In December 1825, John Campbell, John Manderson, and Thomas Raeburn, prosperous and respectable merchants of mixed ancestry from Montego Bay, a bustling port on Jamaica’s northwestern coast, sent a memorial on behalf of the free people of color in St. James parish to William Burge, Jamaica’s attorney general, for submission to the Commissioners of Legal Inquiry in the West Indies. Alexander Sympson from the Kingston Committee of People of Colour, a group formed to put pressure on the colonial legislature to grant free people of mixed descent equal rights with whites, submitted an additional memorial claiming to represent “the body of free coloured persons on the island.” Appointed by the Colonial Office following the British imperial government’s adoption of an amelioration policy in 1823, calculated to improve the moral and physical condition of the enslaved “such as may prepare them for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of his majesty’s subjects,” the commissioners had returned to Jamaica to collect answers to the questions posed to local officials during their first visit in the spring of 1825. As news of the commissioners’ arrival circulated through the island, leading free men of color moved swiftly to make known the grievances of those already free and of mixed blood....
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