One of the National Heroes of Jamaica is George William Gordon. Born in 1820 on Jamaican soil, Gordon was the second of eight children to slave owner Joseph Gordon and a Black slave named Ann Rattray. At an early age, he learned to read and write, basic but very valuable skills that would prove useful in his future careers. Another extremely useful skill he picked up was accounting.
CAREER IN POLITICS
It was through accounting that he would get a job with his godfather. He would eventually settle in St. Thomas where he would do well at business. For all intents and purposes, George William Gordon was a success. As a result, he was one of a few Black men who could vote and run for office. He would manage to get a seat in the House of Assembly.
While in the Assembly, he was a vocal opponent of Edward John Eyre’s governance of the colony. His stance and association with some in the religious community would result in him setting up the Native Baptist Church in St. Thomas. It was here that charismatic deacon Paul Bogle was based. The two would be involved in the actions of early October 1865 to varying degrees but their fates would be the same.
MORANT BAY REBELLION
In 1864 and 1865, Jamaica was hit with economic troubles. This affected the Black population the most. With several sugar companies closing up shop because of failing crops, many were left without work. In addition, the colony had been hit by two epidemics.
While George Wiliam Gordon supported the need for Black people to make their voices heard by the government and gave Paul Bogle and other leaders a platform to speak, he wasn’t directly involved with the rebellion. This didn’t matter to the political opponent and hardliner Governor Eyre who ordered Gordon arrested as a conspirator.
While being vocal against Eyre was his only “crime,” Gordon was convicted of high treason. With St. Thomas being under martial law because of the rebellion, this “trial” was carried out via court martial and the sentence was clear: death. He was executed alongside Paul and William Bogle.
It obvious to many British subjects in London that Eyre’s answer to the rebellion was extremely heavy handed. Finally, efforts were made to get Eyre tried for murder but he avoided a trial as a result of resigning from his post.
In 1969, George William Gordon and Paul Bogle were made National Heroes of Jamaica and given the title of “Right Excellent.”