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Defending Paul Bogle

Published:Thursday | June 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

RECENTLY, I read three reviews of my book, The Cross and the Machete. All three reviewers, Harold Jap-A-Joe in European Review of Latin America and Caribbean Studies, Michael Jagessar in Black Theology, and Swithin Wilmot in Slavery & Abolition: a Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, outlined the germane thoughts of my work.

Naturally, as with any academic review, the faults of the book are also highlighted. The first two reviewers were critical of my conclusions that national heroes Paul Bogle and George William Gordon and other native Baptists did not display African retentions and expressions in their religious beliefs. I was even accused of being Eurocentric.

Wilmot, a renowned historian, unlike the other reviewers, did not frown on my portrayal of native Baptists vis-à-vis African retentions.Instead, he acknowledged that this book is the first single study on native Baptists and expands on the work of the late Barry Chevannes, Shirley Gordon, Catherine Hall and Robert Stewart.

He, however, made a serious allegation stating, "Dick may have gone to another extreme, for do we really know that Paul Bogle and his 'followers' had 'no intention and no motivation to be violent' (160), or what 'Bogle's plan' was (175)?" I have to defend Bogle.

In 2007, I defended my PhD thesis at the University of Warwick, England, and the moderator was one of Britain's leading historians and poets, David Dabydeen, and the internal examiner was Gad Heuman, leading British historian.

The thrust of my thesis was challenging Heuman's Book, Killing Time, which claimed that Bogle and his followers executed the murderous intentions that they had. After my viva, I was given a year in which I could either change my argument or reinforce it.

I chose the latter. I thought that would be the last time I would have to defend Bogle, but not so.

It seems to escape persons that if Bogle and his followers had premeditated killings on their mind then we could not be celebrating Bogle as a national hero.

The intention of Bogle

There is only one record of the intention of Bogle as recorded in the official Jamaica Royal Commission report by an independent witness, Matthew Cresser, which quoted Bogle as having said, "Well, my friends, the other day, Monday, they sent policemen here for me, but I would not go.

"On Wednesday, I went down to Morant Bay to get bail, and some people go with me, and as I go in the parade they fired on the people, and the people returned it again ..." (Cross and Machete pp 183-84) Why is it that we cannot believe Bogle? Why is this statement by Bogle not widely known, quoted and repeated?

The only historian that has given credence to this statement is Thomas Holt, African-American historian in the Problem of Freedom.

My book places more weight on statements made by national heroes Sharpe, Bogle and Gordon.

The claim that Bogle and his group engaged in a march for justice and not with violent intent is based on:

The tone and contents of the letter Bogle and others wrote to Governor Eyre.

The 40-mile trek with resolutions to seek audience with Eyre in August.

The previous march on October 7 of 100 persons being uneventful.

They were not carrying guns and arms on October 11.

They did not fire any gun.

They were giving thanks in the chapel after the October 11 march (See Cross and Machete pp 184).

It is apparent we still have a wrong picture of Bogle and his followers who, indeed, were willing to die rather than be violent.

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. Send comments to