Tacky's Rebellion

1756-1768: Fighting at Home and Abroad: Jamaica's War-Torn History 

The Seven Years' War is just one of many conflicts in Jamaica's history. The uneasy international peace that followed the war gave Jamaica's islanders time to concentrate on the country's internal problems: slave uprisings.

 

War Breaks Out

Less than 10 years after the treaty that ended the War of Jenkins' Ear, France and Britain were at war again. In 1756 the Seven Years' War began, and in 1758 the Spanish joined forces with the French. Despite this dual opposition, the British naval powers captured nearly every island in the Caribbean.

Jamaica invaded Cuba and took the capital of Havana. Cuffee, a slave who had been sold to Don Emmanuel in Cuba, helped to lead this attack. Cuffee ran to the British when they landed, and became a volunteer fighter. After the battle he was awarded his freedom in Jamaica.

The story claims that Don Emmanuel came to the English camp and demanded Cuffee's return from the British officer. However, the officer told him that he had lost all rights to ownership of Cuffee and the Don left, humiliated.

While few men were lost in the battle to capture the city, nearly 5,000 died of disease in Havana. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the war, but Havana was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida, while Dominica, Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent, and Tobago were ceded to the British.

Though this war was put to an end, the peace was short-lived. Jamaica's tumultuous history continued to be fraught with fighting for several more years.

Uprisings at Home

Slave uprisings began on Jamaica before the end of the Seven Years' War. And while Cuffee was granted his freedom, the slaves on Jamaica were no closer to being free.

A slave-based plot to murder the whites of the island was caught before it could begin. A black nanny gave away the plan when the conspirators refused to consider her request to spare the life of the child she cared for. About 10 of the revolt's leaders were executed, and the rest were deported. This slave uprising was far from being the first or the most important.

Tacky's Rebellion

Tacky's Rebellion, the most important slave revolt in island history, occurred in 1760. It broke out in St. Mary and spread throughout most of the country. The uprising is named for its leader, Tacky, who was a Coromantee chief in Africa.

Tacky gathered together a small party of followers, also Coromantee, a tribe from which many of Jamaica's slaves were descended. The plan began on Easter Monday when they murdered a shopkeeper in Port Maria before dawn. They took with them muskets, powder, and shot; by sunrise hundreds of slaves had joined their cause.

The slaves moved inland in the early morning, taking over estates and killing white settlers, who were often still asleep upon their arrival. They paused to celebrate at Ballard's Valley. Meanwhile, a slave from one of the overrun properties spread the alarm, and a troop of 70 or 80 militiamen mounted on horseback came to the region.

Messages to the Governor quickly gained the dispatch of two companies of regular troops, and called upon the Scott's Hall Maroons to assist as well. The Maroons joined in as part of their peace treaty with the British.

The slaves were led by men known as obeahmen, shaman-type leaders who claimed that they could not be killed. When the British learned of this claim, they quickly captured and publicly hung an obeah man. This disheartened the slaves, and many returned to their plantations.

Those who continued to fight, including Tacky, ran to the mountains, where the Maroons tracked them. One of the deadliest Maroons, a man named Davy who was known for his sharpshooting abilities, shot Tacky while they ran through the forest. The remaining rebels killed themselves in a cave rather than be captured.

Tacky's Rebellion spurred slave revolts throughout Jamaica, and it took the British several months to quell all of the unrest. Final counts included the deaths of 60 whites and 300-400 slaves, including several ringleaders who were executed.

Post-War Revolts

After the Seven Years' War, Coromantee slaves were again behind a revolt in St. Mary that had the potential to spread across the island. In 1765 the group met secretly and began their plans by making an oath. The leaders sealed the oath by drinking from a cup containing a mixture of rum, gunpowder, graveyard dirt, and the blood of the group's members.

However, the plan was given up by an overeager man known as Blackwell. He and a small group set fire to a sugar works at Whitehall estate. Though one white man was killed in the ensuing fight, the rest escaped to Ballard's Valley.

While the rebellious slaves pursued the whites, one climbed to the roof in an attempt to set fire to the house. He was shot from the roof in full view, and the remaining insurgent slaves retreated. They were all later captured or killed.

Other Coromantee revolts followed. Westmoreland's slaves staged a rebellion the following year. Another revolt was caught before it could begin when a young slave girl in Kingston gave up plans to destroy the city and kill all of its inhabitants.

Though these rebellions were all stamped out, it would not be the end of Jamaica's troubles. Nor would the end of the Seven Years' War be the end of England's troubles with France and Spain.

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