Slavery and Revolution

The Trial of Samuel Sharpe

These are notes of the testimony and verdict in the trial of Samuel Sharpe at a Special Slave Court held in Montego Bay on 19 April 1832.

Sharpe stood accused of being a principal leader in an insurrection.

Witnesses appear to have been examined by George Crawford Ricketts, the Clerk of the Peace, who was responsible for overseeing the work of the court and arranging and preserving a record of its proceedings. Ricketts was a white slaveholder.

William Stanford Grignon, a local white slaveholder and plantation manager as well as a lawyer, cross examined the witnesses.

Magistrates John Coates, Robert Thomas Downer, and Henry Augustus Plummer presided over the trial and decided the verdict. All three were white men. Coates and Downer were slaveholders with large properties in the Parish of St James. Plummer was son of one of the biggest plantation owners in the district.

The court identified Samuel Sharpe’s β€˜owner’: an homonymous white attorney at law from the parish of St James who was also a middling slaveholder, claiming possession of twenty-three enslaved people in 1832.

The court found Sharpe guilty. He was executed on 23 May 1832.


The original source for this transcription may be found at The National Archives, Kew, England: CO137, vol. 182 at f.373


Saint James. The King against Samuel Sharpe. Copy evidence at the trial and the Sentence. Exd. Geo. C. Ricketts C.P.

Part of the original document from which this transcription was made, held at The National Archives, Kew, CO137, vol. 182.

Jamaica SS

Saint James

The King against Samuel Sharpe – a slave to Samuel Sharpe Esquire

Evidence at Trial

19th day of April 1832

Joseph Martin a Mulatto Slave to Philip Anglin Scarlett Esqre sworn

Knows prisoner. Saw him at Retrieve. Saw him there Friday week before Xmas, this was the only time he saw him there – It was at a meeting there & I saw him swear the people, it was at night and they were all slaves – the meeting was at Tucker’s House – there was a great many people there – Prisoner swore me amongst the rest he said we were to be free & after Xmas we were to go to Work he said nothing else – he (prisr.) swore all the rest of the people – Saw Sharpe afterwards at Cambridge, he came there often – saw him there Tuesday in Xmas – he went to George Bird’s House – saw him also at the meeting house at Cambridge – did not see him swear the people there – he had prayers only – saw prisoner with a party on Thursday after Xmas – about 20 men – more than half of them had guns some had macheats & some lances & swords – prisoner had a little macheat the party always followed him, & he gave orders to them – the party met on the cross road by Hazelymph – they then went on towards Ginger Hill – I went with them when we were on the road Sharpe told me they had sent to call him at Ginger Hill – that they wanted help – when we got to Ginger Hill Sharpe told me we were to go on to Ipswitch [sic] – we were going on and when we got part of the way, it began to rain & we turned back Sharpe went to Content where he has a Wife & I went to Master’s Mountain – the day after, Sharpe came to Cambridge by himself – about two days after this Sharpe went with a party to Cowpark – 6 or 7 men walked with him from Cambridge – a large party met at Cowpark, Gardner came there also with his party – they slep’d there that night – next day Sharpe went with his party to Struie – when we got there they said a party of militia were coming to burn down the negro’s houses – Gardiner’s [sic] party had gone on to Struie the night before – Sharpe’s party and the others fired at the militia – saw one of the men chop a white man and kill him & I heard that another one was shot – Sharpe commanded the party he went with to Struie – he had only macheat – Gardner commanded his own party – Sharpe returned to Cambridge the same day with his party where they separated – & Sharpe went home – Sharpe had a fowling piece at Cambridge.

Xexd. by Mr Grignon.

The first place I saw Sharpe was at Retrieve – did not see any other person swear the people but Sharpe – he had the Book read it and gave it to them – he gave them the Book and said they must take their oath not to work after Xmas unless they know what they are to work for – never heard Sharpe called Captain – has heard Gardner called Colonel – when we returned from Struie we came round by Hazelymph.


James Clarke, a negro slave to same owner

Sworn. Says he knows prisoner – saw him coming through an interval of a cane piece at Cambridge about a week after Xmas & he went towards Ducketts – he told me he was going to war & going to fight and he asked me to go with him & I said I can’t go he said he was going up Whittingham’s way to Struie to fight white man – he had a short pistol & walked before and the party followed him – half of the party had guns & the others had lances and macheats – the next day in the afternoon they returned by Hazelymph way to Cambridge – he said he went to Struie and had had a battle there – they had fired at white man there & the white man ran & they ran after him and chopped him & killed him – the next morning the party eat breakfast at George Reid’s at Cambridge and after Breakfast Sharpe called all his men and said freedom was due to them a long time & they must now seek and fight for it, and the one that fell back when they went to battle, the others must shoot him – some of the people called him Mr Sharpe and others Sam Sharpe.

Xexd by Mr Grignon

He called me the day he was going to Struie to go with him, and I said I cut my foot and my pickenniny [de?] with me & I can’t go – is sure he saw Sharpe with a pistol.


Robert Rose – a negro slave to same owner

Sworn. Knows prisoner – recollects seeing him at Retrieve before Xmas – met him there many times at prayers – first night at Johnson’s House & the next night at Tucker’s House which is a larger one than Johnson’s there was a large party at both meetings – after prayers I took the oath at the two houses – Saml Sharpe put the Book on the table & asked me if I will take it & I said yes – he said we must all agree to sit down after Xmas – I said yes – and so did every body in the house say yes – he said we must sit down we must not trouble any body, and raise no rebellion we must sit quite peaceable – I took the oath and every body in the house did the same – after Xmas I did sit down – we did not swear to burn any where or to fight – I set down all Wednesday & all Thursday after Xmas – I saw Sharpe at Cambridge Xmas night he eat supper at George Reid’s – next day he went away to Content & George Reid’s and myself went with him – We came back the same evening to Cambridge – I saw him again on Thursday – he was walking with a crowd of people – half had guns & half had macheats & lance – Sharpe had a cutlass – Sharpe went with the party to Ginger Hill – they said I must go with them – that the people there sent to call them – we went to Ginger Hill & when we got there the people there said the white people were coming to murder & they had sent for Sharpe and his party to help them move away the things – We met a party at Ginger Hill & they wanted us to go to a neighbouring estate Ispswitch [sic] – we did not go but returned to Content that evening & slep’d there – next morning I went to Master’s Mountain & left Sharpe at Content – 2 or 3 days after Sharpe came to Cambridge by himself – saw him another day come through Cambridge with some people – near 20 – some had fire arms & some macheats and lances – can’t say if Sharpe had a gun that day – saw him one day with a gun – he did not ask me to go with him that day – I went with him another day with a party to Cowpark – all armed as before – we slep’d at Cowpark that night – next day we went to Struie & had a fight there with the white people and killed a white man – they were riding – the party then came away down to Hazelymph & came home to Cambridge – Sharpe came with me – saw Gardner at Struie – Sharpe directed the party I was with – Sharpe had a fowling piece at Struie – Sharpe was with the party I met at Retrieve – Thursday after Xmas I went to Retrieve & met a party there at the negro houses middle of the day – they were all armed & Sharpe with them – the party marched down towards Hazelymph & Sharpe marched with them till he catch at Cambridge & he and I went through Cambridge – I stopped to endeavour to put out a fire at the overseer’s kitchen – Sharpe went on & I followed him & met him coming back with half of the party – these were the same party I went with to Ginger Hill.

XExd by Mr Grignon

Did not see any white people at Ginger Hill – Sharpe & Gardner each commanded their own party at Struie – Edwd Barrett was not at Retrieve the day we were sworn – Sharpe swore the whole.


James Stirling – a mulatto slave to the same owner.

Sworn. Says he knows prisoner. Saw him at Retrieve – he gave me an oath not to work after Xmas – other persons were in the house before I went – saw Sharpe at Cambridge on the day of the fight at Montpelier – I went with him to Ginger Hill that evening – he said they sent to call him up there – next day we were going to Ipswitch & the rain came & we returned back – I went afterwards with Sharpe to Struie – he had a battle there & said they killed two white men. Sharpe commanded the party he went with – Sharpe had a gun but did not see him fire it – saw Sharpe at Cambridge at a meeting – it was prayer meeting.


Edward Barrett – to Seven Rivers Estate

Sworn. Says he knows Sam Sharpe the Prisr. met him at Hazelymph – went there one night – a week before Xmas to get some came liquor – I went to Zinck’s House & saw 4 men come in besides Sharpe – one was Robert Rose, & one Joe Martin – Sharpe said we must sit down, we free & we must not work again unless we get half pay – he brought a Bible with him – he took it out & swear us all that we won’t work again till we get half pay.

XExd by Mr Grignon

Is quite sure Sharpe was the man – he had the Bible in his hand & make us kiss it all round – he said we must set down & do nothing at all.


Edward Hilton – A negro slave to Mountain Spring.

Sworn. Remember seeing Sharpe at Cowpark came there with a party all armed – Sharpe had a short gun – saw him come up – he put all the others before & he was behind – he commanded them & they did as he told them – they called him (Sharpe) Schoolmaster – the party went to Struie next morning before day to fight the soldiers coming from Westmorland, and they laid in ambush for the company – Sharpe told we all, we going to get free – he sent Edward Ramsay to Thomas Reid at Mahony to swear all the people – they killed a cow and a sheep for Sharpe’s party at Cowpark.

XExd. I was with no party – Gardner came to Cowpark – he came there about 3 times – it was after the Rebellion began after Xmas – I was not with the party that killed the white man.


John Davis – a negro slave to Doctr. Edwd. I Spence.

Sworn. Says Sharpe placed all his men in ambush at Struie & he gave them orders when he saw the company was coming from Hitchpool – Sharpe commanded the party & was head man – his party killed the white man.


– Case closed on the part of the Crown –


Evidence called in Defence


George Reid – a slave to Phillip A Scarlett Esquire

Sworn. Went to Ginger Hill with Sam Sharpe did not see Crawford there – does not know him – was at the meeting at Retrieve does not recollect ever having seen Edward Barrett there – never saw him administer any oaths.


Ann Thomas – a negro slave to Ginger Hill

Sworn. Knows Sam Sharpe was at Ginger Hill when he came up there with his party.


Copy sentence

The king against Samuel Sharpe

Tried and found guilty the 19th day of April 1832

Sentence. That the said negro man slave named Samuel Sharpe be taken from hence to the place from whence he came and from thence to the place of execution, at such time and place as shall be appointed by His Excellency the Governor and there to be hanged by the neck until he be dead.

Valued by the jury at the sum of sixteen pounds ten shillings current money of Jamaica

(signed) Jno Coates

(β€œ) Robert Thos Downer

(β€œ) H A Plummer