Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

R. v. Watkins and John [1809]

slave court - rebellion - capital punishment

Slave Court, Jamaica

1 April 1809

Source: The Morning Chronicle  (London, England), Tuesday, May 23, 1809, issue 12490, from the British Library's 19th Century Newspapers site. See also Caledonian Mercury  (Edinburgh, Scotland), Saturday, May 27, 1809, issue 13643; The Aberdeen Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland), Wednesday, May 31, 1809, issue 3203. [1]

Accounts are received by the General Miranda, of a plot having recently been discovered, formed by the Negroes of Jamaica, to set fire to the towns of that Island, and afterwards to murder the white Inhabitants, to effect a Revolution, precisely similar to that which has so fatally prevailed in the neighbouring island of St. Domingo. For this purpose, various societies had been formed in different parts for a considerable time past, which met in the nights at appointed places, where they were regularly exercised to the use of arms, like soldiers. A Commander-in-Chief, with the rank of Duke (in their style), had been chosen, who had subsequently appointed his suite, and also Captains and Officers to the different societies, by whom regular returns were made to him of their respective corps after each muster; in short, the Conspirators appear to have been perfectly organized, and St Patrick's Day had been first agreed upon to set fire to the city of Kingston, in several parts, commencing at a Mr. Millward's, liquor-shop, in Upper King-street, which was to be the signal for the other parties to begin; but some disappointment arising, it was afterwards fixed for the end of March - previous to which, however, their diabolical and blood-thirsty design was most happily discovered as follows, and the destruction of the towns and lives of the inhabitants thereby prevented: - George Burgess, a private in the 2d West India Regiment, having deserted from that corps, and being intimate with one of the ring-leaders, was introduced at their meetings, and became fully acquainted with their design and preparations: He was afterwards (on the 27th of January) fortunately apprehended, tried by a Court-Martial for repeated desertion, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot: the night previous to his intended execution, he was waited upon by the Chaplain of the Regiment (the Rev. Mr. Campbell), for the purpose of preparing his soul for another world, and after passing some time in devotion, the culprit, who appeared very penitent and fearful of death, told him that he had much of great importance to the white people of the island upon his mind, which he wished, before he quitted this world, to disclose to the Commander of his Majesty's Forces, Major-General Carmichael. Mr. Campbell warned him of the serious nature of trifling with public justice by false statements, with a view of preserving his life; but he still persevered in his urgent wishes to see the General, and appeared duly sensible of the impropriety of soliciting and interview with him, but upon the most important considerations. This was immediately communicated to the General, who ordered the culprit to be brought before him, and on finding that his confessions were of so very serious and important a nature, sent for a Magistrate (D.P. Molony, Esq.), when, after a short examination of the culprit, it was deemed necessary to send for the Police Officers of Kingston, in order to apprehend, without delay, the Negroes whom he implicated in the conspiracy, which he solemnly averred existed in the island. Accordingly the Police Officer, with the culprit, attended by a file of soldiers, proceeded from Up Park Camp, about ten o'clock of the night of the 7th of March, to Kingston, and fortunately succeeded in securing a considerable number of Negroes that he gave information of before morning. They were taken to the house of the above Magistrate, and privately examined before several Magistrates and the General; and the fact of the existence of a conspiracy, for the purpose of revolutionizing the Island, was soon ascertained, and also to be very widely extended. General Carmichael, at the intercession of the Magistracy, was first pleased to grant a respite to George Burgess, and in about a week after pardoned him. The examinations were continued very constant, and a great many Negroes were daily apprehended; nor were the examinations closed when the General Miranda sailed; several of the ringleaders having absconded, rewards were offered for their apprehension. An abstract of these examinations, together with minutes of the trial of two of the principal conspirators, are in the possession of a Gentleman arrived in the above vessel, and will be communicated for insertion in the Morning Chronicle.The trial alluded to took place on Saturday, the 1st of April, at a Slave Court assembled for the purpose, at the Court House, in Kingston. They were a Negro, named Peter Watkins (Commander in Chief, with the rank of Duke) and Sambo John (a Captain); and, after a most patient and impartial investigation, were both found guilty of being concerned in a rebellious conspiracy, and sentenced to be hung the same afternoon, which was accordingly carried into execution; previous to which, however, they acknowledged their crime, and the justness of their sentence, and made further discoveries relative to this black and horrid conspiracy.


[1]  On the legal consequences of the abolition of the slave trade, see The Amedia, reported in The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Thursday, August 16, 1810, issue 4086.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School