Hanover, and far away in Kingston a plot to burn down the town was uncovered, while in the following year in the parish of St Mary, another Coromantee revolt like that of 1760 was quelled by the whites.
Major Roger Hope Elletson’s letter book provides us with information on a small rising, which began with an attack on a Dr Loch’s residence at Cross Paths in 1766. It started on a Sunday evening at five o’clock , when within the space of an hour Coromantee rebels, without firearms, killed 19 people. The rising also involved rebels from the Lewis estate, where John Sommerly was overseer. Lewis was attending the House of Assembly in Spanish Town. Two white women, journeying to visit Dr Loch, were warned to turn back by Henry Shettlewood, who then went on to warn Major Goodin who lived in the area.
It was not until Monday morning that planters in the militia and ten blackshot (black volunteers) got off to a slow start to search for the rebels who had stayed overnight in the Lewis estate’s plantain walk. They were trailed to Dean’s Valley estate where the Militia killed two of the group; four committed suicide and the rest who had fled into the mountains were finally defeated by a party of Maroons, led by Ralph Hambersley, and a company from the Westmoreland Regiment. The rising failed because the Coromantees found no slaves on the other estates who were willing to join their cause.
Trials, however, of captured rebels at Savanna-la-Mar and Cross Paths did not cease, and in 1768 a well-known Myal man was put to death. A rebel leader or king named Gold was also executed. In the following year, under Col Myrie, the militia was required to exercise regularly and strenuously; there were the Savanna-la-Mar and Salt River Companies and a group called the Rangers.