February 26 will always go down as a sad day for Assam. It was on this day in 1858 that the British colonial rulers hanged to death Maniram Dewan, one of the greatest sons of Assam. Born on April 27, 1806, Maniram was not only witness to the repeated Burmese invasions of Assam in 1817, 1819 and 1821, but also to various other upheavals that Assam underwent in the first six decades of the nineteenth century including this land getting annexed to British India. When his father Ramdatta Dolakasoriya Barua – a close confidante of the then Ahom king Purandar Simha – had fled along with the king to Chilmari in British Bengal in the wake of the Burmese invasion, Maniram had the opportunity to learn Sanskrit, Persian, Bengali and Mathematics. When the family returned to Assam and stayed at Goalpara, the young man came into contact with young British traders and officers like David Scott, Lt Col Arthur Richards and Robert Bruce, all of whom had come forward to help Purandar Sinha fight the Burmese. As his biographers like Benudhar Sarma and Ajit Kumar Dutta have said, young Maniram’s manifold qualities, particularly his sound knowledge of history and geography of the land, impressed them all. No wonder, when the British decided to take on the Burmese, it was Maniram who accompanied and guided Scott and Capt Horshburgh’s 23rd Native Infantry in their march to upper Assam. Though Assam passed into the hands of the British vide the Treaty of Yandaboo, Maniram — who had initially fought for Assam’s sovereignty — later joined the British and served in several capacities in administration, policing and even in justice delivery. The last task had landed him in a controversy when he became party to the decision to hang freedom fighters Piyoli Phukan and Jiuram Duliya Barua. On being appointed Dewan of the Assam Company, he quickly picked up the art of planting and manufacturing tea, and set up two tea estates of his own. A shrewd nobleman, he also realised that the British were here more for trade than anything else, and looked at tea as a weapon with which one could probably hit the British where it hurts the most. He also pleaded before Sudder Judge AJ Moffatt Mills in 1853 for restoration of the Ahom monarchy, but having failed in that attempt instead joined hands with leaders of the Sepoy Mutiny to spread the fire to Assam. It was Assam’s misfortune that Maniram Dewan was arrested and subsequently hanged to death on this day, February 26, 1858.