The Berbician Revolutionary War of
By Colin Bobb-Semple*
Ms A. J. McR. Cameron has demonstrated in excerpts from her well-researched book, The Berbice Uprising, 1763, that events which had occurred in the Dutch colony of Berbice in 1763-64, deserve an important place in the record of trans-Atlantic African enslavement, and in international legal and constitutional history. In February 1763, the population of Berbice consisted of about 346 Europeans, 3,833 enslaved Africans and 244 enslaved Amerindians. There were also communities of free Amerindians surrounding the colony. The former colony of Berbice became a
Authors have described the events in 1763-64 variously as follows:- Craton, McGowan and Schuler referred to them as a ‘rebellion’. Shahabuddeen and Thompson described them as a ‘revolt’. Daly considered them to be an ‘uprising’. Kwayana was in no doubt that the events amounted to a ‘Revolution’ and Sancho used the descriptions ‘rebellion’, ‘revolt’ and ‘Revolution’ in his verse. The evidence suggests that the events which unfolded from February 23, 1763, amounted to much more than a ‘Great Uprising’. What may initially have been a ‘rebellion’, ‘revolt’ or ‘uprising’ of enslaved Africans, was a highly organised operation, and soon developed into a full-scale revolutionary war of liberation waged by the Africans. Ms Cameron referred to the Africans as ‘revolutionaries’. Kofi (Coffy, Cuffy), Akara (Accara), Atta, Accabre and others, converted the war of liberation into a major Revolutionary War of Independence against the Dutch colonists. They had mobilised the vast majority, approximately 3,000 of the 3,833 Africans, excluding the Dutch Company’s enslaved Africans, though several of them were pressured into joining the revolutionaries. An army was assembled and trained in military discipline. The Africans formed their own government, which was constituted in a similar way to the Dutch administration. Kofi was their declared Governor. A Court of Policy was constituted, and an official Executioner was appointed. The Africans had taken over most of the plantations in Berbice from the Dutch owners, and had maintained them in full operation, in the production of their crops for the greater part of the war.
Kofi was also appointed as the army Commander with the rank of Captain. The army’s ranks were set along Dutch military patterns. Captain Akara was the field commander, and there were lieutenants, ensigns and privates. At one point in the war, several European soldiers had deserted the Dutch and joined the African forces. It was also part of Kofi’s plan to spread the revolution to Demerara, but that did not come to fruition.
A remarkable feature of the Revolutionary War of Independence was that Kofi had written several letters to the Dutch Governor. He appeared to have been aware of the importance of having terms and conditions of an international treaty recorded in writing, and of the international law principle of good faith in any such diplomatic negotiations. There is evidence of his contact with the free African communities in
Kofi’s ultimate aim of a separate state was not realised, for Atta and some others in the ranks objected to the negotiations with the Dutch. Kofi seemed to have had faith in the Dutch governor’s willingness to negotiate, but he was sadly mistaken. The Dutch governor stalled to allow time for reinforcements to arrive. Following dissension in the African ranks, mainly between the colonised and the non-colonised Africans, Kofi committed suicide. The Dutch eventually overcame the Africans, by importing large numbers of European forces, and by obtaining the support of a considerable number of the Carib Amerindian people.
Although his ultimate aim of a separate independent state for Africans was not realised, Kofi carved an important niche in international legal and constitutional history. The Berbician Revolutionary War of Independence preceded the American, French and Haitian Revolutionary Wars. Kofi was one of the first, if not the first, of African leaders to have waged a Revolutionary War of Independence, and to have succeeded in constituting a government, which administered the greater part of a European colony for several months. It was a monumental achievement for a man who had been enslaved from his childhood.
*LL.B. (Hons), LL.M., M.A., Solicitor (
I wish to express my immense gratitude for receipt of materials and information from Ms Thelma Lewis, MBE, Dr. Harold Lutchman, Dr Kimani Nehusi, Mr Albert Straker and Professor Alvin Thompson.
Cameron, A. J. McR (2007) The Berbice Uprising, 1763, History: 26 April, 26 June, 24 July, 26 August, 25 September, 30 October, 28 November, & 20 December 2007, Stabroek News, Guyana http://www.stabroeknews.com/
Craton, M. (1982) Testing the chains – Resistance to Slavery in the British
Daly, V. T. (1975) A Short History of The Guyanese People,
Kwayana, E. (King, S.) (1966) ‘A Birth of Freedom’ in Lamming, G. and Carter, M. (eds.), New World Quarterly,
1. (2005) Slave Rebellions at Sea and on Land – A Comparative Perspective,
2. (2006) History This Week – The 1763 and 1823 slave rebellions: A comparative perspective (Part 1) 17 August (Part 2) 24 August, Stabroek News, http://www.stabroeknews.com/
Sancho, T. Anson (1970) The Ballad of 1763: Dedicated to The Republic, A Verse Story of The Revolution, The Epic Event of Guyanese
Schuler, M. ‘Akan Slave Rebellions in the British Caribbean’ in Beckles, H. and Shepherd, V. (1991) Caribbean Slave Society and Economy – A Student Reader,
Shahabuddeen, M. (1978) Constitutional Development in
Thompson, A. O.
1. (1987) Colonialism and Underdevelopment in
1a (1999) The Berbice Revolt, 1763-64,
2. (2006) ‘Symbolic Legacies of slavery in
PROFESSOR ALVIN THOMPSON'S BOOKS
LINKS TO ARTICLES ON THE BERBICE REVOLUTION
THE CASE OF SOMERSET v STEWART in Lord Mansfield's Court of King's Bench
GRANVILLE SHARP re: EQUIANO
LINKS TO ARTICLES ON THE ZONG (ZORG) GENOCIDE
ZONG MEMORIAL PLAQUE FOR MURDERED ENSLAVED AFRICANS UNVEILED IN BLACK RIVER, JAMAICA, on 28 December 2007
http://www.jis.gov.jm/information/html/20071230T090000-0500_13889_JIS_PLAQUE_UNVEILED_TO_MEMORIALIZE_SLAVES_THROWN_OVERBOARD.asp THE 1807 SLAVE TRADE ACT DID NOT ABOLISH TRAFFICKING IN ENSLAVED AFRICANS IN BRITISH COLONIES - - LINK TO NATIONAL ARCHIVES LINK TO BLACK HISTORY STUDIES.COM
THE 1807 SLAVE TRADE ACT DID NOT ABOLISH TRAFFICKING IN ENSLAVED AFRICANS IN BRITISH COLONIES
LINK TO NATIONAL ARCHIVES
LINK TO BLACK HISTORY STUDIES.COM