George William Gordon (1820 – 23 October 1865) was a wealthy mixed-race Jamaican businessman, magistrate and politician, one of two representatives to the Assembly from St. Thomas-in-the-East Parish. He was a leading critic of the colonial government and the policies of Jamaican Governor Edward Eyre.
After the start of the Morant Bay rebellion in October 1865, Eyre declared martial law in that area, directed troops to suppress the rebellion, and ordered the arrest of Gordon in Kingston. He had him returned to Morant Bay to stand trial under martial law. Gordon was quickly convicted of conspiracy and executed, on suspicion of having planned the rebellion. Eyre's rapid execution of Gordon on flimsy charges during the crisis, and the death toll and violence of his suppression of the revolt, resulted in a huge controversy in Britain. Opponents of Eyre and his actions attempted to have him prosecuted for murder, but the case never went to trial. He was forced to resign. The British government passed legislation to make Jamaica a Crown Colony, governing it directly for decades. In 1969, the Jamaican government proclaimed Gordon as a National Hero of Jamaica .
George William Gordon was the second of eight children born in Jamaica to a Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon (1790?–1867), and an enslaved woman, Ann Rattray (1792? – before 1865). His siblings were Mary Ann (1813?), Margaret (1819?), Janet Isabella (1824?), John (1825?), Jane (1826?), Ann (1828?) and Ralph Gordon (1830). Gordon was self-educated, teaching himself to read, write, and perform simple accounting. At the age of ten, he was allowed to live with his godfather, James Daly of Black River, Jamaica. Within a year, Gordon began working in Daly's business.
Gordon was elected from St. Thomas-in-the-East parish as a member of the House of Assembly. He earned a reputation by the mid-1860s as a critic of the colonial government, especially Governor Edward John Eyre. He maintained a correspondence with English evangelical critics of colonial policy. He also established a Native Baptist church, where Paul Bogle was a deacon. Although this was unknown at the time, in May 1865 Gordon attempted to purchase an ex-Confederate schooner with a view to ferrying arms and ammunition to Jamaica from the United States of America. In 1865 the mass of Jamaicans were ex-slaves and their descendents; they struggled with poverty and crop failure in the mostly rural economy, and the aftermath of crippling epidemics of cholera and smallpox.
In October 1865, following the Morant Bay Rebellion led by Bogle, Governor Eyre ordered the arrest of Gordon, whom he suspected of planning the rebellion. By order of Eyre, Gordon was transported from Kingston, where martial law was not in force, to Morant Bay, where it was. Within two days Gordon was tried for high treason by court-martial, without due process of law, sentenced to death, and executed on 23 October.
The execution of Gordon and the brutality of Eyre's suppression of the revolt, with hundreds of Jamaicans killed by soldiers and more executed after trials, made the affair a cause célèbre in Britain. John Stuart Mill and other liberals sought unsuccessfully to have Eyre (and others) prosecuted. When they were unable to get the cases to trial, the liberals worked to bring civil proceedings against Eyre. He was forced to resign from office but never went to trial.
In 1969, Gordon and Bogle were each proclaimed as Jamaican National Heroes in a government ceremony at Morant Bay.
In 1969, Jamaica converted its currency to a decimal system, and it issued new currency. Gordon was featured on the ten-dollar note (now a coin).
George William Gordon is mentioned in the song "Innocent Blood" and also "See them a come" by the reggae band Culture. He is noted in the song "Silver Tongue Show" by Groundation, "Give Thanks and Praise" by Roy Rayon, "Prediction" and "Born Fe Rebel" by Steel Pulse, and "Our Jamaican National Heroes" by Horace Andy.
Duncan Fletcher, Personal Recollections of the Honourable George W. Gordon, late of Jamaica (1867), available online