National Hero of Jamaica – Paul Bogle
Freedom fighter, and named Jamaican National hero since 1969, Paul Bogle led the famous Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, which turned out to be one of the defining moments in Jamaica’s struggle for political and economical advancement.
Paul Bogle, a Baptist Deacon is remembered for his role in the Morant Bay rebellion. His date of birth has been estimated between 1815 an 1822. He lived in Stony Gut in St. Thomas, just north of Morant Bay, whilst many people in the area were small farmers and labourers, he was successful, well educated and owned about 500 acres of land. He was also eligible to vote at a time when there were only 104 voters in the parish of St. Thomas, due in part to the large voting fee, in order to participate.
He became a supporter of landowner and politician and fellow Baptist George William Gordon. In 1864, Gordon made Bogle a deacon in the Baptist church. As social injustices and peoples grievances grew Bogle led a group of small farmers 45 miles to discuss their grievances with Governor Eyre in Spanish Town, but they were denied an audience. This left the people of Stony Gut with a lack of confidence, and distrust for the Government, and Bogle’s supporters grew in number.
The beginnings of the Morant Bay Rebellion first started on October 7th, 1865 when Bogle and his supporters, attended a trial for two men from Stony Gut, a black man was put on trial and imprisoned for trespassing on a long abandoned plantation. One member of Bogle’s group protested in the court, over the unjust arrest and was immediately arrested, angering the crowd further. He was rescued moments later, when Bogle and his men took to the market square, and retaliated. The police were severely beaten and forced to retreat that day.
On Monday, the 9th, warrants were issued against Bogle and a number of others for riot and assault. The police arrived in Stony Gut to arrest Bogle but met with stiff resistance from the residents. They fought the police, again forcing them to retreat to Morant Bay.
A few days later on October 11th 1865 there was a vestry meeting in the Court House. Bogle and his followers armed with sticks and machetes went to the Court House. The authorities were shaken, and a few people in the crowd threw stones at the volunteer militia who fired into the crowd killing seven people. The crowd retaliated, and set fire to the Court House and nearby buildings. When the officials tried to leave the burning building they were killed by the irate crowd outside.
The reprisals came quickly, the troops destroyed Stony Gut, and Paul Bogle’s chapel, Bogle was captured by the Maroon militia, and taken to Morant Bay where he was put on trial and hung at the burnt-out courthouse. Gordon was taken by boat to Morant Bay where he was tried for conspiracy and hung on October 23. In total over 400 Black residents were killed and many more flogged.
Back in Britain there was public outcry, there was increased opposition from liberals against Eyre’s handling of the situation, and by the end of 1865 the ‘Governor Eyre Case’ had become the subject of national debate. In January 1866, a Royal Commission was sent to investigate the events. Governor Eyre was suspended and recalled to England and eventually dismissed. Jamaica became a Crown Colony, being governed directly from England. The ‘Eyre Controversy’ turned into a long and increasingly public concern, dividing well known figures of the day, and possibly contributing to the fall of the government of Lord John Russell in 1866.
The Morant Bay rebellion turned out to be one of the defining points in Jamaica’s struggle for both political and economic enhancement. Bogle’s demonstration ultimately achieved its objectives and paved the way for the new attitudes.
In 1969 the Right Excellent Paul Bogle was named a National Hero along with George William Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley.