George William Gordon (1820 – 23 October 1865) was a Jamaican businessman, magistrate and politician who was a leading critic of the policies of the governor of Jamaica Edward Eyre. On Eyre's orders, he was executed after the Morant Bay rebellion. Gordon's execution created huge controversy in Britain, and several attempts were made to charge Eyre with murder. On the centenary of his death, he was proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica.
1 Early life
2 Political career and death
3 Reputation and legacy
Gordon was the second of eight children born to a Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon (1790?–1867) and a mulatto slave, Ann Rattray (1792? – before 1865). He was self-educated, teaching himself to read, write, and perform simple accounting. At ten, Gordon was allowed to go and live with his godfather, James Daly of Black River. Within a year, Gordon began working in Daly's business. Gordon became a businessman and a landowner in the parish of St Thomas-in-the-East. His siblings are Mary Ann Gordon (1813?), Margaret Gordon (1819?), Janet Isabella Gordon (1824?), John Gordon (1825?), Jane Gordon (1826?), Ann Gordon (1828?) and Ralph Gordon (1830).
Political career and death
As a member of the House of Assembly, Gordon acquired a reputation as a critic of the colonial government, especially Governor Edward John Eyre in the mid-1860s. He maintained a correspondence with English evangelical critics of colonial policy. He also established his own Native Baptist church, where Paul Bogle was a deacon. Unbeknownst to all at the time of the events, in May 1865 Gordon had attempted to purchase an ex-Confederate schooner with a view to ferrying arms and ammunition from the United States of America.
In October 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion led by Bogle, Gordon was taken from Kingston, where martial law was not in force, to Morant Bay, where it was. He was tried for high treason by court martial, without due process of law, sentenced to death and executed on 23 October. Gordon's death and the brutality of Eyre's suppression of the revolt made the affair a cause célèbre in Britain. John Stuart Mill and other liberals sought unsuccessfully to have Eyre (and others) prosecuted, and when those attempts failed, to bring civil proceedings against him.
Reputation and legacy
George Gordon on the Jamaican ten-dollar note
In the aftermath of the labour rebellion of 1938, Gordon came to be seen as a precursor of Jamaican nationalism. This was helped by the play George William Gordon by Roger Mais, which compared Gordon's death to the sacrifice of Jesus. In 1965, Gordon and Bogle were proclaimed National Heroes in a ceremony at Morant Bay. When Jamaica decimalized its currency in 1969, Gordon appeared on the ten-dollar note (now a coin).
The Parliament of Jamaica meets in the Gordon House, built in 1960 and named in his memory.
George William Gordon is mentioned in the song "Innocent Blood" and also "See them a come" by the reggae band Culture and in the song "Silver Tongue Show" by Groundation "Give Thanks and Praise" by Roy Rayon and "Prediction" and "Born Fe Rebel" by Steel Pulse and "Our Jamaican National Heroes" by Horace Andy.