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Case Study 3: Demerara (1823) - Quamina and John Smith


Quamina was an African-born enslaved carpenter and a senior deacon at the small chapel where John Smith was Reverend. Despite the fact that Quamina's wife had fallen seriously ill, he was not allowed to stay at home and look after his wife and was forced to work all day. One evening, he returned to find his wife had just died. 

On hearing the rumours that 'new laws' relating to slavery were being supressed by the authorities, Quamina attended a meeting with other enslaved people who were planning an uprising, including his son, Gladstone.  Quamina insisted the revolt should not involve killing and suggested that the enslaved people should go on strike. He went with some others to Smith's home, where they insisted the managers of the plantation should go to Georgetown to "fetch up the New Law".

Smith begged them to wait until the Governor told them about the new regulations. Quamina promised to obey Smith and he sent his two companions to urge other enslaved people to wait a while longer. But despite Quamina's efforts, the following evening (18th August, 1823) the enslaved people seized all the guns on the plantations and locked up the British plantation owners during the night. The idea was to send them to the Governor on the following morning to bring back the "New Law". Quamina urged them not to be violent in the process.  They followed his advice and there was very little violence. On the 20th August, the rebels were defeated by the colonial cavalry and the militia. Quamina fled but was hunted down and killed.

John Smith

John Smith was a missionary, originally from Northamptonshire, whose attempts to help enslaved people in Demerara cost him his life at just 34 years of age. 

He was born on June 27, 1790 and received his early education at Sunday school. After training to be a baker, he applied to be a missionary. He married Jane Godden and on the 12th December, 1816 was ordained at Tonbridge Chapel.  The London Missionary Society sent him to Demerara in 1817. He took charge of a little chapel at Le Resouvenir in the midst of slave plantations near Georgetown. He soon attracted large congregations and began reading classes for former slaves (and some of those still enslaved). Many enslaved people risked punishment to listen to his sermons in the Chapel.

Because he was close to the leaders of the uprising that took place in 1823, he was arrested for conspiracy and for not informing the authorities about the rebellion. He was detained for seven weeks and then a court martial was held that lasted 28 days. He was condemned to death in November of that year. The British Government subsequently revoked the death sentence. However, he died from TB or pneumonia in his damp cell on February 6th, 1824 - just three days before instructions arrived for him to be sent home.

His treatment caused a storm in the House of Commons and was an important factor leading to the final abolition of slavery. 


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