Jamaica Emancipation Day History

The island of Jamaica celebrated their emancipation today as August 1, 1834 marked the day slavery became demolished.

It started with only the children under six years of age being free. The other slaves worked 40 hours per week without compensation for their former masters. Work rewards were lodging, food, and clothing. Provided also was medical attendance and soil to grow their own provisions.

The bill for the abolition of slavery in the British colonies received the royal assent on August 28, 1838. It stated:

“Be it enacted, that all and every one of the persons who on the first day of August one thousand eight hundred and thirty four, shall be holden in slavery within such British colony as aforesaid, shall, upon and from and after the said first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four, become and be to all intents and purposes free and discharged from all manner of slavery, and shall be absolutely and forever manumitted.”

The passage of the bill above enabled 311,000 enslaved Africans in Jamaica and hundreds of thousands more across the colonies. 

In 1838 as promised, slaves received full freedom. A tradition arose afterward. Locals would keep vigils on July 31 and at midnight church bells would ring out. Drums played in parks and public squares to reenact the first moments of freedom.

The next day another re-enactment of the reading of the Emancipation Declaration in town centers took place. Specifically at the former capital in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. The reading of the Emancipation Declaration ensued on the steps of the Old King's House.

Redemption Song sculpture by Laura Face.

1893 is when the Emancipation Day became a public holiday officially. The 'Firsts of August,' celebrations ceased when Jamaica gained independence in 1962. Replacing it was Independence Day. Prime Minister PJ Patterson re-instituted the holiday in 1997.

The Emancipation Park opened on July 31, 2002. In 2003, the 11-foot bronze sculpture, Redemption Song debuted. Jamaican contemporary artist Laura Face created it.

The sculpture displays a man and woman gazing to the skies. It is meant to symbolize their triumphant rise from the horrors of slavery.

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our minds." - Marcus Garvey

Overhead view of Emancipation Park


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