A little over 4 million of the over 12 million slaves captured from Africa to work on the vast plantations of the Americas spent their lives in the Caribbean, with nearly a million on the island of Antigua breaking their backs on the numerous sugar cane plantations that made sugar merchants the richest traders in the world at the time.
Sugar cane plantations held by the Danes, Spanish, and British sprouted up swiftly after the discovery of the Caribbean and its favorable meteorological conditions. Sugar was a precious and expensive item imported in limited quantities from India at the time.
The discovery of the Caribbean, particularly the wonderful weather on the island of Antigua and Barbuda, altered everything, and sugar became the most successful enterprise on the planet. As the number of plantations grew, so did the need for slaves, resulting in an influx of African captives laboring nonstop in harsh weather conditions with little or no food and rest.
After the death of King Takyi Kuma, a few years after the end of the Kommenda wars, 10-year-old Kwaku was captured from Gold Coast, West Africa, which is now Ghana, during the great Eguafo Civil war in 1704. Between the 1680s and 1700s, multiple battles erupted on the Gold Coast, allowing Danish and British slave dealers to capture as many people as possible and sell them into slavery.
Kwaku was caught and brought to the Caribbean, where he was quickly acquired by Thomas Kerby, a wealthy sugar plantation. Kwaku demonstrated strength and bravery at a young age by standing up to white supervisors who tormented him or any of his companions.
He was quickly known among the planters as Court, pronounced Klaas by the island’s enslaved Africans. Thomas Kerby, who had been given a large sum of money in exchange for Kwaku, instead awarded him the title of “Head Slave” and placed him in command of his largest and most lucrative plantation in St. Johns, Antigua. Kwaku was dubbed Prince Klaas by the enslaved Africans as a result of this.
Kwaku became enraged after laboring for numerous years with nothing to his name and vowed to free himself and all other slaves who had worked for white plantations for several years. Slave treatment in Antigua was atrocious by the late 1720s, with many being burned to death, lynched, whipped to death, or starved to death for committing an offence, requesting better treatment, or covertly marrying to white planters’ and merchants’ female sexual interests.
Kwaku devised a plan in 1728 to rid the island of all Europeans, abolish slavery, and turn Antigua into an African state. He exchanged specifics with numerous like-minded slaves who helped him develop his plan after figuring out a wonderful way to implement it. The approach took eight years to prepare and was ready to implement in 1736.
The idea was for a 10-gallon barrel of explosives to be smuggled into the building and blown up, killing every single westerner at the dance, in late October of 1736, at a magnificent party for the westerners in honor of George II’s coronation. The sound of the explosion was intended to signal numerous allied enslaved Africans to begin killing any white people they came across, resulting in a general massacre and Kwaku’s enthronement as the new African Kingdom’s leader.
The idea was well-thought-out, and it involved more than ten massive plantations. Kwaku was crowned King of the Black Community during an Akan ritual at one of the planning meetings.
Unfortunately for Kwaku and his companions, a slave who wished to remain unknown for his own protection disclosed the plot to many slave masters. Kwaku and several of his allies were apprehended, and the ball was postponed.
Following the discovery of evidence against Kwaku and his arrested men, they were put to death by a gruesome method. The executions were supposed to be lengthy and painful, and they were supposed to be carried out in public to prevent other Africans on the island from plotting rebellions.
Kwaku and his soldiers were murdered one by one in groups from early November through Christmas in 1736. The assassinations ceased during the Christmas season and resumed on March 8, 1737.
Kwaku and five other plantation executives were executed by “breaking on the wheel,” a gruesome death penalty that was equivalent to crucifixion. His body was bound to a cartwheel and spun till he died while being stroked by an executioner. He was cruelly whipped while chained to the cartwheel before being wheeled to death. Six others were left to starve to death after being strung on iron, while 77 others were burned to death.
The “Antigua’s Disputed Slave Conspiracy of 1736,” as it is called, could have launched the beginning of African authority outside of Africa if it had been successful.
Every year on October 22, the people of Antigua and Barbuda commemorate the execution of Kwaku, now known as Prince Klaas. In St Johns, a monument to Prince Klaas/King Court, constructed by Sir Reginald Samuel, stands in the town. Prince Klaas’ art and history are on display in the Antigua and Barbuda Museum. The execution of Prince Klaas took place 285 years ago this year.