The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 50, Issue 2

Article 1
Precursors to Morant Bay: The Pattern of Popular Protest in Post-Emancipation Jamaica (1834–1865)

Jonathan Dalby


In the broader context of post-emancipation Jamaica, the trouble that erupted in St Thomas-in-the-East in October 1865 must have appeared initially as merely the latest in a long series of protests and disorders that had troubled the peace of the island since the days of the Apprenticeship. For during the middle years of the century, the courts were overwhelmed with prosecutions for riot. Exploiting both judicial records and more conventional sources like newspaper reports and Colonial Office correspondence, this article investigates the varied causes of popular discontent in the thirty years after the abolition of slavery. Religious conflict, property disputes, taxation, and electoral rivalries, it is argued, constituted the most frequent sources of disaffection, while almost every disturbance manifested a powerful popular hostility to the recently established police force. Most of these grievances, moreover, demonstrated the manifold disappointments of emancipation, which in turn can be explained largely by the failures of government policy and the hardening of official racism since the abandonment of the commitment to reform in the early 1840s.