A man before his time, Samuel Sharpe, Sam Sharpe or Daddy Sharpe saw the injustices of slavery and was sufficiently appalled and outraged to inspire his fellow slaves to participate in Jamaica’s first strike action taken by creole slaves. Born about 1780, Sam Sharpe was the slave of an English Lawyer of the same name who practiced in Montego Bay. He was baptized as a Baptist and became a lay deacon and appointed by the English Baptist Missionaries. Sharpe was a member of the Burchell Baptist church and became a daddy or leader in the congregation.
There were no labour laws at that time that spoke to the rights or priviledges of slaves. About 1831 the British Parliament began discussions concerning the abolition of slavery. Many planters were against such a proposal and were determined to resist it. Sam Sharpe became aware of this and brought it to the attention of his congregation.
Sharpe may be considered a forerunner to the labour movement as he fought for the rights of fellow workers. A plan of passive resistance was developed in order to force the hands of the planters. Sharpe and his congregation decided that after Christmas day, 1831, they would cease to work as slaves.
Adolphe Duperly print: A View of Montego Bay, this print shows slaves destroying sections of Montego Bay during the 1831 slave rebellion.
Up to 1830 the slaves were allowed three days holiday at Christmas. In February 1831, the House of Assembly passed a law reducing Christmas holidays from three to two, Christmas day and Boxing Day. Since Christmas Day 1831 fell on Sunday, a rest day, Sharpe reckoned that they were entitled to the following Tuesday and should strike unless they were paid for that days’ work. The plan was taken to other parishes eventually spreading throughout St. James, Trelawny and Westmoreland and some sections of St.Elizabeth. The strike did not go according to plan. It was supposed to take the form of a passive but firm resistance however other more aggressive slaves took over and went about burning estates.