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This version of The Cage in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay, was built in 1823, but it dates back to 1806. It was an overnight lock-up for vagrants and drunks.
PHOTOS BY PAUL H. WILLIAMS - The Montego Bay Civic Centre, built on the spot where National Hero Sam Sharpe was hanged.

Bustling Sam Sharpe Square a heritage Hotspot

Paul H. Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay is not the epicentre of life for St James only. It is the crossroads for all of western Jamaica and has always been like that, historically.

Though the British slave trade to the West Indies ended in 1807, the anti-slavery zeal in Britain did not begin to take root until about 1823-24 when there were rumours that the king had granted the enslaved their freedom.

The rumours were so strong that the king had to make a declaration to deny any such granting of freedom. The disquiet took a while to be defused, but a few years later, another such rumour surfaced. That time around, it stayed and frustrated the enslaved.

It was 1831, and a 31-year-old Baptist lay preacher named Samuel Sharpe after his owner was secretly agitating against the evils of slavery. Apparently, he, too, believed that freedom had been granted, but was being withheld, so he met after prayer meetings with his followers to organise a general strike in western Jamaica.

REMARKABLE MAN

Sharpe was a field slave on the Croydon Estate in St James but grew up in Montego Bay. He had a good relationship with his owners and was described by the Methodist, Reverend Bleby, as "the most intelligent and remarkable slave" he had ever met.

Of his physical attributes, Bleby said, "He is of the middle size. His fine sinewy frame was handsomely moulded, and his skin as perfect a jet, as can well be imagined. His forehead was high and broad, while his nose and lips exhibited the usual characteristics of the Negro race. He had teeth whose regularity and pearly whiteness a court beauty might have envied, and an eye whose brilliance was almost dazzling."

Sharpe used his influence and authority to get support from many enslaved people who were entitled to three days holidays every year after Christmas. He instructed the people not return to work after the holidays in 1831. They were also told to fight for their freedom only if the planters refused to give it to them. But, he was pre-empted as some of the enslaved started the flames before Sharpe was ready to and all hell broke loose.

After the smoke and the fire dissipated, and the bullets stopped flying, about 14 white and three coloured people lay dead, while approximately 186 enslaved people were killed and 31 wounded.

The surviving enslaved people were dragged to court and severely punished. Many were hanged. Sharpe himself was executed on May 23, 1832. In his cell, he told Bleby, "I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery."

He was hanged in the square in Montego Bay, which was called Charles Square up until 1976 when it was renamed Sam Sharpe Square. On October 16, 1983, the Sam Sharpe monument, designed by Kay Sullivan, was unveiled in Sam Sharpe Square. It consists of five bronze statues, including that of Sharpe, who holds a Bible while speaking with his followers. 

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