The Collapse of the Rebellion

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Meanwhile, the Dutch Governor, Van Hoogenheim and other whites at Fort Nassau, were undecided on what they should do. The Governor wanted to defend the colony, but the Court of Policy voted for abandonment. Morale was indeed very low. Finally on the 8 March 1763 Fort Nassau was abandoned after the buildings were burned and the cannons spiked. The Whites travelled by boats to Fort St. Andries which Van Hoogenhiem quickly found to be inadequate, both for housing and for defence, since there were no provision grounds and running fresh water. He had preferred to stop at Dageraad, a plantation about 10 miles down the river from Fort Nassau, but the others did not agree.

At Fort St. Andries, Van Hoogenheim had just agreed to allow the Whites to abandon Berbice, when an English ship with 100 soldiers arrived from Suriname. Van Hoogenheim immediately withdrew his decision to abandon the colony and began to re-organise its defence. He dispatched 25 soldiers to Plantation Fredricksburg up the Canje and left a small group with two ships to guard the mouth of the Berbice River. With the remaining larger group, he along with volunteers among the Whites sailed up with three armed ships to Dageraad.

There Van Hoogenheim fortified the previously abandoned buildings and arranged the three ships so that their guns would defend this new defence position. The rebels, led by Akara, immediately launched three successive attacks on the Whites but they were driven back.

Coffy, who did not approve these attacks, immediately after, on the 2 April 1763, wrote to Van Hoogenheim saying that he did not want a war with the Whites. He also proposed the partition of Berbice between the Whites and Blacks with the Whites occupying the coastal area, and the Blacks the interior.

In the meantime, the Governor sent a group of two loyal slaves and two Amerindians to Suriname for assistance. Help was also sought from Essequibo-Demerara. Stalling for time and hoping for reinforcements to arrive from the other Dutch colonies, he wrote back to Coffy saying that he had sent the partition proposal to Holland and was waiting for a response. Thereupon began an exchange of letters between Coffy and Van Hoogenheim in which the former insisted that he held the latter in great respect and meant him no harm. However, he did list the names of the planters who were excessively cruel to their slaves, saying that their cruelty caused them to rebel. He was probably using this tactic to divide the Whites and hoping that the Governor would surrender them to the rebels. Coffy also proposed a face-to-face meeting between the two of them, but Van Hoogenheim ignored this suggestion.

Coffy's letter stated:

"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. Barkey and his servant, De Graff, Schook, Dell, Van Lentzing and Frederick Betgen, but more especially Mr. Barkey and his servant and De Graff, are the principal originators of the riot which has occurred in Berbice.

"The Governor (Coffy) was present when it commenced, and was very angry at it. The Governor of Berbice asks Your Excellency that Your Excellency will come and speak with him; don't be afraid but if you won't come, we will fight as long as one Christian remains in Berbice.

"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.

"The Governor greets Your Excellency."

Maintaining his delaying tactics, the Governor continued to insist in his correspondence to Coffy that he was still awaiting a response to partition proposal from Holland.

Meanwhile, by the end of March, the Director General of Essequibo-Demerara, Laurens Storm van Gravesande had received information about the rebellion and he instructed the Commander of Demerara to seek assistance from the Caribs, Arawaks and Akawaios to mount an attack on the Berbice rebels from the south. Gravesande also wrote to the Zeeland Chamber and the Directors of the Berbice Association in Holland, and the Governor of St. Eustatius seeking military assistance for the Whites in Berbice. Eventually, two well-armed ships with 158 soldiers arrived in Berbice.

By this time, Coffy lost his patience with Van Hoggenhiem, and on the 13 May 1763 he agreed to an attack on Dageraad. His forces numbered about 2,000 while the Whites had about 150 armed men. The three ships in the river maintained a steady firing of their heavy guns on the attackers and by mid- afternoon, they were forced to withdraw after suffering a loss of 58 dead. Eight Whites died during this battle.

After this defeat, Coffy wrote to Van Hoogenheim again offering his partition proposal which he hoped would bring peace with honour. In a very firm statement, he insisted that "in no case will we be slaves again."

But the defeat of the Blacks helped to open up divisions in their ranks. Those who had been field-slaves began to express disapproval of Coffy, who was a house-slave. Atta was the leader of this "field-slave" faction. Tribal jealousies also emerged and fights broke out between members of different tribes. Creole Blacks also at times attacked those who recently arrived from Africa. These divisions seriously undermined the military strength of the rebels and helped to encourage the Whites to regroup their forces.

Interestingly, soon after their arrival, a group of Dutch soldiers, including Jene Renaud and Sergeant de Niesse who had mutinied and deserted the post on the Corentyne, were captured and employed by the rebels to train the troops and make weapons. Coffy used them for training his forces, and some even led small bands of the rebels in guerrilla attacks on plantations controlled by the Whites. (Initially, due to distrust, some of these Dutch deserters were killed by the Africans).

Meanwhile the differences between Coffy and Atta continued to grow and eventually Atta challenged him for the leadership. The opposing supporters fought each other and after Atta's faction won, Coffy killed his own close supporters before shooting himself.

Atta, now the new leader, appointed Accabre as his military commander, and three other leaders, Quacco, Baube and Goussari rose up among the ranks. But by this time reinforcements were arriving to support the Whites. A combined Amerindian force was already moving through the forest from the south, and from the 19 December 1763 soldiers who had arrived from Holland were moving up the Canje and Berbice Rivers and taking back control of the plantations. Large numbers of Africans surrendered while others fled into the forest. But some mounted resistance, but they were quickly suppressed by the Dutch soldiers. However, in two battles, including one at Wikki Creek, the African forces were able to score victories.

Atta and Akara were soon after taken prisoner, but Accabre with a disciplined band resisted the Dutch forces by using innovative military strategy. In the end he himself was betrayed by Akara and Goussari, by then prisoners of the Dutch, and was overwhelmed by the superior number of the Dutch soldiers and was captured. When he was brought before Van Hoogenheim, he proudly admitted his role as a leader of the rebellion.

Accabre, Atta, Akara, Quacco, Baube and Goussari, as well as many other rebels were executed. Between March and April 1764, 40 of them were hanged, 24 broken at the wheel and 24 burned to death. Others who were rounded up were re-enslaved and put back to work on the plantations, now back under control of their White owners.

The Berbice Slave Rebellion, which lasted for 10 months, marked the first serious attempt by a large group of enslaved people to win their freedom in Guyana. Significantly, it was also the first organised attempt to win freedom in the entire American continent. Despite the division in the ranks and the eventual failure of the rebellion, from it emerged the first group of Guyanese revolutionary heroes who initiated the struggle against colonial oppression.