Once upon a time, in the land of Berbice in Guyana were colonies of people who were originally inheriting a place held by the Van Peere family who were providing them with military service. It was after they refused to pay the ransom which was demanded by the French privateer Jacques Cassard, that the colony changed its hands to the four Amsterdam merchants who founded the Society of Berbice as a public company listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. The colony of Berbice was unsuccessful as compared to the other colonies that were built, because the colony only paid 4% of it’s dividend to the stockholders.
In 1762, the population of the Dutch colony of Berbice which included 3,833 of Blacks that were enslaved, 244 of indigenous people that were also enslaved, and 346 of the whites as well. The war which lasted for seven years caused total reduction in supplies to the colony, which resulted in hunger among the slave population. In late 1762, a disease broke out in the fort, which resulted in many soldiers falling ill and some even dying. On the 3rd ofJuly 1762, Laurens Kunckler, who was the owner of the plantation Goed Fortuin, left the colony for Fort Nassau. The slaves used his leave as an opportunity to raid his plantation, and hiding on an island high on the upriver.
The indigenous soldiers who were crucial to the Dutch effort were assigned to retake Berbice, especially Carib and Arawak, as their scouting and harassing of the rebel troops in the interior prevented the formation of the Maroon communities which were similar to those in Suriname. The indigenous soldiers, despite the help from the indigenous allies, were not able to capture the island again until the rebels were forced to leave on the 9th of August, as a result of shortage of food in Berbice.
This is what brought about the rebellion: On the 23rd of February 1763, the slaves on the Magdalenenberg plantation on the Canje River in Berbice started the rebellion, protesting harsh and inhuman treatments on the plantation. They set the plantation house on fire, and then moved to the Courantyne River where Carib and his troops who were commanded by Governor Wigbold Crommelin of Suriname were attacked, and they killed them. On the 27th of February 1763, a rebel took place on the Hollandia plantation on the Berbice River which was next to Lilienburg where Coffy who was an enslaved man was working as a cooper. Coffy was said to have organized the rebels into a military unit. From then onwards, the rebel spread to neighbouring plantations.
There were supposed to be 60 soldiers present in Fort Nassau, however during the time of the uprising, there were only 18 men including civilian militia present in the fort.
As plantation after plantation were destroyed by the slaves, the people who settled in Dutch, fled towards the north and the rebels began to take control over the region. For almost a year, the rebels held on to the South of Berbice, whilst the whites were able to hold on to the north. Eventually about only half of the white population that had lived in the colony remained alive.
The rebels came to a number of about 3,000 and threatened the European control over the Guyanas. Coffy was then installed as the political leader, and Accara became the military leader. Coffy tried to keep the captured plantations which were operating to prevent starvation. Governor van Hoogenheim then asked the States General for military assistance. On the 28th of March 1763, the ship called Betsy arrived from Suriname with 100 soldiers. The former slaves were driven back in the ship, and a camp was set up at the Daybreak. On April 2nd, 300 to 400 rebels attacked again and it was led by Accara which drove them back.
Coffy then contacted Van Hoogenheim and said he had regretted the attack.Coffy then started peace negotiations which suggested that Berbice should split into an European and an African part. The Governor then told Amsterdam to make the decision, and that it could take a maximum of three to four months. In April, 200 troops arrived from Barbados because a message was sent to Gedney Clarke, who owned seven plantations in the Dutch colonies, and in May, Sint Eustatiusustatius provided the military assistance. Meanwhile, word had reached Amsterdam.On May 21st 1763, the Amsterdam Courant reported the rebel of the slaves. The merchants demanded some action, and six ships with a total of 600 men set sail to Berbice. Field Marshal von Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was assigned to devise a plan to conquer the colony again.
On the 19th of October 1763, it was reported to the governor that Captain Atta had rebelled against Coffy, and that Coffy had committed suicide. This cancelled all the peace negotiations, however the colonists had already been strengthened by the arrival of the soldiers. On the 1st of January 1764, the six ships arrived, which provided the starting signal for expeditions against the rebel slaves.The insurgents were then defeated. Captain Atta and Accara were captured and at that time Accara changed sides, and helped the Dutch to capture Captain Accabre, the last of the insurgents, on April 15th 1764. The Dutch then executed many rebels for participating in the rebellion. The estimates varied from 75 to 128 (125 men and 3 women), which led to the colony being captured again in 1764. Around 1,800 rebels died, in which 24 were burned alive. Captain Accara was pardoned, and later served as a freed man with the marines under his former adversary Fourgeoud. The population of the colony then decreased to 1,308 male slaves, 1,317 females, 745 children, and 115 whites in November 1764 which included the slaves that were purchased recently.
After the Berbice rebellion, very little changed. The Society of Berbice complained a lot about the number of executions after the uprising, however they were worried that their reputation will be degraded their valuable slaves who lost their lives. The Dutch newspapers devoted a lot of cover to the uprising, however they quickly lost interest after the rebel was put down. The last publication the Dutch did was on the rebellion was on 19th September 1764 by the Leeuwarder Courant which published a sensationalist eyewitness account of the executions that occurred.
During the fights, Fort Nassau had been abandoned and set on fire to prevent it falling into the hands of their enemies. ln 1785, they decided to move the government to Fort Sint Andries which was renamed as New Amsterdam in 1791. The Society of Berbice got caught in a serious financial problem after the rebellion, and asked the States of Holland which was a provincial government for a loan. In 1773, the Society of Berbice had repaid ƒ134,815 of the ƒ786,354, and asked for a deferment of payment which was granted. There are no records till date that the remaining interest have ever been paid. In February 1765, Gedney Clarke’s son sent an invoice of ƒ41,060 for his assistance which was never paid.
Some couple of years later in Suriname, the escaped slaves lead by Boni attacked the plantations. Boni tried to get a peace treaty which was similar to what the Ndyuka and Saramaka received in 1760 and 1762 respectively, but another war was declared instead. The reason why the Society of Suriname changed their position till date is unknown, however people like Lichtveld pointed it to the Berbice slave uprising. In the mid 1770’s military officers who had handled the Berbice uprising were dispatched to Suriname.
Coffy till date is commemorated on 23 February, as the national hero of Guyana. In 1976, a bronze monument was placed in the Square of the Revolutions, in the capital town Georgetown.The monument has been designated as a National Monument till date.