DAMON AND THE ESSEQUIBO REBELLION
On the Essequibo coast workers protested the apprenticeship scheme and there were sporadic stoppages of work throughout the week starting Sunday, August 3rd.
On that Sunday, Charles Bean, proprietor of Plantation Richmond, joined with other planters to kill sixty-five pigs belonging to his workers. They slaughtered the animals because they claimed the pigs destroyed the roots of the young canes. But the real reason was to cut off any alternative livelihood for their workers so that the apprentices would remain bound to estate labour. Planters in Essequibo and other parts of British Guiana even went so far as to cut down the fruit trees of their front lands which they felt would provide free meals for the ex-slaves, and, hence, encourage them not to work on the plantations.
On Saturday, August 9, the labour situation worsened dramatically on the Essequibo Coast. About seven hundred workers (ex-slaves) on the plantations between Richmond and Devonshire Castle stopped work and gathered in the Trinity Churchyard at La Belle Alliance.
Planters called for troops, and about forty armed soldiers of the West India Regiment under Captain Groves arrived from Capoey and took up their positions around the churchyard. In the meantime, a Richmond labourer, Damon, who by now was one of the leaders of the workers, ran up a "flag" on a pole as a sign of their freedom and independence from the planters.
When the minister of the church appealed to the crowd to disperse, they argued that since they were free they did not wish to return to the plantations to be forced to work. They stated that they were taking refuge in the churchyard which belonged to the King.
Charles Bean next tried to address the workers on behalf of the planters, but he only succeeded in inflaming them further by his threats and display of arrogance. He ordered two rural constables who were present to arrest two of the "ringleaders" (Damon was not one of them), but the two were immediately rescued by their friends. Bean and his fellow planters then called upon the soldiers to open fire on this unarmed crowd. Captain Groves, showing good control, declared that he would take no such action and would await the Governor's arrival.
The soldiers also did not act because they recognised that this was no mob, but just a crowd of peaceful workers gathered under their make-shift flag in order to show they were free people.
Governor Smyth arrived on Monday 11 August and the crowd quickly and peacefully obeyed his orders to end the seizure of the churchyard. Damon's "flag" which flew proudly for a few days in the churchyard was pulled down.
The Governor addressed the workers the next day at Plantation Richmond. He explained the Apprenticeship period which was in force, arrested the leaders of the demonstration, and ordered the rest back to work. Damon, by this time, was being referred to as the "Captain" and hence leader of the unrest.
He and a number of others were taken to Georgetown, tried and found guilty of rebellion. None of these men had threatened a single planter or his property and had not attacked anyone. They had simply stopped working for a few days and assembled under their own flag. Four of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment and severe floggings while two were sentenced to transportation (to New South Wales, Australia). Damon was sentenced to be hanged.
At the trial one of the judges protested against the trial proceedings but Chief Justice Wray insisted on the death penalty for Damon. He ruled that the hoisting of a flag, though by persons unarmed, was an act of rebellion, and though all were equally guilty, under the Roman-Dutch law, some might be punished more and some less.
At noon, on Monday October 13, 1834, Damon was hanged on a scaffold specially erected in front of the new Public Buildings. (The Public Buildings - which now house the Guyana National Assembly - had earlier been declared open on 3 April 1834).