Prescod abhorred the treatment
meted out to Coloureds and Blacks by the planter class and that dehumanising and
debilitating institution known as slavery. From an early age, he set about trying to unite
the masses, Coloureds, Blacks and Poor Whites, into a coalition of the oppressed and to
agitate for their enfranchisement.
According to one historian, he fought for all the things he believed
in, and people's love for him grew when they realised he was prepared to denounce abuses
and support reforms that affected all classes in the community. As a result, the masses
put their faith in him and Prescod skillfully used his influence to build up a political
organization - "The Liberal Party" - which fought for social justice for over 25
However, it could probably be argued that Prescod had his greatest
impact on people through the printed page. Recognising the power of the pen, he used the
newspapers, of which he was editor, to write scathing articles accusing the planters of
pursuing policies which suppressed Blacks and so made freedom unimportant.
Through this forum, he also provided free discussion on all topics
relating to the labouring population and he tried to unite the Free Coloured, the
apprenticed workers and the Poor Whites against the powerful plantocracy.
Among Prescod's early successes was the admission of Free Coloured
people to vote in 1831 and from as early as 1839 he recommended that Universal Adult
Suffrage be made law, but this proposal was ridiculed by the oligarchy in Parliament.
In the period of limited franchise, he was elected on June 6, 1843, as
one of two members for the newest constituency, the City of Bridgetown, thus becoming the
first non-White to sit in the House of Assembly. Later, he became the leader of a small
group of white members in the House, who agreed with his policies. This was the Liberal
Party which functioned as an unofficial "Opposition" for over 20 years.
Born out of wedlock in 1806 to Lydia Smith, a Free Coloured woman, and
William Prescod, a wealthy landowner, he was named after Samuel Jackman, a rich white
planter in St. Peter. He attended St. Mary's School and was later apprenticed as a joiner.
In this period Barbados was very much "heaven" for the elite
Whites, "hell" for Blacks and "purgatory" for Free Coloureds. In this
social environment, men of Prescod's complexion suffered humiliations and were relegated
to menial positions in every sphere of life.
Fortunately, however, he had no intention of spending his life as a
second-class citizen. He therefore "retired to a life of study and
contemplation", preparing himself for the struggle against injustice.
His campaign for the enfranchisement of Free Coloureds started in 1829.
It gained impetus because he chided them for being too complacent and not going far enough
in their demands. When this group started the "New Times" newspaper in March,
1836, Prescod was given the onerous task of editing the publication.
However, after only eight months he relinquished the post because he
felt the promise he had been given for full editorial control had been broken. He later
joined "The Liberal" newspaper, which was founded by the Poor Whites, and spent
25 years educating the masses through its pages.
So strong was Prescod's belief that this channel of communication
should remain open, that when "The Liberal" ran into financial problems a few months after being
launched, he and Thomas Harris bought it. He was given a free hand by Harris to continue
defending the rights of Blacks and it was probably not surprising that in 1840 he was
charged with criminal libel and jailed for eight days.
Prescod's radical newspaper earned him a reputation of being a
"counsellor", "adviser", "poisonous revolutionary",
"trouble maker", and "enemy of the established order". One thing is
certain: He made people think. In fact, historians argue that he was more effective as a
journalist than as a Member of the House of Assembly.
Even during the apprenticeship system, 1834-1838, Prescod demonstrated
his interest in the development of Blacks and his educational programmes
helping them to know their rights so they could "challenge the plantocracy".
The effort gained him widespread support and respect and he
consistently agitated for the establishment of primary, secondary and tertiary education
facilities for the children of ex-slaves.
Prescod's courageous feats continued in the House of Assembly for
nearly 20 years. He vehemently opposed class legislation and constantly defended the
welfare of the underprivileged. He was also instrumental in getting the Secretary of State
to decide that certain clauses in the Police Act be reconsidered and readjusted, because
he felt they had sought to "maintain unjust distinctions between white and coloured
In 1860 he retired from Parliament and later accepted the office of
Judge of the Assistant Court of Appeal.
Prescod died on September 26, 1871, at the age of 65 and was buried in
St. Mary's Church yard. The "Barbados Times" newspaper, describing him as
"the great tribune of the people", said he had not been induced to "swerve
one jot or title from his allegiance to the cause of right and justice".
The editor of the "Agricultural Reporter", a newspaper
produced by his adversaries, the elite white planters, stated: "Such a man is
scarcely likely ever to appear upon the scene of life here or anywhere in the West Indies
for the simple reason that the same circumstances can never exist again. His class can
never again produce so strong a man in the sense in which he was strong because no one of
them will ever (be) required to fight such a battle as that which he fought and won."
The Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic was named after this valiant
Barbadian who struggled for the upliftment of the down-trodden.
*Source: "National Heroes of Barbados", published by The
Information Service. Information provided by Government of