7 Iconic Events Shaped by Jamaica’s National Heroes

The Jamaican government will recognize over 120 individuals at the 2023 National Honors and Awards Ceremony on October 16, 2023, which has been designated National Heroes Day.  The ceremony will be live-streamed at the Jamaica Information Service website under the auspices of the National Honors and Awards Act of 1969. The Act provided that outstanding Jamaicans are recognized with one of honors of the Orders of the Six Societies of Honor: Order of National Hero, Order of the Nation, Order of Excellence, Order of Merit, Order of Jamaica, and the Order of Distinction, in addition to the Medal of Badge of Honor for “gallantry and meritorious service. Preceding the 2023 ceremony will be a “Salute to the Heroes,” when government officials will honor the original seven National Heroes at their monuments in Kingston’s National Heroes Park. The seven National Heroes are Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharp, Paul Bogle, George Williams Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Norman Washington Manley, and Alexander Bustamante.


1728 – c. 1739  – First Maroon War in Jamaica Led by Queen Nanny

Also known as Queen Nanny, she is the only female National Hero. She was the leader of the Jamaican Windward Maroons, a community of previously enslaved African people in the early 18th century until her death in about 1760. What is known about Queen Nanny comes chiefly from oral history. Under her leadership and inspiration, the Windward Maroons fought a guerrilla war for many years against the oppression of British colonials in what is now called the First Maroon War. According to Maroon legend, it was believed that she possessed supernatural powers. Queen Nanny was was born in Jamaica, the daughter of Prince Naquan, who was enslaved by the Spanish in 1640 in modern-day Ghana of the Asante.

1831 Christmas Rebellion in Saint James Led by Samuel “Sam” Sharpe

Samuel Sharpe served as a deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay, and he spent most of his time as a missionary visiting enslaved people on estates located in St. James Parish to educate them about Christianity and freedom. He formed a secret society among the enslaved individuals and is said to be the leader of the Christmas Rebellion in 1831. Also known as the Baptist War, the rebellion began at the Kensington estate above Montego Bay when the enslaved workers demanded more freedom and a working wage that totaled half the then-going rate. They went on strike, vowing not to work until their demands were met by the plantation owners. Sharpe, a “native” preacher, was the inspiration for the rebellion, which was suppressed by the British plantation owners with such brutality that it served to move Britain toward abolishing slavery in 1838. The Christmas Rebellion was the largest uprising of enslaved people in the British West Indies, involving between 60,000 and 300,000 such people in Jamaica.

1865 Morant Bay Rebellion Led By Paul Bogle

Paul Bogle was a deacon in the Native Baptist Church in Stony Gut, St Thomas Parish. He was inspired by the teachings of the apostle Paul to involve himself in the people’s struggle for justice, and he devoted his time to the education of his congregation. He is credited with starting the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865. Occurring in Morant Bay, the capital of St Thomas in an area of sugar cane plantations, the rebellion began with a march to the courthouse by hundreds of parish residents in protest of poor conditions in the parish. Seven men were shot and killed by volunteer members of a militia during the march, and in response, people burned the courthouse and other buildings. Twenty-five people in total died during the confrontation, and over the next two days, hundreds more Jamaicans took over the parish. When government troops were ordered to arrest and suppress the crowd, they killed over 400 people and arrested more than 300. Those arrested were later executed, flogged, or received long prison sentences. This was Jamaica’s only revolt not characterized as a slave rebellion or worker uprising. Jamaica’s current Minister of Culture Olivia Grange announced on October 10, 2023, that the nation will observe October 11 of each year as Paul Bogle Day as a way to honor his life and achievements.

1840 – George William Gordon, Original Founder of Jamaica’s Mutual Life Society 

George William Gordon was born in 1820, the son of a planter and an enslaved woman at Cherry Garden Estate in St. Andrew. Gordon educated himself and became a successful landowner, businessman, and an original founder of the Jamaica Mutual Life Society, an insurance firm. As a “free colored,” Gordon was a champion of poor Blacks and defended the social and moral rights of these oppressed people in his role as a member of the Jamaica Assembly. His support of these rights made him an enemy of the colonial government, especially Governor John Eyre. He was arrested for conspiracy during the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 because he belonged to the same Baptist sect as Paul Bogle and was executed by the Governor.

1914 –  Establishing of the Universal Negro Improvement Association by Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey was born in 1887 in St. Ann Parish, He became famous around the world as a leading fighter for the civil rights of Black people. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. This organization became an international force and continues to exist in Jamaica, the United States, and several other countries. He believed in unity between Africans and the African Diaspora, worked to end European colonial rule in Africa, and supported a political union of all nations in the continent. Garvey was also committed to supporting the Back-to-Africa movement. His ideas became increasingly popular around the world. A Black Nationalist, Pan Africanist, and politician, he was never elected to serve in Jamaica’s legislature, but never stopped working toward better treatment of the poor and oppressed people.  Garvey died in 1940.

1944 – Granting of Universal Adult Suffrage Influenced by Norman Washington Manley

Norman Washington Manley, the founder of the People’s National Party, was born in 1893 in Roxborough, Manchester Parish. He was a Rhodes Scholar and in the 1920s served as one of Jamaica’s top lawyers. He was a strong advocate for universal suffrage, which was eventually granted to Jamaicans by the British colonial government in 1944. He was a founder of the People’s National Party and led the party in all elections from 1944 to 1967. The efforts of the party brought about the New Constitution of 1944, which granted all Jamaican adults full suffrage. He was Jamaica’s Chief Minister from 1955 to 1959 and Premier from 1959 to 1962. He died in 1969.

1962 – Alexander Bustamante is Jamaica’s First Prime Minister

Alexander Bustamante was born in 18884 in Blenheim, the parish of Hanover. His grandmother was also the grandmother of Norman Washington Manley. While he was born William Alexander Clarke, he took the name Bustamante in honor of a Spanish sea captain who adopted him as a child and took him to Spain where he attended school. It was later shown that Bustamante did not leave Jamaica until 1905 when he was 21 as part of a Jamaican migration to Cuba to take advantage of work in the sugar industry there. He returned to Jamaica in the 1930s and became a leading activist fighting against colonial rule. He became the treasurer of the Jamaica Workers’ Union and a spokesman for striking workers in 1938. When his party won the 1944 general election, he became the unofficial leader of the government. He founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and the Alexander Bustamante Jamaica Labor Party. He became the first Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1962 and served until 1967. He died in 1975. The house in which he was born was declared a National Monument.

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