As we celebrate Emancipation Day in Jamaica to day I thought I would remind those the history of Emancipation and the rise of Free Villages. It is a story that shapes not only the country, but its people. It is who are are, fashioned by our fore-fathers who refused to raise a single nail on the plantations, removing themselves as far as possible from what represented a  symbol of murderous  crimes against humanity.

On August 1, 1834, “frees” slaves in Jamaica were required to undergo a transitional period as ‘apprentices’ before full emancipation. “Slave owners” were given monetary compensation of £6,161,927 for their loss of property in slaves. The slaves received no compensation.

Apprentices were obliged to work on the estates for 40.5 hours per week in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter, but not wages. The system was marred with abuses by the planters and apprentices went on strike, refusing to work without wages. They swore that they would rather ‘have their heads cut off, or [be] shot’ before they would be bound apprentices. To quell the resistance, 160 well-armed soldiers were deployed throughout the parish, and many slaves were whipped and sentenced to the workhouse.

On August 1, 1838, the British Parliament ended the apprenticeship program, which had become an enormous administrative burden, and granted full emancipation to more than 300,000 slaves in Jamaica.

Non-conformist missionaries, especially the English Baptists, created ‘free villages.’ Missionaries bought large holdings and subdivided them in small house lots to sell to the former slaves. The inadequacy of these holdings for crop cultivation, coupled with the unresolved disputes between estate owners and their black employees, resulted in the flight of freed slaves from the estates.

They established themselves as small peasant farmers on land obtained through lease, rent, purchase, or by simply squatting (settling on land without title or payment of rent). By 1860 the small farms of the black peasantry showed yields indicating they were a viable alternative to plantation agriculture.

Photos show “freed” Jamaicans at the turn of the Century…

FullSizeRender(1) FullSizeRender(2) FullSizeRender(3) FullSizeRender(4)THE RISE OF THE “FREE VILLAGES” IN JAMAICA
Immediately after “slavery” in Jamaica, new communities of freed people wee developed as majority of enforced Jamaicans were eager to get as far away as possible from the estates. Free Villages were usually large tracts of land purchased by missionaries and then subdivided into smaller plots for sale to their members. The first “free village” was Sligoville, on the 10th of July 1835.

So do Jamaicans know if they lived in a “free village”? Check this list of “free villages” in Jamaica:

St. Ann: Moneague; Clarksonville; Wilberforce; Buxton Bethany; Salem Brown’s Town; Happy Valley; Pleasant Valley; Harmony; Philadelphia; Sturge Town and Endeavour

St. Thomas: Delvery, Airy Mount (Mount Airy); Navarino; Greenwood; Beldona; Spring Mount; Elmwood; Bachelor’s Hall; Pigeon Hill; Unity Valley; Leith Hall and Bath Castle

St. Elizabeth: Springfield; Lacovia; Kilmarnock; Cairn Curran; Commer Pen; Lititz; Ipswich; Carisbrook; Cruze and Ballard’s Valley.

Clarendon: Rhyme’s Bury; Howell’s Content; Halse Hall; Hayes; Mitchell’s Town; Farm Colonel’s Ridge; Nairne Castle; Crofts and Cross.

St. James: Goodwill; Irwin Hill; Mount Carey; Maldon; Shortwood; Sudbury and Salters Hill.

Manchester: Bethabara; Beaufort; Beulah; Vale; Porus; Hillside; Maidstone; Mizaph and Walderston.

Trelawny: New Cargen; Albert Town; Stewart’s Town; Gilbraltar; Kettering; Clarkson Town; Granville and Refuge.

Westmoreland: Carmel; Bethel Town and St. Leonard’s Gurney.
St. Catherine: Sligoville; Kitson Town; Sturge Town; Victoria Township and Clarkson Town.

Portland:Cedar Valley; Belle Castle and Happy Grove
Hanover: Mount Horeb and Sandy Bay
St. Andrew – Trinityville
St. Mary – Islington.

Jamaican seen building a family life in Sligoville, something that was as foreign to hem as freedom.

Jamaican seen building a family life in Sligoville, something that was as foreign to hem as freedom.

May their bravery endure forever in our hearts and in our deeds.

Thanks Neo Makeba.


  1. I thought Oracabessa was one. it was a bit of an artists colony for a while there started by Reverend James Phillippo

    “In a unique social experiment, Phillippo resold the land to the former slaves with terms that required them to only repay what they could afford. Within 3 years, Phillippo had received full payment and the local residents owned their land and businesses outright. Phillippo’s belief and faith in the people of Oracabessa led to the development of other such communities throughout the island, but none lasted as long or had the same level of success as what was created in Oracabessa.

    Phillippo was convinced that Oracabessa represented a unique opportunity for a community to be self-sufficient and capable of providing all the basic needs without any interference from the colonial government. The Oracabessa farmer’s market, which is still there today, was the first such market in Jamaica to be owned and operated by former slaves. Within a few years, an entire socio-economic system had come to life and a vibrant fishing and agricultural community was born. Without the large land barons who ran almost the entire island, Oracabessa, and the parish of St. Mary, were largely left to fend for themselves. A series of devastating hurricanes and floods at the end of the 19th century brought an end to Oracabessa’s brief success as an independent, self-sufficient community.”

    More: http://goldenclouds.com/about_oracabessa.php.


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