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They had walked for 11 hours.
Paul Bogle led the farmers all the way from Stony Gut. They passed through town centres and villages, being laughed at by their fellow men in these locations and earning the scrutiny of the local militia. Everybody knew of the impractical, holier-than-thou deacon and his followers who thought they could play match up to the government. The time was in August, 1865.
Paul didn’t care. He’d been having numerous discussions with George William Gordon (one of the representatives of their parish) and the other few like-minded men who could understand the plight that the people of St. Thomas-in-the-East were facing. Times were hard; it wasn’t like Kingston where the majority of the well-to-do, affluent lived. They worked the tough soil and saw little rewards for their labour. The government of the day didn’t pay much attention to their needs, and they didn’t feel represented since most of the men could not afford to pay the poll tax and therefore, could not vote. Paul was the Baptist deacon of Stony Gut and took care of his flock as best as he could, but even he was limited in what he could accomplish. There was still heavy social discrimination, and with flooding, crop failure, and even epidemics, the people were losing hope.
They arrived in Spanish Town. “We’ve come to see the Governor, and lay our grievances before him,” Paul stated at the entrance. He stood and waited.
“It’s best you turn around, and go back to where you came from. Take your peasants with you. Governor Eyre has refused your request,” one of the guards answered, sneering wickedly. It was no secret that Paul wasn’t particularly liked, as he was an example of what a “proud, free nayga” looked like – good for nothing and always stirring up trouble. Him and that blasted mulatto Gordon.
The people grumbled, and returned from where they came, but a fire was born inside of them. Feeling humiliated and hopeless, they marched again behind their leader towards home. Paul did not let this deter him.
On October 7, 1865, the storm that had been brewing came to a head. One of Bogle’s men had been arrested and charged for trespassing on a sugar plantation that had been long abandoned. The people were tired and would take no more.
“Let him go, unoo ole brutes! Let him go!”
James Geoghegon had just disrupted the court proceedings and was about to be arrested by the officers present, but the spectators beat them back. Governor Eyre had had enough of these black brutes causing unrest and issues a warrant for the arrest of Bogle and his men. By October 11, there were riots, fights, the courthouse had been burnt and chaos had ensued. The people were prepared for war, and the Governor decided to be brutal and swift. Believing that blacks were not capable of such organized protests, he had George William Gordon arrested in Kingston (where he had no connection to the rebellion), brought to Morant Bay, tried and hanged.
The Moore Town Maroons searched the bushes, and found Paul Bogle. They beat and captured him, delivering him to the British militia for his swift trial and execution. No one could have told him that he had stirred up the biggest unrest in Caribbean colonial times since the Haitian revolution. No one could have mentioned that he had brought to light the gravest fears of the white planters, or that residents in Britain (from the lower class to the most popular names of the time) would be severely outraged and divided by what Governor Eyre had done and the atrocities he sanctioned in the parish. Paul Bogle had brought his country one step closer to independent governance.
As he hung on October 24, 1865, his dying breath helped to change the course of Jamaican history forever.
Blessings in abundance. We give thanks for all our heroes.