250th Anniversary of What on Montserrat?

It was the day the Montserrat gained its first nine National Heroes. We do not know their names. Their bodies aren’t resting in a marked tomb. There are no monuments in their honor.

250th Anniversary of What on Montserrat?

Saturday March 17, 2018 will mark the 250th anniversary of the day the Africans on Montserrat stood up to their oppressors and declared themselves free.

I saw the following statement on a Facebook post promoting a St Patrick’s Festival event and it left me a bit confused.

“250 years of St Patrick’s Celebration in Montserrat.”


It sounds good. And depending on the source, it might even sound true. However, it is not. It is not a thing. So, before Montserrat’s people begin celebrating the 250th St Patrick’s Week celebration, Stop! Do some research. Ask somebody. Understand what you are celebrating and that might even determine how you celebrate.

The truth is, Montserrat has a great thing going. We have been able to capitalize on the Irish connection in Montserrat and the cross-culturalization of Irish, African and West Indian cultures and turn it into a celebration of our unique blend and brand. We’ve created a St Patrick’s festival that rivals anything else in the world. And it continues to grow exponentially each year. Montserratians living abroad, their friends, family, and tourists flock to the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean for a week of non-stop partying in the shadows of a volcano.

What mas!

One thing for certain it has not been going on for two and a half centuries. St Patrick’s Festival in its present form has been going on barely a decade. Probably has been an internationally acclaimed event for less than five years, right? The original St Patrick’s Day celebration began as a village fete in the Southern Village of St Patrick’s which now lies buried under the ashes of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. It was dubbed National Heroes Day in 1985 to pay homage to our own heroes, especially the nine heroes of 1768.

Which brings me back to the 250-year anniversary thing.

Pay close attention because you will want to use this information in casual conversation. It will prevent you from making nonsensical statements like the one above.

In the mid seventeenth century, the mood of the Africans who had been brought over to the Caribbean to be sold into slavery on European plantations was changing. They were no longer willing to accept their fate as slaves to the pale-skinned savages who claimed them as property. All across region, the Africans decided they were slaves no longer and started rising up against the plantation owners. In the larger islands, they would run away from the plantations and set up Maroon communities from which they would plan strikes on their former enslavers, set fire to plantations and help to free other slaves. As word of insurrection spread throughout the region, the Africans on the smaller Islands were inspired and joined in on the fight for freedom.

Montserrat had a large Irish population at the time and as with any group of immigrants, the Irish maintained of their customs and mores. The biggest of these customs was the Feast of St Patrick (a religious holiday). The Africans saw this as their opportunity to join the freedom fight. They knew that the Irish slave-masters would be distracted by the celebrations so they planned an attack against them during the St Patrick’s day feast when they would have been intoxicated. They would then take over the plantations and claim their freedom. Unfortunately, word of the planned attack was leaked to the white slave masters who were ready with a counterattack.

By the end of the day, nine African men who were credited with plotting the uprising were captured and executed by hanging. Their bodies were left hanging for all to see to discourage any further insurrection.

That was St Patrick’s day, 1768. A day some wrongly refer to as the day of the failed uprising of the Montserratian slaves. That was a proud day. Any day that a people rise up to fight for their own freedom is a victorious day. It was the day that the men and women who were ripped from their homeland in Africa to be enslaved in a foreign land for enrichment of the British Empire decided to stand up and proclaim and looked to claim their freedom.

It was the day the Montserrat gained its first nine National Heroes. We do not know their names. Their bodies aren’t resting in a marked tomb. There are no monuments in their honor. They are just nine men in the footnote of our oral history who paid the ultimate price. The uprising of that day failed but as part of the whole war on slavery in the entire region, it reinforced the message around the region that slavery was unsustainable as the status quo. It also told a message that the Africans were no longer resigned to their fate as slaves, and that people were willing to fight to the death to achieve that breath of freedom.

Two hundred and fifty years later we will have the opportunity to honor these man in a fashion that national heroes deserve, or we can continue to pay homage to Patrick, the patron saint of their oppressors.

Saturday March 17, 2018 will mark the 250th anniversary of the day the Africans on Montserrat stood up to their oppressors and declared themselves free.


Author's Note: Slavery was not abolished in the British Colonies until August 1, 1833 by the so-called Slavery Abolition Act. August Monday is now a public holiday around the Caribbean.


Editor's Note: Theo Semper is an Associate Editor with MNI Media.