Samuel Sharpe was born in the parish of St James. Although he was a slave most of his life, he was allowed to become well-educated. Because of his education, he was respected by other slaves, and he became a well-known preacher and leader. Sharpe was a deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay, whose pastor was Rev. Thomas Burchell. Sharpe spent most of his time travelling to different parishes in Jamaica, educating the slaves about Christianity and freedom.
Slaves learned that the British Parliament was discussing abolition of slavery; those who could read followed such news closely. In the mistaken belief that emancipation had already been granted by the British Parliament, Sharpe organised a peaceful general strike across many estates in western Jamaica to protest working conditions. It was a critical time for the plantation owners: the harvest of the sugar cane, which the workforce generally had to work overtime to process the cane quickly at its peak. The Christmas Rebellion (Baptist War) began on 27 December 1831 at the Kensington Estate. Reprisals by the plantation owners led to the rebels' burning the crops.
Sharpe's originally peaceful protest turned into Jamaica's largest slave rebellion. Hundreds of slaves and 14 whites died in the violence. The colonial government used the armed Jamaican military forces to put down the rebellion, suppressing it within two weeks. The government tried, convicted and hanged many of the ringleaders, including Sharpe, in 1832.
Just before he was hanged for his role in the rebellion, Sharpe said: "I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery." The rebellion provoked two detailed Parliamentary Inquiries, which arguably contributed to the 1833 Abolition of Slavery across the British Empire.
- In 1975, the government of independent Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero with the posthumous title of Rt. Excellent Samuel Sharpe.
- Also in 1975, Sam Sharpe Teachers' College was founded and named in his honor in Granville, a suburb of Montego Bay.
- Sharpe's image is used on the modern Jamaican $50 bill.
- Rodriguez, Junius P. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2006.
- Reid-Salmon, Delroy, Burning for Freedom: A Theology of the Black Atlantic Struggle for Liberation. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2012.
- Jamaican History
- Reid-Salmon, Delroy 'Burning for Freedom: A Theology of the Black Atlantic Struggle for Liberation
- Short biography and an image