RUMOURS OF FREEDOM
In England, some organisations were established to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. These included the Baptist Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Methodist Society, and the Anti-Slavery Society formed in 1823.
The Anti-Slavery Society was very influential since among its members were the Quakers and important Members of Parliament including William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Fowell Buxton. In April 1823 Buxton presented a motion in the House of Commons calling for a gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies, but it was defeated because the majority felt that abolition of slavery would leave the planters without a labour force. Instead, measures to ameliorate the condition of slaves were adopted. These ordered that female slaves should not be whipped as punishment and drivers should not carry whips in the field.
Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, immediately sent these new amelioration rules in a letter to all Governors of British colonies. In Berbice, Governor Henry Beard, as soon as he received the letter, sent it to Rev. John Wray to read it to the slaves. In Essequibo-Demerara on the other hand, Governor John Murray deliberately delayed its publicity. Even though he received the letter on 23 June 1823 he waited until 2 July to present it to the Court of Policy and urging the members, who were all slave owners, not to act on it immediately. It was not until 7 August the Court of Policy passed the required resolutions to adopt the amelioration rules.
While the amelioration rules were awaiting adoption in the Court of Policy, house slaves overheard their masters discussing them. Not fully understanding the implications of the new rules, they felt that the planters had received instructions to set the slaves free but were refusing to do so. This rumour was passed on to other slaves orally and in writing by some slaves who had acquired reading and writing skills. One of these slaves, Jack Gladstone, heard the rumour from a slave owned by the Governor, and he wrote a letter to the members of Bethel Chapel informing them of the matter and signed his father's name on it. His father was Quamina, a deacon of Bethel Chapel.
On 25 July, Quamina, on learning of the matter, approached Rev. John Smith and informed him that the King of England had granted freedom to the slaves but it was being withheld. Smith said that he had not heard of any such order and that such a rumour was false. Smith added that he had heard that the British Government wanted to make regulations to improve the situation affecting the slaves, but not to set them free. Quamina was not satisfied with what he heard and most likely felt that Smith, being a White, was siding with the planters and the Governor. He apparently reported to the other slaves, some of whom began to make preparations to seize their freedom which they felt was being deliberately kept away from them.