President David Granger: Honourable Ronald Bulkan, Minister of Communities; Honourable Dawn Hastings-Williams, Minister within the Ministry of Communities; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Mayor of the City of Georgetown, Ras Aaron Blackman, representative of the Village of Bachelors Adventure on the East Coast of Demerara; representatives of the Islamic, Christian and Hindu communities; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
The Demerara Revolt was a turning point in the plantation mode of production based on the enslavement of Africans in all of the colonies of the British Empire. The Demerara Revolt is commemorated today as one of the most important events in Guyanese and colonial history. The revolt rolled in the passage of the Act by the British Parliament a decade later is undisputed. The Act was entitled, “An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves”.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are assembled today to commemorate the massacre which occurred on Wednesday the 20th of August 1823 at Bachelors Adventure on the East Coast of Demerara. We are assembled to pay homage to the more than two hundred martyrs who were killed on a single morning and to the uncounted others who were summarily executed in succeeding days.
The massacre took place at Plantation Bachelors Adventure where the main body of troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Thomas Leigh confronted over two thousand rebels. Martial law was proclaimed and after some talk the troops were ordered to attack. According to one account, “the soldiers poured in volley after volley. The slaves returned fire but soon began to run leaping into the trenches into which many tumbled lifeless. Many were shot down on the road and in the cotton fields. By noon the roadside was littered with dead bodies. Around two hundred slaves had been killed.”
The troops then proceeded from plantation to plantation. They pursued fugitives, holding summary drumhead trials, each lasting only a few minutes. They reached hasty verdicts based on hearsay evidence. The accused were found guilty, tied to trees and shot immediately. Their corpses were laid side by side on the ground, decapitated and their heads placed on poles on the public roads in front of the plantations of the East Coast. The formal court martial was convened in Georgetown on the 25th of August under Lieutenant Colonel Steven Arthur Goodman. Public executions took place on the Militia Parade Ground, now called Independence Park in Cummingsburg.
The rebels’ corpses were hung in chains along the public roads or were decapitated and their heads stuck on poles. Expeditions scoured the back lands in search of more fugitives, particularly the assumed ringleader, Quamina. A mercenary found him and shot him dead on the 16th of September, 1823. His body was hung in chains outside Plantation Success on the East Coast.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Demerara Revolt caused an uproar in the British House of Commons, a vote to censure the Government of the day failed, but public opinion was swayed further in favour of the complete abolition of the enslavement of Africans.
The Demerara Revolt is remembered in the village of Bachelors Adventure where the massacre occurred. The villagers built their own modest memorial to the martyrs. I have published a Presidential Order declaring the 20th of August ‘Demerara Martyrs’ Day’. I have promised to erect a memorial at Independence Park to commemorate the massacre on its 195th anniversary in August 2018, next year.
I urge that all Guyanese commemorate this event so that future generations will not forget that their freedom was bought at the high price of the martyrdom of hundreds of enslaved Africans on the 20th of August, 1823.
I thank you.