Berbice slave uprising

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Berbice Slave Uprising
Berbice -revolt 1763.png
The revolting plantations (highlighted)
Date23 February 1763 – 15 April 1764
(1 year, 1 month) [1]
Result Rebellion suppressed
Formation of Maroon communities prevented
Society of Berbice
Society of Suriname
Barbados Navy
Dutch Navy
Arawak and Carib allies
Army of the Negroes of Berbice
Commanders and leaders
Governor van Hoogenheim
Major Fourgeoud  [ nl ]
Field Marshal von Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Governor Coffy
Captain Atta
Captain Accara
Captain Accabre [2]

The Berbice slave uprising was a slave revolt in Guyana [3] that began on 23 February 1763 [2] and lasted to December, with leaders including Coffy. It is seen as a major event in Guyana's anti-colonial struggles, and when Guyana became a republic in 1970 the state declared 23 February as a day to commemorate the start of the Berbice slave revolt. [2]



The colony of Berbice was originally a hereditary fief of the Van Peere family. After refusing to pay the ransom demanded by the French privateer Jacques Cassard, the colony changed hands to four Amsterdam merchants who founded the Society of Berbice as a public company listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. [4] The colony was not very successful compared to other colonies, because it only paid 4% dividend to the stockholders. [5]

In 1762, the population of the Dutch colony of Berbice included 3,833 enslaved Blacks, 244 enslaved Amerindians or indigenous people, and 346 whites. [6] [2] The Seven Years' War caused a reduction in supplies to the colony, resulting in hunger amongst the slave population. [7] In late 1762, a disease had broken out in the fort, and many soldiers had died or fallen ill. [1] On 3 July 1762, Laurens Kunckler, the owner of plantation Goed Fortuin, left for Fort Nassau. The slaves used this opportunity to raid the plantation, and hide on an island high upriver. Indigenous soldiers (especially "Carib" and Arawak) were crucial to the Dutch effort to retake Berbice, as their scouting and harassing of rebel troops in the interior prevented the formation of Maroon communities similar to those in Suriname. [8] The soldiers, despite aid by indigenous allies, were unable to recapture the island until the rebels were forced to leave on 8 or 9 August, likely due to lack of food. [9]


On 23 February 1763, slaves on plantation Magdalenenberg on the Canje River in Berbice rebelled, protesting harsh and inhumane treatment. They torched the plantation house, [10] and made for the Courantyne River where Caribs and troops commanded by Governor Wigbold Crommelin  [ nl ] of Suriname attacked, and killed them. [11] On 27 February 1763, a revolt took place on plantation Hollandia on the Berbice River next to Lilienburg where Coffy was an enslaved man working as a cooper. [11] Coffy is said to have organized them into a military unit. From then on, the revolt spread to neighbouring plantations. [2]

There were supposed to be 60 soldiers in Fort Nassau, [12] however at the time of uprising, there were only 18 men including civilian militia in the fort. [13] As plantation after plantation fell to the slaves, the Dutch settlers fled northward and the rebels began to take over control of the region. For almost a year, the rebels held on to southern Berbice, while the whites were able to hold on to the north. Eventually only about half of the white population that had lived in the colony remained. [2]

The rebels came to number about 3,000 and threatened European control over the Guianas. [2] Coffy was installed as the political leader, and Accara was the military leader. [14] Coffy tried to keep the captured plantations operating to prevent starvation. [15] Governor van Hoogenheim asked the States General for military assistance. On 28 March 1763, the ship Betsy arrived from Suriname with 100 soldiers. The former slaves were driven back, and a camp was set up at De Dageraad ("The Daybreak"). On 2 April, 300 to 400 rebels attacked, led by Accara which drove them back. [1]


Coffy contacted van Hoogenheim and said that he regretted the attack, and started peace negotiations suggesting to split Berbice into a European and an African part. [16] [17] The Governor replied that Amsterdam should make the decision, and that it could take three to four months. [18] In April, [19] 200 troops arrived from Barbados, because a message was sent to Gedney Clarke, who owned seven plantations in the Dutch colonies as well, [20] and in May, [21] Sint Eustatius provided military assistance. [15] In the meantime, word had reached Amsterdam. On 21 May 1763, the Amsterdamsche Courant reported the revolt of the slaves. [22] The merchants demanded action, and six ships with a total of 600 men set sail to Berbice. [1] Field Marshal von Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was assigned to devise a plan to reconquer the colony. [1]

On 19 October 1763, it was reported to the governor that Captain Atta had revolted against Coffy, and that Coffy had committed suicide. [1] This cancelled the peace negotiations, however the colonists had already been strengthened by the arrival of soldiers. On 1 January 1764, the six ships arrived, providing the starting signal for expeditions against the rebel slaves. [1] The insurgents were being defeated. [1] Captain Atta and Accara were captured at which time Accara changed sides, and helped the Dutch to capture Captain Accabre, [16] the last of the insurgents, on 15 April 1764. [1] The Dutch executed many rebels for participating in the rebellion. The estimates vary from 75 [4] to 128 (125 men and 3 women). [14] leading to the colony’s recapture by the summer of 1764 and savage repercussions. Around 1,800 rebels died, with 24 burned alive [23] Captain Accara was pardoned, and later served as a freedman with the marines under his former adversary Fourgeoud. [24] The population of the colony had decreased to 1,308 male slaves, 1,317 females, 745 children, and 115 whites in November 1764 which includes recently purchased slaves. [25]


Very little changed after the Berbice slave uprising. The Society of Berbice did complain about the number of executions after the uprising, however they were worried about their reputation and the loss of valuable slaves. [1] The Dutch newspapers devoted a lot of coverage to the uprising, however they quickly lost interest after the revolt was put down. The last publication was on the subject was on 19 September 1764 by the Leeuwarder Courant which published a sensationalist eyewitness account of the executions. [22]

During the fighting, Fort Nassau had been abandoned and set on fire to prevent it falling into enemy hands. [16] In 1785, it was decided to move the government to Fort Sint Andries which was renamed as New Amsterdam in 1791. [26] The Society of Berbice was in serious financial problems after the revolt, and asked the States of Holland (provincial government) for a loan. In 1773, the Society of Berbice had repaid ƒ134,815 of the ƒ786,354, and asked for a deferral of payment which was granted. There are no records that the remaining amount or interest have ever been paid. [27] In February 1765, Gedney Clarke's son [28] send an invoice of ƒ41,060 for his assistance [29] which was never paid. [30]

A couple of years later in Suriname, escaped slaves lead by Boni attacked plantations. Boni tried to get a peace treaty [31] similar to what the Ndyuka and Saramaka received in 1760 [32] and 1762 [33] respectively, but a war was declared instead. [31] The reason why the Society of Suriname changed their position is unknown, however people like Lichtveld pointed to the Berbice slave uprising. [34] In the mid 1770s military officers who had handled the Berbice uprising were dispatched to Suriname. [35]

1763 Monument on Square of the Revolution in Georgetown, Guyana, designed by Guyanese artist Philip Moore 1763 Monument, Georgetown, Guyana. 2014.jpg
1763 Monument on Square of the Revolution in Georgetown, Guyana, designed by Guyanese artist Philip Moore


Coffy is commemorated on 23 February as the national hero of Guyana. In 1976, a bronze monument was erected in the Square of the Revolutions, in the capital Georgetown. [2] The monument has been designated as a National Monument. [36]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dutch colonisation of the Guianas

Dutch colonisation of the Guianas—the coastal region between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers in South America—began in the late 16th century. The Dutch originally claimed all of Guiana but—following attempts to sell it first to Bavaria and then to Hanau and the loss of sections to Portugal, Britain, and France—the section actually settled and controlled by the Netherlands became known as Dutch Guiana.


Demerara is a historical region in the Guianas on the north coast of South America which is now part of the country of Guyana. It was a Dutch colony until 1815 and a county of British Guiana from 1838 to 1966. It was located about the lower courses of the Demerara River, and its main town was Georgetown.

Coffy (person)

Cuffy, also spelled as Kofi or Koffi, was an Akan man who was captured in his native West Africa and stolen for slavery to work on the plantations of the Dutch colony of Berbice in present-day Guyana. He became famous because in 1763 he led a revolt of more than 2,500 slaves against the colony regime. Today, he is a national hero in Guyana.

Berbice River

The Berbice River, located in eastern Guyana, is one of the country's major rivers. It rises in the highlands of the Rupununi region and flows northward for 595 kilometres (370 mi) through dense forests to the coastal plain. The river's tidal limit is between 160 and 320 km (99–199 mi) from the sea.


Berbice is a region along the Berbice River in Guyana, which was between 1627 and 1815 a colony of the Dutch Republic. After having been ceded to the Kingdom of Great Britain in the latter year, it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana.

Afro-Guyanese people are generally descended from the enslaved people brought to Guyana from the coast of West Africa to work on sugar plantations during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Coming from a wide array of backgrounds and enduring conditions that severely constrained their ability to preserve their respective cultural traditions contributed to the adoption of Christianity and the values of British colonists.

Stabroek, Guyana Ward in Georgetown, Guyana

Stabroek was the old name of Georgetown, Guyana, between 1784 and 1812, and was the capital of Demerara. Stabroek is currently a ward in the centre of Georgetown.

Baracara village in East Berbice-Corentyne, Guyana

Baracara was founded as a maroon community in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region of Guyana, located on the Canje River. The community has also been called New Ground Village or Wel te Vreeden. Baracara is 20 miles west of Corriverton and just north of the Torani Canal's connection to the Canje River.


The colony of Demerara-Essequibo was created on 28 April 1812, when the British combined the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo into the colony of Demerara-Essequibo. They were officially ceded to Britain on 13 August 1814. On 20 November 1815 the agreement was ratified by the Netherlands.

Demerara rebellion of 1823 An uprising involving more than 10,000 enslaved that took place in the colony of Demerara-Essequibo (Guyana)

The Demerara rebellion of 1823 was an uprising involving more than 10,000 enslaved people that took place in the colony of Demerara-Essequibo (Guyana). The rebellion, which began on August 18, 1823, and lasted for two days, was led by slaves with the highest status. In part they were reacting to poor treatment and a desire for freedom; in addition, there was a widespread, mistaken belief that Parliament had passed a law for emancipation, but it was being withheld by the colonial rulers. Instigated chiefly by Jack Gladstone, a slave at "Success" plantation, the rebellion also involved his father, Quamina, and other senior members of their church group. Its English pastor, John Smith, was implicated.


Quamina Gladstone, most often referred to simply as Quamina, was an Guianese slave from Africa and father of Jack Gladstone. He and his son were involved in the Demerara rebellion of 1823, one of the largest slave revolts in the British colonies before slavery was abolished.

The Cassard expedition was a sea voyage by French Navy captain Jacques Cassard in 1712, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Targeting English, Dutch, and Portuguese possessions, he raided and ransomed the colonies of Cape Verde, Sint Eustatius, and Curaçao—factories, depots, and seasoning camps used in the Atlantic slave trade. He also raided and ransomed Montserrat, Antigua, Surinam, Berbice, and Essequibo—wealthy sugar-producing colonies in the Caribbean whose economies were based on the exploitation of slave labor.

Coromantee, Coromantins, Coromanti or Kormantine was the English name for enslaved people from the Akan ethnicity from the Gold Coast in modern Ghana. The term was primarily used in the Caribbean and is now considered archaic.

The Society of Berbice was founded on 24 October 1720 by the owners of the colony of Berbice currently in Guyana. These owners had acquired the colony from the French on 24 October 1714, who in turn had occupied the colony which was previously a hereditary fief in the possession of the Van Peere family.

Pomeroon (colony)

Pomeroon is the name of a former Dutch plantation colony on the Pomeroon River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America. After early colonization attempts in the late 16th century were attacked by Spaniards and local Indians, the original inhabitants fled the interior of Guiana, founding the colony of Essequibo around Fort Kyk-Over-Al shortly after. A second, and more serious attempt at colonization started in 1650, but was ultimately unsuccessful, as French privateers destroyed the colony in 1689. In the late 18th century, a third attempt of colonization was started, this time under the jurisdiction of the Essequibo colony.

Surinam (Dutch colony)

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Goed Fortuin is a village located in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara region of Guyana. The village started as a sugar plantation in the early 1800s.

Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande was a Dutch governor of the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara from 1743 to 1772. He turned Demerara in a successful plantation colony, and the borders of Guyana are mainly based on his expeditions into the interior. He is also noted for his treatment of the Amerindians.

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Wolfert Simon van Hoogenheim was a Dutch governor of the colony of Berbice. During his rule, the Berbice Slave Uprising took place.


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  12. Netscher 1888, p. 174.
  13. Ineke Velzing. "Video: The beginning of the Uprising". Stabroek News. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  14. 1 2 Kars, Marjoleine (2016). "Dodging Rebellion: Politics and Gender in the Berbice Slave Uprising of 1763". The American Historical Review. 121 (1): 39–69. doi:10.1093/ahr/121.1.39. ISSN   0002-8762.
  15. 1 2 "History: The Berbice uprising, 1763 (Sixth Instalment)". Stabroek News. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  16. 1 2 3 "The Collapse of the Rebellion". Retrieved 7 August 2020. Coffy, Governor of the Negroes of Berbice, and Captain Akara send greetings and inform Your Excellency that they seek no war; but if Your Excellency wants war, the Negroes are likewise ready (...) The Governor will give Your Excellency one half of Berbice, and all the Negroes will go high up the river, but don't think they will remain slaves. Those Negroes that Your Excellency has on the ships - they can remain slaves.
  17. Hartsinck 1770, p. 404:Original in Dutch: "Coffy Gouverneur van de Negers van de Berbice en Capitein Accara laat U Ed. Groet, laat U Ed. weet dat geen Oorlog zoek, maar als UEd. zoek Oorlog de Negers zyn ook klaar.(...) de Gouverneur sal U Ed. geefe de half Berbice en zy luye zal almaal na boven gaan, maar moet niet denke dat de Negers weer Slaven wil zyn, maar de Neger die U Ed. heb op de Scheepe die kan zyn U Ed. Slaven."
  18. Hartsinck 1770, p. 405.
  19. Hartsinck 1770, p. 408.
  20. Storm van 's Gravesande & Villiers 1920, p. 20.
  21. Hartsinck 1770, p. 410.
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  26. "'From a Glorious past to a Promising Future'". Cofona. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  27. Netscher 1888, p. 256.
  28. Storm van 's Gravesande & Villiers 1920, p. 259:Gedney Clark had recently died, and his son arrived in Demerara to settle the inheritance
  29. Storm van 's Gravesande & Villiers 1920, p. 261.
  30. Storm van 's Gravesande & Villiers 1920, p. 22.
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  35. Groot, Silvia, de (1970). "Rebellie der Zwarte Jagers. De nasleep van de Bonni-oorlogen 1788-1809". Digital Library of Dutch Literature. De Gids (in Dutch). p. 293.
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Further reading