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The Bussa Rebellion

Bussa was a slave on the Caribbean island of Barbados who led a rebellion in 1816. It was to be the first of three rebellions by slaves in the British held territories of the West Indies and these shocked the core of slavery in that region and eventually led to the emancipation of slavery.

 

Little is known about Bussa or his life before being captured and brought by slavers to Barbados. It is known he was born in Africa and after his capture by African slave merchants he was sold to the British and brought across the Atlantic to the island in the late 18th century. No records were kept on slaves at this time, they were considered property and no information about them was stored or recorded.

 

The only mention of him was that a slave named Bussa worked on a plantation as a ranger in St. Philip. The position he held at Bayley’s plantation gave him some privileges, one of which was his freedom to move from one plantation to another during the course of his day. This would have allowed him to plan and coordinate events leading up to the rebellion.

 

Bussa’s Rebellion began on the 14th of April 1816, it was the first of three such rebellions by slaves in the British West Indies. The rebellion on Barbados was followed by another in Demerara in Guyana that took place in 1823 followed by an even larger one to take place in Jamaica in 1831-32. Together they became known as the ‘late slave rebellions.’ Their predecessors the ‘early slave rebellions’ were usually smaller in scale and comprised mostly of slaves born in Africa. The later rebellions were predominantly held by creoles, or slaves born on the plantations where they lived and often died. Although Bussa was an African born slave he was mostly amongst creoles. Bussa had the assistance of many collaborators and the rebellion began on the Bayley Plantation. Planning had begun after the Imperial Registry Bill had been rejected in November 1815, the plan had been decided in February 1816 to begin the revolt at Easter, in April of that year.

 

Bussa was seen to lead his fellow slaves into battle on the plantation, he led around 400 freedom fighters and once Bussa was killed the remainder continued to fight until they were overpowered by their opponents. The rebellion had failed but it left an impact that would lead to significant changes to Barbados in the future.

 

169 years after the rebellion, a statue was unveiled and was to be known as the Bussa Emancipation Statue. The 1985 unveiling was at Haggett Hill in the parish of St. Michael on the island. In 1999, Bussa became the first national hero of the country of Barbados, as well as the monument there is also a roundabout that bears his name.

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