The Unknown National Hero

The Bussa Emancipation Statue in Barbados

On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1816, slaves in Barbados revolted, led by an African born Igbo slave named Bussa. Literally nothing is known about Bussa prior to his becoming a slave and very little is known about him after that point. Slaves were, of course, considered property and Bussa’s “owners” would not have troubled to record anything of his life. There are no known images of any kind.

What is known of him is that he worked as a ranger (a slave who watched over a particular plantation or area of the countryside) on Bayley’s plantation in St. Phillip parish. This gave him considerable freedom of movement for a slave, and he began to coordinate plans for a rebellion with Washington Franklin, an eloquent free man and Nanny Griggs, a senior domestic slave on the Simmons plantation. By the time of the revolt their movement had grown to around 400, mostly slaves. Bussa led the first attack on Bayley’s plantation, but was killed in battle. The rebellion eventually involved fighting in all the Parishes in the central and southern part of the island (Christ Church, the Parish immediately adjacent to St. Phillip, where the rebellion started, was the location of the disturbances in the Chase vault, which some think were caused by the local slaves as a sort of psychological warfare). It was crushed by the superior firepower of the sugar planters and British troops. It has come to be known as Bussa’s Rebellion, and Bussa is the first among the ten national heroes of Barbados.

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