Africans enslaved in Montserrat executed an island-wide attack on St Patrick’s Day in 1768 hoping to take the Irish planters by surprise. Yet, despite months of plotting, their plans had been leaked and their revolt was unsuccessful resulting in nine hangings. In memory of the failed rebellion, Montserratians remember the day with Masquerade. Islanders dance the Irish jigs one night, then mock their one-time masters the next by cracking whips while dressed in tall hats like bishops’ miters.
Montserrat Celebrates Slave Revolt
By The Associated Press
LITTLE BAY, Montserrat (AP) — Far from Ireland, in the shadow of a
tropical volcano, residents of the “other Emerald Isle” are celebrating a
different kind of St. Patrick’s Day.
In Montserrat, a hilly British territory settled by Irish pioneers, people mix
their annual celebration of shamrocks and green beer with memories of
an aborted slave revolt against Irish planters in 1768.
The result is a Caribbean amalgam of colonial culture and African pride
— a weeklong fete with islanders dancing Irish jigs one night, then
mocking their one-time masters the next by cracking whips and
masquerading in tall hats like bishops’ miters.
“We are celebrating the rise of the slave freedom fighters, but also the
Irish Catholic element in our history,” said historian Howard Fergus.
“They both have a place in our St. Patrick’s Day,” which is celebrated
Friday, the anniversary of the saint’s death.
While the southern part of Montserrat has turned gray and barren from
avalanches spewed by the Soufriere Hills Volcano, much of the island still
evokes Ireland, with rugged cliffs, rolling hills and brilliant green
vegetation. Places with Irish names such as Sweeney’s Well and Riley’s
Estate dot the map, and immigration officials stamp passports with bright
The St. Patrick’s Day traditions have suffered in recent years as the
volcano forced thousands of people from their homes and two-thirds of
the population abandoned the island. When the volcano first roared to life
in 1995, it sent avalanches of superheated rock and gases into the largest
towns and forced an evacuation of the capital, Plymouth, and the island’s
“We lost it a bit because of the volcano, but we’re trying to revive it
now,” said Fitzroy Martin, who was masquerading in early festivities this
Tourism officials trying to bolster the island’s battered economy have
been promoting the celebration in Europe in hopes of luring visitors from
“We’re looking back to remember what’s valuable in our history, but
we’re looking forward to try to see what kind of economic benefit we
can reap from its relics,” said Kenny Castle, one of the organizers of the
The Irish presence in Montserrat dates back to the 1630s, when the first
pioneers — Roman Catholics — sailed over from St. Kitts because of
friction with British Protestant settlers there.
The Irish planters brought African slaves to work their sugar cane fields.
Soon the slaves outnumbered them 3-to-1 and began rebelling.
In 1768, the slaves planned an island-wide attack on St. Patrick’s Day,
when the planters would be celebrating. Servants were instructed to grab
all the weapons they could find inside the Government House while field
slaves stormed the building with rocks, farm tools, clubs and homemade
Biafra: Biafra, New Afrika, Catalonia, Aztlan, Struggle For Total Independence – Haki Kweli Shakur | August Third Collective NAPLA NAIM 3-17-53 ADM
But someone leaked the plan, and debate over who’s to blame still
continues. Local authorities punished the slaves severely, hanging nine.
“It was crushed cruelly,” Fergus said. “There is a myth that the Irish,
being oppressed by the British, were more humane, and this exposes that
In the decades after Britain abolished slavery in 1834, most whites left
the island. But their surnames were adopted by the slaves and live on.
In memory of the failed rebellion, organizers have recreated a slave
village where visitors will eat traditional foods such as salted codfish and
sweet potato “dookna” and play games such as “Zig Zag Zaggett” —
similar to marbles but played with cashew seeds.
Children are to dance Irish jigs while adults perform the heel-and-toe
steps to heavy drumbeats.
“It’s a parody of Irish dancing to African music,” said government
spokesman Richard Aspin. “In the old days, the slaves would peek in
the windows on the Irish holidays and then parody what was going on
There will also be an Irish sing-along, a historical lecture by former Irish
Parliament member Michael Higgins and a special Mass at the last
remaining church. Montserrat’s main place of worship, St. Patrick’s
Church, is buried under volcanic ash.
“It’s all fun,” Castle said. “There are no hard feelings between the
cultures. What happened way back in history is past for us.”
Organizers remind islanders that St. Patrick himself was enslaved by Irish
raiders before he began converting Ireland to Christianity.
“St. Patrick was a slave, too, so we can sympathize with him,” said
Chief Minister David Brandt.
In memory of Cudjoe, a Montserratian Hero Poem By Shirley Spycalla
Show me, please show me, oh Cudjoe, my liege The tall, silk cotton tree, I beg and besiege. The tree that bore your body as fettered you swung That strong body you nurtured when we were young. Show them, I beg you, Cudjoe, show your sons
The branch on the tree from which you were hung. You fought for their freedom on the 17th of March To end vicious serfdom and a life that was harsh.
Show her; please show her, your sweet loving wife The noose on the branch that ended your life. You led the uprising with strength and resolve To bring pride to your people and slavery to dissolve.
Show me; oh show me where they took your head That was cut from your body to ensure you were dead. History will judge us for the battle you fought Against the oppressors, if we let it come to naught.
Oh people of Montserrat , you’re all Cudjoe’s kin! You’re the sons he begat – you are not born in sin. Be strong; fight oppression; don’t let Cudjoe die in vain
Uphold your Constitution; seek justice through pain. Be not slaves to overspending, to corruption and greed
Be warriors for peace unending. Stand firm; with you I plead. For Cudjoe was your father who died for you and me
That day, on St. Patrick’s, when he hung from the tree!