Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Recall the Fugitive Slave Act

Published:Tuesday | July 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM


We, in Jamaica, who see the United Sates as "the land of the free and home of the brave", must reflect on August 1, 1838, when our chains were removed, and then cast our minds forward 16 years into our freedom to 1854 - 100 years before I was born - when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in America.

What did this law seek to enforce? By law, white citizens were forced to actively hunt down the enslaved who escaped into freedom, and return them to their 'masters'. Interestingly, in Jamaica, the crime of 'harbouring a criminal' has the same intent.

In 1854, an enslaved Anthony Burns decided to make his run for freedom, from Virginia to Boston. The law, described by enslaved people as the "bloodhound law", led to his capture in Boston. There was a rush on the courthouse to free Burns in, ironically, a similar fashion to the invasion of the Morant Bay Court in 1865. During the fracas, the custos of St Thomas was killed, leading to the declaration of martial law here.

The 1854 Boston courthouse incident also led to the killing of a US marshal. In response, President Pierce sent 2,000 troops to Boston, placing it under martial law, in order to put one black man back into slavery. They captured Burns and returned him to his master. Paul Bogle and William Gordon's quest for justice for the newly freed people of Jamaica led to the unleashing of British terror under the declaration of martial law. It left in its wake the loss of their lives and 400 others, and the torching of more than 1,000 homes by British soldiers.

Lest we forget our enslavement, and the period following our Emancipation, let us here, and in the US, be reminded of the ghastly continuation of terror on our people.