Sam Sharpe was a young trans­for­ma­tional leader

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

RE­CENTLY, IN the speed sec­tion of TVJ’s Ju­nior Quiz com­pe­ti­tion, two schools were asked when Na­tional Hero Sam Sharpe was born. One stu­dent said 1801 and the quiz­mas­ter said that it was cor­rect. How­ever, this is hardly likely to be cor­rect. Ed­ward Braith­waite, Caribbean scholar, stated that Sam Sharpe was born in 1801, but he gave no ref­er­ence. Braith­waite wrote the ar­gu­ment for Sharpe to be de­clared a na­tional hero in the book, Nanny, Sam Sharpe and the strug­gle for Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion. Win­ston Law­son, his­to­rian, said Sharpe was 31 in 1831, and to sup­port this age, Law­son quoted Barry Hig­man, noted scholar, who stated that 31 was the av­er­age of the ma­jor­ity of the as­pir­ing Cre­oles in ru­ral Ja­maica. Ap­par­ently, Law­son is claim­ing that Sharpe was born in 1800. This is hardly an ap­pro­pri­ate way to as­cer­tain some­one’s age by us­ing av­er­age age of a group. Braith­waite’s giv­ing Sharpe’s birth year as 1801 has stood over Law­son’s 1800 per­haps be­cause he was the one who first did re­search on Sharpe to be named a na­tional hero.

How­ever, it does ap­pear that Sharpe was younger than stated by both Braith­waite and Law­son. In my book, The Cross and the Ma­chete, I re­lied on Henry Ble­bly, who knew Sharpe and vis­ited Sharpe while he was in­car­cer­ated. In 1831, Bleby said that when Sharpe spoke at the meet­ing at Re­trieve to out­line his strike for wages, Sharpe was the youngest of the party, ap­par­ently no more than 25 or 26. And Oxford scholar, Larry Kre­itzer, in Kiss­ing the Book, stated that Sharpe was 27 years old based on the of­fi­cial court doc­u­ments.

The Ju­nior Quiz is a de­light­ful com­pe­ti­tion which is done in a cor­dial spirit. The for­mat al­lows ev­ery­body to have his or her time in the sun in a par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline, un­like the high school event in which one per­son could dom­i­nate to the ex­clu­sion of oth­ers. In ad­di­tion, it shows the awe­some knowl­edge of these young­sters.

How­ever, it is not clear what the im­por­tance of the birth year of Sharpe is. Why not ask when he was killed, since there is univer­sal ac­cep­tance that it was in 1831?

The ma­jor point of the birth year could be to show that Sharpe was a young man who could in­spire other young peo­ple to be­lieve that they can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. If he, who at 27, had no hu­man, po­lit­i­cal or civil rights could al­ter the course of the his­tory in the Bri­tish West Indies, then they, too, have a chance. Young­sters can be seen as well as heard! So let it be 1804.


Fur­ther­more, the more im­por­tant date would be 1831 be­cause Sharpe took on the Bri­tish Em­pire and made London bridge come fall­ing down. It is also be­lieved that this Bap­tist War was the cat­a­lyst for the pas­sage of the Act of Eman­ci­pa­tion in 1833. The year 1831 was a wa­ter­shed year. It dis­played Sharpe as a labour leader ag­i­tat­ing for bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions. 1831 sig­nalled that Sharpe was a free­dom fighter de­sir­ing free­dom for the en­slaved. Sharpe was a re­li­gious thinker – in­ter­pret­ing the Scrip­tures and un­der­stand­ing God dif­fer­ently from the mis­sion­ar­ies. Whereas the mis­sion­ar­ies told the en­slaved to wait on free­dom, Sharpe in­ter­preted the Bi­ble to say an en­slaved per­son can­not serve two masters, mak­ing slav­ery un­ten­able.

Let’s get it right. Sharpe was a young trans­for­ma­tional leader, mo­bil­is­ing per­haps 60,000 per­sons across most of Ja­maica with­out a mo­bile phone. Sharpe un­der­stood prayer meet­ing as a place to hear what the will of God is and then for the peo­ple, as in­stru­ments of God, to de­vise a plan of ac­tion to do God’s will.

Rev Devon Dick is pas­tor of the Boule­vard Bap­tist Church in St An­drew. He is au­thor of ‘The Cross and the Ma­chete’, and ‘Re­bel­lion to Riot’. Send feed­back to col­umns@ glean­

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