King Tackey’s Slave Revolt in Antigua


Contrary to commonly peddled falsities, the victims of slavery in the New World did not meekly accept their fate and live happily ever after, working the cotton and sugar plantations in the day and then retiring to their quarters to play the banjo, sing, dance and make babies. Revolts, rebellions and righteous hatred for their white owners were very common. In fact, it is known that one of the major reasons that forced white men to even consider abolishing the evil institution was the prohibitive cost of containing the numerous slave revolts and rebellions. Whether on the American mainland or the Caribbean Islands, slaves plotted and carried out escapes and rebellions some of which were as desperate and violent as the retributions and punishments they suffered at the hands of their white slave owners. 

It was sheer resentment of prevailing harsh conditions imposed by white plantation owners that drove slaves to conspiracy and revolt. In Antigua, as in other places, these laws included absurdities like absence from work for 8 days was punishable with 150 lashes; 12 weeks, loss of a leg; and six months, death. Slaves could not go anywhere without a master’s permission. Any slave who chanced upon a white person must quickly step aside or risked flogging. Speaking rudely to a white person whatsoever could lead to death. Habitual runaways were branded with red‐hot iron and hanged. First time offenders would lose a leg or if pardoned by their masters would lose an ear plus 150 lashes. Slave owners in return did not hold themselves to any obligations towards the men and women they so harshly and brutally exploited.

Antigua and Barbuda, a two‐island nation in Eastern Caribbean saw a series of slave rebellions in the 1720s led by stoic men like Sharper, Frank, Papa Will and “King” Tackey. The story of Tackey is the most intriguing. He was kidnapped and brought to Antigua in 1701. Records put his arrival age at between 10 to 15 years old. His origins are traced to Kromantse (Coromantee) in the then Gold Coast, now Ghana. Kromantse, a fishing village in the Central region of Ghana, was used by European slave trading nations as a major holding and shipping point for slaves brought from hinterland. The historic town still exists as does the stone castle‐dungeon that held the captives. It is conceivable therefore that all so‐called Coromantee slaves were not necessarily natives of the Gold Coast. Consequently, there is no such thing as “slaves from the Coromantee tribe” as alleged in some works. 

Tackey was said to have come from the Asante (Ashanti) tribe. If accurate, the name is a corrupted version of his original “Takyi” name.  As an adult slave in Antigua, Tackey was crowned a king, complete with Akan religious ceremony in the presence of some two thousand slaves, the largest gathering in Antigua at that time. He was highly respected and was very influential among all the slaves in Antigua. King Tackey’s influence virtually helped to eliminate slave‐on‐slave crime. He befriended and established a spiritual bond of friendship with one Tomboy, a Creole slave born in Antigua with African parentage. Tomboy became second in command to the influential king. This friendship helped greatly to reduce tensions between Creole and African slaves. Tackey enjoyed a life of relative freedom and comfort in comparison to the fate of all other slaves. He was one of few slaves whose owner, Thomas Kerby, Justice and Speaker of the Assembly, allowed them to do things an average slave would and could not do. 

But he could not live and enjoy his relative freedom and good fortune while his people suffered injustices and degradation. In 1728, at age 37, the King and others hatched a plot that, if successful, would free his people and change conditions under which they lived in the country. Working with Tackey and Tomboy were Sekundi and Jacko, both Creole slaves. Other active participants included Hercules, Jack, Scipio, Ned, Fortune, and Joney. It must be noted that some of these silly‐sounding names were assigned by slave owners to serve their own whims and caprices. 

For several years, they planned and plotted in secrecy. A ceremony for the British Crown was to be held on October 11, 1735. Tomboy, an ace carpenter had the job of supervising carpentry work in a hall that would host a grand ball. The plot therefore assigned him the task of planting gunpowder at vantage points in the dancehall, where assault would be initiated as dancing begun. About 300 to 400 slaves were to enter town, subdue the partying whites (kill them if necessary) and seize strategic interests. The event was however, postponed to October 30.  Tomboy and others insisted on carrying out the plot on the agreed date but King Tackey persuaded his comrades to wait out the postponement. A slave, called Johnny, snitched out the plot. 

The governor ordered an inquiry and, as a result, eighty‐ eight slaves, besides Tackey, were implicated. They would be executed or punished in a most cruel and barbaric fashion. On October 26, 1736, King Tackey and his two generals were crucified. He was tied spread eagle onto a round wheel and left outside to die a slow and agonizing death that would deter others. Six were gibbeted for public viewing; seventy‐seven burnt alive and thirty‐six banished. Three slaves, Jacko, Ghlode, and Sacky who belonged to Sir William Codrington, onetime owner of the Betty Hope Sugar Plantation was among those executed. The judges who tried King Tackey surmised that he was from a formidable family from the Gold Coast but was not of royal blood as commonly thought.

Tackey’s failed plot was the first to strike an emancipation consciousness in a country where by 1774, 93 percent of a population of about 25,000 were slaves.  Slaves punished were…

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Posted by on Mar 13 2021. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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