Project Canterbury

The Diocese of Jamaica
A Short Account of Its History, Growth and Organisation

By J.B. Ellis, M.A.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1913.

Chapter I.

THE Story of the Diocese of Jamaica would be incomplete unless some account, however brief, were given of the general history of the Colony, both before and after the date at which it was created a Bishop's See. A hurried survey must be made of the principal historical landmarks, the discovery of the Island, its acquisition as a British Possession, together with the various influences, religious, social and political, which affected it before it was constituted a separate diocese. By so doing we shall be able to form some definite idea of the racial and other characteristics of the various classes of men who are now collectively known as Jamaicans; we shall learn something of the causes which in times past tended, some to retard, others to advance the moral and religious growth of the Colony, something too of the difficulties which the Church of England has had to contend with as well as the temporal and secular advantages which she has had to assist her.

Such a sketch must necessarily be fragmentary and incomplete, for the history of Jamaica is so full of exciting events and thrilling incidents that its compression into a limited space must deprive it of much that is interesting and worth knowing.

In the last decade of the fourteenth century, Christopher Columbus, under the auspices of the Spanish monarchy, started on his memorable voyage to find a Western route to India. On the 12th of October, 1492, he landed on one of the Bahama Islands, called by the natives Guanahane, which he named San Salvador, and which is now known as Watling's Island, commemorating the name of a notorious buccaneer, who was shot in 1680 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the town of Arica. Believing that he had reached either the coast of India or the shores of some out-lying island, Columbus naturally called the natives Indians, a name which was afterwards generally given to the aboriginal inhabitants both of the continent of America and of the Islands in and around the Caribbean Sea. After it was realised that Columbus had not found a new way to the known Indies, but a hitherto unknown continent, the words "Indies" and "Indians" still continued to be used with the prefix West, to distinguish places and peoples from the East Indies and East Indians.

On the 3rd of May, 1494, when England was occupied with Perkin Warbeck, Columbus, then on his second voyage of discovery to the Western Seas, anchored off the Northern coast of Jamaica in a harbour which was probably the present Port Maria, though there are those who consider that St. Ann's Bay and Dry Harbour have greater claims to priority of discovery. Struck with the surpassing beauty of the place off which he anchored, Columbus named the harbour Santa Gloria--one of the considerable number of names given by him, some religious, some descriptive, others fanciful, many of which had but a short and fugitive existence and never passed into common use. Finding the harbour too much exposed for the safety of his weather-beaten ships, on the following day he sailed in a westerly direction and, amid some slight opposition from the natives, landed either at Dry Harbour or at Ora Cabecca, now known as Oracabessa, and took formal possession of the Island in the united names of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Contrary to his usual custom Columbus did not, as in the cases of Nevis, Grenada, etc., name the newly-found Island after some geographical feature of Spain, or, as in the cases of Trinidad, Dominica, Guadaloupe, etc., by any name suggested by religious associations, but adopted the name Xaymaca, since corrupted to Jamaica, which was in use among the Indian fishermen who guided his course. The word Xaymaca, we are told, is derived from two Indian words meaning "water" and "wood," and there is quite a possibility that it was originally used in a generally descriptive sense rather than as an exclusive title, for the name is appropriate enough at the present day, except in time of severe drought, to any part of the district first visited by Columbus.

In thus taking possession of Jamaica in the name of the Spanish Sovereigns, Columbus may have been partly influenced by the common-sense reason that the expedition under his command was fitted out from Spain, but his action was mainly due to the fact that, as a devout Catholic, he was bound by a decree, dated in the previous year, May, 1493, in which Pope Alexander VI. gave to the Spanish Crown "omnes insulas et terras firmas, inventas et inveniendas, detectas et detegendas versus Occidentem." The right of discovery, and subsequently of conquest, would now-a-days probably be regarded as more substantial than this deed of gift. The Pope, whose ability is recognised by historians as frankly as his immoral character and vicious habits are denounced, seems to have been influenced by political, quite as much as by religious, motives in making this grant, but there is no doubt that Queen Isabella was genuinely anxious for the religious instruction and moral improvement of the newly acquired Indian subjects of the Spanish Crown. The first visit of Columbus was of short duration. Two weeks' coasting brought him to the North-Western extremity of the Island, from which point he sailed in a northerly direction to Cuba, returning to Jamaica in July of the same year (1494). Sailing along the Southern coast from West to East against contrary winds and in weather-beaten ships, he found welcome shelter in various land-protected harbours till he reached a bay which, from his description, is easily identified as being between Portland Point to the East and Cabarita Point to the West, having on its shore the little town now known as Old Harbour. Here in a curious interview, Columbus in a friendly way declined to give a free passage to Spain to an Indian chief who was anxious, together with wife, sons, daughters and brothers, to return with him. Continuing his journey along the Southern coast he left Jamaica on the i6th of August, 1494, and did not return until nearly ten years later, when in June, 1504, with two leaking, crippled ships he put in at Puerto Bueno, the modern Dry Harbour, on the north coast of the Island. Here he lingered for twelve months. It is no part of our story to give a detailed account of this visit. It was a time of grievous trial and hardship. Not merely had he to endure a long and painful illness, which kept him in enforced inactivity, but also he had to deal with mutiny and discontent among his companions, and to bear the spiteful jealousy of the Spanish Governor of Hispaniola (Haiti) who, though apprised of his gallant countryman's urgent need, first delayed to send any sort of help, and then, by trickery and treachery, tried to frustrate the assistance he was reluctantly compelled to provide. On the 28th of June, 1505, Columbus left Jamaica, never to return, having crushed the mutiny and generously forgiven all the mutineers except Francisco de Porras, one of the ringleaders.

Jamaica, thus discovered and acquired, remained in the possession of Spain for more than a century and a half. This period is mainly memorable for the almost complete annihilation of the aboriginal inhabitants of the island. As far as the religious condition of Jamaica during these years of Spanish occupation is concerned, it is unfortunate that most of our available authorities write with so strong and pronounced a Protestant bias that we are bound in common charity to believe, as well as to hope, that their records of the misdeeds of the Roman Catholic Church are grossly exaggerated. The stream is certainly coloured and was probably tainted at its source. The time, too, was not one that was remarkable for any very great display of missionary spirit or evangelistic effort. Indeed, it could not be, for at that time nearly the whole of the inhabited part of the then-known world was under Christian influence, if not Christianised. In our days missionary work is being carried on in countries which were unknown when Columbus set sail for the West, and there need be little wonder that the missionary zeal of the apostles and even the missionary character of the Christian faith should not be prominent in the Church in the Middle Ages. Our Lord's command "go ye into all the world" was still there, but, to the extent of the geographical knowledge of the day, the Church had gone into all the world. And we cannot forget that the house of the Church of England, which was subsequently built on the ruins of the Romish Church, was so largely constructed of glass that we cannot afford to throw stones at our predecessors. One of the most generally quoted authorities is Gage, whom the Rev. G. W. Bridges (a Church of England clergyman), in his Annals of Jamaica, refers to as one whom we have no reason to suspect either of exaggeration or of prejudice. This certificate of character can scarcely be accepted by any one except by those who are themselves prejudiced. For Gage had been for thirty-eight years a Romish priest, and, while giving him full credit for conscientiously joining the ministry of the Anglican Church, we must also credit him with his share of the enthusiasm of a new convert, as well as with that self-complacency which sometimes looks back with contempt on opinions which it has left behind. It is indeed not always easy for those who "seem to have reached a purer air" to be content with leaving their "sister where she prays." It is also worthy of note that, though Gage speaks in language of supreme contempt not only of the doctrines and practices which he had discarded, but also of the means by which the Spanish clergy enriched themselves in Jamaica, he does not appear to have made any effort to refund any part of the money, amounting to nearly £500 per annum, which he had received by those very means which he denounces with so much vigour and spleen. Plainly, the evidence of such a man must be cautiously received. Putting aside, then, prejudice and exaggeration, the most we can definitely say is that the Roman Catholic priesthood did very little, and perhaps had very scant opportunity, to spread any actual knowledge of Christian truth among the Jamaica Indians, or to set before them any very striking model of Christian practice.

Nor is this very surprising. The Spanish adventurers and settlers of these fierce times--not a few of them being transported robbers and murderers--were not made of that material which is most susceptible to the reception of religious truths or most likely to retain religious impressions, while, as far as the Indians were concerned, the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of carrying on any real missionary work among them may be illustrated by an anecdote from the neighbouring island of Cuba. A cacique, or chief, by name Hatuey, fled from St. Domingo to Cuba to escape his European tormentors, having in his possession a valuable casket of gold. When pursued by the Spaniards the idea occurred to him that he might propitiate the Spanish Deity. "Behold," he said, pointing to the golden box, "the God of the Europeans"; and summoning his friends and followers he held a mighty feast in honour of this Deity, offering sacrifices and singing and dancing round the precious box. Still the Spaniards drew nearer in their pursuit and Hatuey told his companions that they must be rid entirely of the God of the Spaniards before they could hope to be free from their persecuting presence. Accordingly the gold casket was solemnly buried in the sea. Nevertheless Hatuey was captured and promptly--possibly because the coveted gold had been thrown away--condemned to be burnt alive. While the necessary preparations for his execution were being made, a good friar tried to convert and baptize the unhappy cacique, enlarging much on the happiness of a future heaven. "In this heaven of yours," asked the condemned man, "are there any Spaniards?" "Certainly," answered the friar, "but they are all good Spaniards." "The best of them are good for nothing," retorted Hatuey, "and I will not go where I am likely to meet one of that awful tribe." So he died bravely, unshriven and unbaptized. Hatuey's opinion, thus frankly and roughly stated, was probably shared at that time by most Englishmen and cordially reciprocated by most Spaniards. The religious ceremonies of the Church appear, where possible, to have been conducted in stately buildings, of which little or no trace remains. At the first capital Seville D'Oro, in the parish of St. Ann, founded by Diego Columbus, son and successor of the discoverer, was built a Collegiate Church, which was served by the order of the Hieronimites and of which Peter Martyr was the Abbot. There is no direct evidence that Peter Martyr ever resided at Seville Abbey, though in the "Decades" he writes in glowing language of the pleasure to be derived from such residence. In 1688, Sir Hans Sloane reported the existence of ruins of ecclesiastical buildings at Seville, but these and other relics of distant days have long ago disappeared beneath the exigencies of agriculture and the rapid growth of tropical vegetation. For some reason, which can only be conjectured, the seat of Government was moved in or about 1530 from Seville to St. Jago de la Vega (the modern Spanish Town), and here were built an abbey, two churches and two chapels. Jamaica, not being so wealthy as the neighbouring Spanish West Indian possessions, does not seem to have attracted Spanish-born priests so much as did the richer places, for when the English first occupied the island, they found negro priests of the Roman Church. No reference, however scanty, to the religious condition of Jamaica during the Spanish occupation would be complete with, out mentioning the labours in the cause of righteousness of Las Casas, who has deservedly been called the "Protector-General of the Indians." Las Casas gives horrible accounts of blood-curdling atrocities, of which he was himself an eye-witness. No good purpose could be served by repeating these accounts. It is enough for us to record here that his humane efforts were so far successful that a Bull was issued in 1542 by the Pope, restoring the Indians to nominal freedom. But this concession came too late. The philanthropic friar had tried to save a doomed, or a dying, race, for when the Bull was granted by the Pope and confirmed by the Emperor Charles, Jamaica was almost depopulated of its aboriginal Indians. [The grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella.]

A few words must be said about this interesting people. They left behind them few records, few memorials, hardly a trace of legendary lore. Indeed, after the discovery of the West Indies, European adventurers in and about the islands were too keen in their often fruitless search for wealth to care much, if at all, for the Indians, whose lands they sometimes appropriated, sometimes ransacked and left desolate. The special correspondent was then unborn; printing was in its infancy and but few travellers put into writing the impressions they formed or the information they collected. It seems, however, certain that the Bahamas and the Western Islands (the Greater Antilles) were inhabited by Arawaks, and the Eastern Islands (Leeward and Windward Islands) by Caribs. "Both are described," so summarises Sir Frederick Treves, "as races of the Mongolian type, with yellow to olive-brown skin, long, lank, black hair, a broad skull, almond-shaped black eyes, slightly oblique, and bodies of moderate stature." Whether they were descended from, or akin to, emigrants from Asia to the American continent some thousands of years ago is an interesting question outside the purpose of these pages. It is, however, fairly certain that within not too distant times both Arawaks and Caribs emigrated from Yucatan and Mexico to the Northern and North-Easterly parts of South America, and thence came north to the Islands, the former being the first to arrive. It was Arawaks that Columbus found in possession of Jamaica. They appear to have been of a gentler, milder, more inoffensive disposition than we usually associate with savage tribes. Though not deficient in courage, they offered only a feeble resistance to Columbus and his companions. They were not cannibals, nor were they treacherous or cruel. Far different were the Caribs, a wild, fierce, warlike race, freely practising cannibalism. It is probable that the Arawaks had been driven from South America by Caribs, and later on from the Lesser Antilles to the more Western Islands; and that, but for the Spanish occupation, they would either have been eaten by their ancient enemies, or forced to find refuge on the mainland of Central America.

Little is known of the Arawak religion. No idols of theirs, no images survive, and only the dimmest outline of a creed. They were religious with perhaps an unusually small element of superstition in their religion. They believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, all-powerful and invisible, whom they worshipped under the name of Iocahuna, while at the same time they did reverence to other inferior and household deities. In the very scanty records of their ritual observances I can find no evidence to show that they offered human sacrifices. They had certain quaint ideas of the creation of the world, and also a tradition about a deluge, and they believed in a future state of existence, the highest happiness in which was to be found in the enjoyment of sensual, rather than of spiritual, delights.

Their form of Government was simple, patriarchal and dignified. They were expert fishermen, and cultivated the soil just as much as was necessary to supply their own needs from day to day. In a tropical climate it is not necessary to lay by a store of provisions for unproductive winter months: hence the impossibility of satisfying the Spanish demands for supplies of food for a large number of men. Their main recreation was dancing, and they played a game called Bato, a primitive sort of Rugby football, modified by a few acrobatic arts: in this game, both men and women joined in playing, and matches were frequently played between teams from neighbouring villages. They smoked tobacco, using that curious form of pipe which resembles in shape a schoolboy's wooden catapult, and consists of one straight tube, branching off into two other tubes which were inserted up the nostrils. They were kind to each other and hospitable. Indeed from what we know of these simple-minded, unfortunate people we may well believe that the world would have been none the worse for their survival, and for the extermination in their stead of some other race less creditable to humanity. We may note, by the way, that these innocent people are reported to have been taken in by the familiar use of an eclipse of the moon. Something of this sort is almost inevitable in stories of intercourse with savage, or uncivilised, races. In the case of the Jamaica Indians it is related that Columbus himself predicted an eclipse of the moon at a certain time as a sign that his great Deity was angry with the people for not supplying him with sufficient food. The eclipse came; the Indians were alarmed; later on, apparently in consequence of the prayers of Columbus, the moon resumed her wonted functions and a plentiful supply of provisions was assured for the future. The story may be true and, again, it may not be true. Travellers sometimes tell strange tales.

There is some evidence which enables us to estimate, or perhaps to guess, the Indian population at the time of the discovery of Jamaica. Columbus reported the island to be thickly populated, and Las Casas compares the population to ants on an ant-hill. These estimates would, however, refer not to the whole island, but to the cultivated plains and savannahs along the coast, and would of course include the crowds who, naturally and out of curiosity, would be attracted to see these mysterious visitors in their strange caravels. We are further informed that "in Jamaica and the adjacent islands the Spaniards destroyed, within less than twenty years, more than 1,200,000 of the native Indians." The greater part of this slaughter would take place in the larger islands of Cuba and Haiti. Whether the number who perished in Jamaica were great or small, the fact remains that the Aborigines were completely exterminated with the exception of a few who managed to make good their escape to the mainland of Central America--where, it is said, their descendants still live on the Mosquito coast--and perhaps elsewhere.

In the earlier years of the sixteenth century the Spanish population slowly increased, Jamaica being used as a sort of penal settlement, while the destruction of Indian life led to the importation of African slave labour. Negro slavery already existed in Spain and Portugal and was readily adopted in their American possessions.

It may here be mentioned that it was in 1562, that Captain (afterwards Sir John) Hawkins, brought the first cargo of African slaves to the West Indies. Many cargoes followed during many years, but the discredit of introducing the traffic does not belong to England. The number of Africans imported by the Spaniards was relatively much less in Jamaica than in other parts of the West Indies. The more ambitious settlers were attracted to wealthier places. While large fortunes were being made by enterprising Spanish adventurers in Cuba and Haiti, and by those who rushed to the rich mines of Mexico and South America, their fellow-countrymen in Jamaica, of a less adventurous disposition, were satisfied to live a lazy, luxurious life. At the same time it was not to be expected that those who treated the Indians with inhumanity should deal out kindness and consideration to the Africans. Writing of the Slave Code which existed among the Spaniards, a contemporary writer says, "quam equidem legem ab immani aliquo daemone scriptam crediderim." Under this law a slave who failed to perform his allotted task was liable to be buried up to his neck and to be left to be devoured by insects. Naturally risings and rebellions were frequent. But on the whole the Africans in Jamaica fared better under the Spaniards than did their fellows In Cuba and Haiti. One more fact in connection with the Spanish occupation must not be omitted, namely the introduction of the sugar cane, and the consequent beginning of what became in after years the absorbing industry of the island.

These three points then--the extermination of the Indians, the importation of the African slaves, and the introduction of cane cultivation--stand out as the most prominent features of the 150 years during which Spain ruled over Jamaica. The actual remains at the present day are few. They consist of a few names and a few stones. The site of the first capital of the island, Seville D'Oro, founded by Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer, is hardly recognisable. In the town of Porus we have perpetuated the name of the two brothers Porras who headed the mutiny against Columbus in 1505. In the Pedro plains and the Pedro river survives the name of Don Pedro de Esquimel, one of the most cruel of the Spanish Governors; and some other names, either of Spanish or of Indian origin, remain, though most of them have been changed both in spelling and in pronunciation.

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