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Tacky's War was the most significant slave uprising in the Caribbean between the 1733 slave insurrection on St. John and the 1791 Haitian Revolution.

Posted by Walter Gido on

Tacky's War was the most significant slave uprising in the Caribbean between the 1733 slave insurrection on St. John and the 1791 Haitian Revolution.

Tacky’s War, also known as Tacky’s Rebellion, was an uprising among Jamaica Akan enslaved people from Ghana that occurred in St. Mary Parish, Jamaica, against the British from 1760 to 1761. Other ethnic groups from Ghana including the Akyem, Nzema, Fanti, and Ashanti took part in the rebellion. The rebellion was led by Tacky (also known as Takyi), who was from the Fante ethnic group. This war was one of the most significant slave rebellions in the Caribbean during the 18th century before the Haitian Revolution, which began three decades later. The goal of the rebellion was to take control of the British island colony and create a separate Black independent nation.

The rebels were inspired by the First Maroon War that also occurred in Jamaica, from 1728 to 1740. That rebellion was led by Queen Nanny of the Maroons. They did not know that the success of the Maroons in that earlier conflict would eventually help bring about the downfall of their rebellion. The leader of the rebellion, Tacky (Akan spelling: Takyi), was originally from the Fante ethnic group in West Africa and had been a paramount chief in Fante land (in the Central region of present-day Ghana) before being enslaved. He and his lieutenants planned to take over Jamaica from the British, and to create a separate black country. 

The uprising was inspired by the successful resistance of Free black people in Jamaica, such as the Asante Queen Nanny and the Jamaican Maroons during the First Maroon War of the 1730s.Before being a slave, Tacky was king of his village. He himself recalled selling his rivals of the Ashanti, Nzema and Ahanta, off into slavery as spoils of war to the British. But ironically, he would become a slave himself when a rival state defeated his army in battle and sold him into slavery, and he ended up in Jamaica. According to J.A. Jones, who claimed to have met him while being held captive by Tacky while trying to get an interview with him, in his memoirs he wrote that Tacky spoke very fluent English (which was indeed common for the ruling class of Fantes at the time).

Also according to Jones, he was discovered in a cave a year before the rebellion took place, planning with his comrades: Quaw (Fanti Ekow), Sang, Sobadou (twi Sobadu), Fula Jati and Quantee (twi Kwarteng). All except Fula Jati were of Akan descent Slaves also rebelled on the Esher estate owned by the wealthy William Beckford and they joined Tacky's forces. Bolstered by their easy success, they made their way to the storeroom at Fort Haldane where the munitions to defend the town of Port Maria were kept. After killing the storekeeper, Tacky and his men commandeered nearly 4 barrels of gunpowder and 40 firearms with shot, before marching on to overrun the plantations at Heywood Hall and Esher.

By dawn, hundreds of other slaves had joined Tacky and his followers. At Ballard's Valley, the rebels stopped to rejoice in their success. One slave from Esher decided to slip away and sound the alarm. Obeahmen (Caribbean witch doctors) quickly circulated around the camp dispensing a powder that they claimed would protect the men from injury in battle and loudly proclaimed that an Obeahman could not be killed. Confidence was high. On April 9th, Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet dispatched a detachment of the 74th regiment, comprising between 70 and 80 mounted militia from Spanish Town to Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica.

These militia soldiers were joined by Maroons from Moore Town, Charles Town and Scott's Hall, who were bound by treaty and forced to suppress such rebellions. The Maroon contingents were commanded by Moore Town's white superintendent Charles Swigle, and the Maroon officers reporting to him were Clash and Sambo from Moore Town, Quaco and Cain from Charles Town, and Cudjo and Davy the Maroon from Scott's Hall. Tacky's rebels burnt houses at Down's Cove in coastal St Mary. On April 12, the militia under Captain Rigby and Lieutenant Forsyth arrived at Down's Cove, where they were met by Charles Town Maroons (who were still called Crawford's Town Maroons by the colonial writers) led by Swigle, and a contingent of black soldiers.

Tacky's men attacked Forsyth's contingent, and killed a number of white soldiers, losing only three freed slave rebels in the process. Tacky himself was reportedly wounded in the assault. On April 12, 1760, British troops and their Maroon allies attacked the rebels, wounding Tacky in battle. Two days later additional Maroons under British commanders engaged Tacky and his followers in the Battle of Rocky Valley. Most of the rebels were killed. Many others fled into a cave near what is now called Tacky Falls, where they committed mass suicide. Tacky and a few of his followers fled into the woods pursued by Maroons. One British marksman, attacking with the Maroons, shot and killed Tacky and then severed his head.

That head was then displayed on a pole in Spanish Town until some of Tacky’s surviving followers took it down. Many of the remaining surviving rebels were captured and executed. Resistance, however, continued for nearly a year until 1761, when British colonial forces and their Maroon allies killed or captured the remaining followers. Despite Tacky’s death and the failure of the rebellion, insurrections continued in Jamaica until slavery was officially ended by the British government in 1834. The cost of these continuing rebellions was a major factor in the British government outlawing slavery throughout the empire.

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