George William Gordon

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George William Gordon (1820 – 23 October 1865)[1] was a wealthy Brown (mixed-race) Jamaican businessman, magistrate and politician, one of two representatives to the Assembly from St. Thomas-in-the-East Parish. He was a leading critic of the policies of Jamaican Governor Edward Eyre.

After the start of the Morant Bay rebellion in October 1865, Eyre declared martial law, directed troops to suppress the rebellion, and ordered the arrest of Gordon in Kingston. He had him returned to Morant Bay to stand trial under martial law. Gordon was quickly convicted of conspiracy and executed, on suspicion of having planned the rebellion. Gordon's quick execution on flimsy charges during the crisis and the death toll and violence of the suppression resulted in a huge controversy in Britain. Opponents of Eyre and his actions attempted to have him prosecuted for murder, but the case never went to trial; he was forced to resign. The government made Jamaica a Crown Colony, governing it directly for decades. In 1969, Gordon was proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica.

Early life[edit]

George William Gordon was the second of eight children born in Jamaica to a Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon (1790?–1867),[2] and a mulatto slave, Ann Rattray (1792? – before 1865).[3] His siblings were Mary Ann (1813?), Margaret (1819?), Janet Isabella (1824?), John (1825?), Jane (1826?), Ann (1828?) and Ralph Gordon (1830). The boy was self-educated, teaching himself to read, write, and perform simple accounting. At the age of ten, he was allowed to live with his godfather, James Daly of Black River, Jamaica. Within a year, Gordon began working in Daly's business. [4]

Gordon became a wealthy businessman and a landowner in the parish of St Thomas-in-the-East.[4]

Political career[edit]

Gordon was elected as a member of the House of Assembly, where he earned a reputation as a critic of the colonial government, especially Governor Edward John Eyre in the mid-1860s. He maintained a correspondence with English evangelical critics of colonial policy. He also established his own Native Baptist church, where Paul Bogle was a deacon.[5] Although this was unknown at the time, in May 1865 Gordon attempted to purchase an ex-Confederate schooner with a view to ferrying arms and ammunition to Jamaica from the United States of America.[6] In 1865 the mass of Jamaicans were ex-slaves and their descendents, struggling with poverty, crop failure, and the aftermath of crippling epidemics of cholera and smallpox.

In October 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion led by Bogle, the governor ordered the arrest of Gordon, whom he suspected of planning the rebellion. By order of Eyre, Gordon was transported from Kingston, where martial law was not in force, to Morant Bay, where it was. Within two days he was tried for high treason by court martial, without due process of law, sentenced to death and executed on 23 October. Gordon's death and the brutality of Eyre's suppression of the revolt, with hundreds of Jamaicans killed by soldiers and more executed after trials, made the affair a cause célèbre in Britain. John Stuart Mill and other liberals sought unsuccessfully to have Eyre (and others[7]) prosecuted. When they were unable to get the cases to trial, the liberals worked to bring civil proceedings against Eyre.[8] He was forced to resign from office but never went to trial.

Legacy and honours[edit]

George Gordon on the Jamaican ten-dollar note

In the 20th-century aftermath of the labour rebellion of 1938, Gordon came to be seen as a precursor of Jamaican nationalism. The play George William Gordon (1938) by Roger Mais was about his life.

In 1960 the Parliament of Jamaica moved into the new Gordon House, named for the politician.[9]

In 1969, Gordon and Bogle were both proclaimed as Jamaican National Heroes in a government ceremony at Morant Bay.

In 1969, when Jamaica decimalized its currency, it issued new currency, with Gordon featured on the ten-dollar note (now a coin).

George William Gordon is mentioned in the song "Innocent Blood" and also "See them a come" by the reggae band Culture. He is noted in the song "Silver Tongue Show" by Groundation, "Give Thanks and Praise" by Roy Rayon, "Prediction" and "Born Fe Rebel" by Steel Pulse, and "Our Jamaican National Heroes" by Horace Andy.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "George William Gordon", Jamaica Information Service.
  2. ^ "National Heroes | The National Library of Jamaica". Nlj.gov.jm. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  3. ^ George William Gordon Website
  4. ^ a b "National Heroes". Jis.gov.jm. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  5. ^ "Jamaica National Heritage Trust - Jamaica". Jnht.com. 2007-02-19. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  6. ^ Handford, Peter. "Edward John Eyre and the Conflict of Laws" (PDF). Melbourne University Law Review. [2008]: 822 – 860. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Specifically Colonel Abercrombie Nelson and Lieutenant Herbert Brand (Hanford, page 841).
  8. ^ In relation to the civil proceedings, see Phillips v Eyre (1870) LR 6 QB 1
  9. ^ "History of Jamaica's Legislature". Japarliament.gov.jm. Retrieved 2012-09-21.