Baptist World Alliance, BWA News Release

Sam Sharpe, prophet and martyr

Baptist World Alliance Logo

A research fellow connected with Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, in the United Kingdom, claimed that Jamaican National Hero Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist deacon executed for leading a slave uprising in the 1830s, was a prophet and martyr.

Jamaican-born Delroy Reid-Salmon, who delivered a paper during the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Annual Gathering, said Sharpe’s work attested “to his prophetic vocation.” He compared Sharpe to the biblical Moses. “It can be argued that Sharpe is a prophet in the same sense as Moses. What Moses was to his people is what Sharpe was to those who were in slavery in the British Empire.”

Sharpe, Reid-Salmon asserted, “was a Christian martyr similar to the other martyrs of the faith…. These died for their faith as a way of bearing witness.”

Paul Fiddes, professor of systematic theology in the University of Oxford and former principal of Regent’s Park College said Sharpe drew inspiration from Christian scripture. “It seems that he used meetings for Bible study and prayer as occasions for coordinating sit-down strikes,” Fiddes stated. “He is reported as saying that he relied on the authority of Holy Scripture for the view that ‘the white man had [no] more right to hold the blacks in bondage, than the blacks had to enslave the whites.'”

The eminent Baptist theologian said Sharpe’s planned protest was extraordinary in scope, “covering some 600 square miles and involving 20,000 slaves.”

Jamaican public theologian Garnet Roper said Sharpe, in leading the most consequential slave revolt in the British Empire, saved Jamaica from continued bloodshed. “The genius of Sharpe is that he rooted the rejection of enslavement and the resistance against slavery in the nature of God…this was the foundation of his rejection and resistance.” The scriptures “appeared to have awakened in him a nonviolent methodology for the struggle to undermine and overthrow slavery and win the freedom of the enslaved.”

Most scholars have unanimously agreed that the revolt led by Sharpe, which began in December 1831 as a strike for wages and ended in May 1832, hastened the end of chattel slavery in the British Empire. Its consequences were widespread. Some 600 slaves were executed and hundreds of churches and other church-owned properties, most of which were Baptist, were razed to the ground. Baptist missionaries in Jamaica were hid by slaves in caves and other secluded locations as they were being hunted down by Jamaican whites, accused of inciting the slaves.

The brutal response from the Jamaican planters caused consternation in Britain and helped to change British public opinion against slavery. Full freedom from slavery in the British Empire came in 1838 after the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

The session on the legacy of Sam Sharpe is one of several issues explored by the more than 400 Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers, pastors and others from 40 countries during the course of the BWA Annual Gathering from July 1-6 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Baptist World Alliance®
© July 3, 2013

The Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 253 conventions and unions in 130 countries and territories comprising 51 million baptized believers in 176,000 churches. For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.