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 was 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.
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 at a critical time for the plantation owners: harvest of the sugar cane. The Christmas Rebellion (Baptist War) began on 25 December 1831 at the Kensington Estate. Reprisals by the plantation owners led to the rebels burning the crops. His peaceful protest turned into Jamaica's largest slave rebellion, killing hundreds, including 14 whites. The rebellion was put down by the Jamaican military within two weeks and many of the ringleaders, including Sharpe, were hanged 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 caused 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 in Granville, a suburb of Montego Bay, was founded and named in his honour. Sharpe also features 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
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