An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

                                                          [25th March 1807.]


Whereas the Two Houses of Parliament did, by their Resolutions of the Tenth and Twenty-fourth Days of June One thousand eight hundred and six, severally resolve, upon certain Grounds therein mentioned, that they would, with all practicable Expedition, take effectual Measures for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, in such Manner, and at such Period as might be deemed advisable:  And whereas it is fit upon all and each of the Grounds mentioned in the said Resolutions, that the same should be forthwith abolished and prohibited, and declare to be prohibited, and declared to be unlawful; be it therefore enacted by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and the Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That from and after the First Day of May One thousand eight hundred and seven, the African Slave Trade, and all manner of dealings and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practised or carried on, in, at, or from any part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be, and the same is hereby utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful……………………..





2ND MAY 1835


“You who have been slaves and lately acting as apprentices, are by this decision made absolutely free; I trust you will show your gratitude to that nation which has made such great personal and pecuniary sacrifices to ensure your freedom, by your loyalty to your common Monarch, and by the willing and anxious obedience you will pay to the laws of the land.  New duties devolve upon you with the new position you now occupy: and I hope by the steadiness of your conduct, and your peaceable demeanour, you prove that this greatest of all earthly boons has not been unworthily bestowed upon you; you must now entirely depend upon your own industry for your support.  You must recollect that you have now no person to feed you, no person to clothe you, no person to give you medical assistance if you are ill.  You must depend upon your own exertions for all those things; you have no houses or grounds of your own; those you have heretofore occupy must now be given up to their owners; your former masters, whose property they are; all belong to him excepting your furniture, clothes and the crops you now have in the ground; these you now have a right to remove to where you please to go if you mean to do so; but I trust that a sense of what is so decidedly your own interests will induce him to leave you in the quiet occupation of your grounds and homes.  Thou he who was your master is no longer so, recollect of what service he may be to you.  Do not imagine that because you are now free you are independent of one another; no class of the community can be independent of the other.  All experience has shown how one hangs on the other.  Those of you who have been well treated, recollect that it is now in your power to show gratitude for past kindnesses; those who think that your masters have occasionally felt harshly towards you, recollect that probably you gave provocation, and that if they have been in the wrong, that will not now justify your acting improperly.  I trust that on my next visit to this island, I shall hear that your improved habits of industry, your quiet demure, and your increased and increasing wealth will show your obedience to the laws, and that you deserve this great benefit which you now receive.” 







An act supplementary to the act for the abolition of

Slavery.—[24th March, 1838.]


WHEREAS. Under an act for the abolition of slavery in this island, and for promoting the industry of the manumitted slaves, it is necessary, wherever agreements are not mutually entered into between masters and praedial apprentices, that the duration of daily labour should be fixed and determined by some definite and uniform rule:  And whereas it is necessary that other provision should be made for the more certain execution of the laws connected with the regulations of plantations, pens, and settlements, and for the release of praedial labourers desirous of purchasing their discharge from further services as apprentices:  Be it enacted by the governor, council, and assembly of this island, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same,  That, in the absence of any agreements between the master, employer, or manager, and the praedial apprenticed labourers of any plantation, pen or settlement, mutually made between such master, employer, or manager, and such apprenticed labourers, all regulations for the duration of labour shall be, and are hereby declared to be, for some specific term in each day, and not less………………………. 

On August 1, 1838 in the Square of Spanish Town, the then capital of Jamaica, amid tremendous rejoicing, His Excellency Sir Lionel Smith Governor of Jamaica, read the Proclamation of Freedom to a large crowd of about 8,000 people.



The 1838 Proclamation


By the Queen

A Proclamation



Whereas an Act has been passed by the Legislature of this our Island of

Jamaica for terminating the present system of Apprenticeship on the first day of

August next and thereby granting the Blessing and Privileges of unrestricted

Freedom to all classes of its inhabitants and whereas it is incumbent on all the

Inhabitants of this our Island to testify their grateful sense of this Divine favour,

We do therefore by and with the advice of our Privy Council of this our said

Island direct and appoint that Wednesday the said first day of August next be

observed in all Churches and Chapels as a day of General Thanksgiving to

Almighty God for these his mercies and of humble intersession for his continued

blessing and protection on this most important occasion and we humbly call upon

persons of all classes within this our said Island to observe the said first day of

August next with the same reverence and respect which is observed and due to

the Sabbath………………………..



Donald Hinds goes In Search of Thomas Burchell





To the memory of Reverend Thomas Burchell who after labouring in the island of Jamaica as a Baptist missionary for twenty-two years during which he founded numerous Christian churches together with day and Sunday schools. Took a prominent part in achieving the freedom of the slaves and pursuing the holy ends of his ministry was counted worthy to suffer spoliation and imprisonment died in the city(of London) 16th May in the 47th year of his age.”

This monument was renewed in 1992 by two of his great grandchildren David and Elizabeth Edmonds.



This monument stands in Abney Cemetery in the London Borough of Hackney. The path to it is narrow and overgrown and much less trodden than those leading to the more imposing monuments of James Watt the prolific eighteenth hymn writer and that of William and Catherine Booth founders of the Salvation Army both of whom it proclaims: ‘went to heaven, (the one) on 20th August 1912 (and the other) on 4th October 1890’.

Every Jamaican child who aspired to sit the Jamaican Local Examinations up to the end of the 1950s should have been familiar with the English anti-slavery missionaries particularly William Knibb  from Kettering in Northamptonshire and Thomas Burchell from Tetbury in Gloucestershire and many others from other parts of the British Isles. They stood up to the barbarisms of the plantocracy and the colonial government.

Thomas Burchell was a West Country man from Tetbury and was born into a solid Middle Class mercantile family. His wife Hester also had money of her own. The Burchells therefore, it would seem were not inspired to emigrate to further their ambition in the colonial expansion of the nineteenth century. As a boy he read the missionary reports about the conversion of slaves to Christianity. He longed to tread ‘their shores and mingle with their swarthy people and to unfurl in their midst the banner of salvation’. This declaration was nothing short of a declaration of war against slavery. Later, however, he was to write back to friends in England complaining that his treatment from the plantocracy was not what an Englishman usually received; for as his tomb stone proudly expressed ‘he was to suffer spoliation and imprisonment’ not the fate of men like Edward John Eyre and Cecil Rhodes etal. Those men were heroes in our companion history book Builders of the Empire. Baptists and other Protestant Missionaries were up against a formidable trio consisting of the Colonial government, the Anglican Church and the plantocracy. For so as the Anglican Church in England was considered to be the Conservative Party at prayers so in Jamaica the Anglicans were the Plantocracy at prayers! The evangelical missionaries were considered to be idealists at the head of an untested group of coloured and various shades of black who were mainly unschooled and without property. Take away the various skin colours they would not be unlike the English working class in the making. Give the children from the coal mines a good scrubbing and dress them in cast-offs from the gentle folks from the ancestral homes and they would pass for true born English folks. After all In England the abolition of child labour in the mines, the Chartist Movement and the government’s first attempt at improving the educational system ran parallel with Jamaica’s Apprenticeship, Abolition of Slavery and the establishment of the Free Villages. It was said in those days of changes that in London a perplexed Midland MP was aghast that the grubby boy who sold him his newspaper at the busy intersection might have been able to read the headlines before he did; that was progress gone too far! Correspondingly in Jamaica the governor in 1840 advanced the date of the election to prevent the newly freed slaves from exercising their right to vote since the  custom of the time required voters to be registered a year before an election.

Burchell had his mission headquarters in Montego Bay and had a splendid residence at Mount Carey as befitted a gentleman of the British middle class. This was the area where the rebellion of 1831 took place. It had been led by the Black Baptists which were outside the jurisdiction of the white led Baptist Missionaries. There was cross fertilisation with the two groups, although the Baptist Missionaries tried to distant themselves from the native or black Baptists. Burchell mission in Montego Bay had Sam Sharpe the acknowledged leader of the insurrection as a deacon of Burchell’s church. Sharpe was equally influential in the Black Baptist Churches. The rebellion lasted a week and Burchell was detained while the authorities tried to link him with Sharpe’s insurrection.

No such link could be proven. Sam Sharpe was hanged and some one hundred and thirty years later was honoured as one of Jamaica’s national heroes. Burchell was harassed to the point that he found it necessary to leave the island for a time.

Emancipation was not simply unshackling the irons from legs and the arms and pointing the erstwhile slaves to the gates of the plantation.  Some masters expected their human property to crawl back begging for work at the planters’ price. The former slaves might have been free from the whip and other acts of degradation, but now they had to find shelter and jobs which would support them and their families. They had nought besides their labour to sell. The Planters knew that and had begun a counter move by supporting a new initiative to import Africans. That would provide a competition to labour from the freed slaves. It was intended to add to the degradation of the newly freed slaves and their missionary friends who had thought that a peasantry would grow out of the ashes of slavery. Instead they were to discover that beyond the borders of the plantations was a strange society of angry planters still smarting from what they considered foreign interference and betrayal by those who would put liberal thinking ahead of commerce.  The ex-slaves had to weigh the cost of freedom against the struggle to survive in a world which might have been less cruel because of the absence of the overseer’s whip and the often heard saying that by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread. Who would give him a job so he could pay the rent and feed the family and who would trust him?  They were now like the Israelites in the wilderness who looked back to Egypt where they had been fed, watered and sheltered. They remembered now not so much the whip but food and shelter from the tropical rain in the leaky slave huts. Their families had a future in which they had not the right to offer an opinion; it was always thus and it worked. Now the decision was theirs.

They did not know that freedom was so frightening. The Apprenticeship System had been nothing other than another name for slavery.

Burchell’s congregation based in Montego Bay had established the first free villages of Mount Carey, Shortwood and Bethel. The first Free Village was in Mount Carey which commemorated William Carey the founder of the Baptist Missionary Society. Burchell’s daughter and a venerable white haired black laid the foundation stone of the first Free Village. Burchell had been one of the most aggressive missionary champions for freedom for the slaves so it is reasonable to assume that the planters would not have been sympathetic to the slaves who had chosen to continue to live on the plantations as paid labourers; living in the former slave huts, tending their vegetable plots and the graves of their loved ones. Neither were the planters sympathetic to those of the Free Villages if they tried to gain employment on the plantations. Their degradation did not appease the planters who were still seething with anger not only with the loss of their human property but also the inevitability of societal changes. As a consolation the new order gave the planters the opportunity to increase their rents which meant that the new tenants were force into subsistence level and completely dependent on the planters their former masters.

Having made the comparison between the making of the English Labouring Class and the Jamaican slaves during the fourth decade of the nineteenth century one can observe that while there were significant changes in Britain including the first truly working class Members of Parliament. In Jamaica the years between 1838 and 1900 saw some upward mobilisation among those who were born free as their children and grandchildren became teachers and preachers and before the end of the century some of those who were to achieve national and international fame included Marcus Garvey, the Pan Africanist; JAG Smith, Lawyer and King’s Counsellor; Alexander Beward, the Evangelist; WA Bustamante, and NW Manley national political leaders; Clare McFarlane the poet; Claude MacKay novelist who was a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance of the first three decades of the twentieth century. These names is selective and by no means exhaust the upward mobilisation of a people who were to achieve full political independence from Britain a hundred and twenty four years after slavery was abolished.

After twenty-two years in the missionary field in Jamaica where he had suffered spoliation, imprisonment deportation and the plantocracy’s contempt, Thomas Burchell returned to Britain in 1846. His good friend William Knibb had died in Jamaica the year before. Burchell wrote shortly before his own death in London: “I love England, but still I love home more, yea, much more.” Home was of course Jamaica. His wife Hester and their daughter Esthranna returned home to Jamaica to carry on the running of day and Sunday schools which Thomas had started.  

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