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 III.

THE complete conquest of Jamaica may be said to synchronise with the death of Cromwell, which happened before he had time to give effect to any religious or benevolent intentions. And the history of the Church of England in Jamaica begins with the reign of Charles II. In 1661 General Edward D'Oyley, who, as has been already mentioned, had been in command of the military forces at the time of Cromwell's death, was appointed first Governor of the Colony, and his commission definitely instructed him

"to discourage vice and debauchery and to encourage ministers that Christianity and the Protestant religion, according to the Church of England, might have due reverence and exercise."

Lord Windsor, the second Governor, was in 1662 similarly instructed to take measures "for the encouragement of an orthodox ministry." Successive legislatures passed laws regulating ecclesiastical matters and were notably liberal in making financial provision for the support of the clergy. As was natural, the first English church built in the Island was at St. Jago de la Vega, or Spanish Town, the latter name being soon substituted for the former. The church was built on the site of one of the old Spanish churches, the Red Cross Church, destroyed by the Puritan soldiers of the Commonwealth. Various opinions are held as to exact date or dates at which the present building was erected or completed. The first church was destroyed by hurricane in 1712, rebuilt in the two or three following years, enlarged in 1762, carefully and judiciously restored and much beautified and internally improved during Bishop Douet's Rectorship (1876-1891), and the subsequent rectorships of Canon Wortley (1892-1901) and of Canon Ripley (1901-1904), damaged by earthquake in 1907, and is now, both on account of its orderly and stately condition and because of the historic associations connected with it, a building of which the Church of England has no reason to be ashamed. It is one of the oldest--if not the oldest--buildings now in use as a British Colonial Cathedral. While other dioceses have erected new and sometimes costly chief churches, Jamaica has been wisely contented to connect the present with the past by adapting for Cathedral uses the old Parish Church of the ancient capital of the island. The Cathedral is cruciform in shape, with a beautiful stained-glass east window, much fine wood carving and many interesting cenotaphs and memorial tablets, in the inscriptions on which we can trace a good deal of island history. There are also noteworthy pieces of sculpture--some by Bacon, R.A.--erected to the memory of the Earl and Countess of Effingham, Sir Basil Keith, Major-General Selwyn and the Countess of Elgin. [A full and interesting sketch (with illustrations) of the History of the Cathedral has recently been written by the present Eector (Canon Hendrick), and may be obtained at the S.P.C.K. offices.]

Before 1664 six other churches were built, or probably existing buildings were set apart and used for Church purposes. In that year there were five clergy in the island. Two years later a Mr. Nicholas ministered at Morant Bay, but soon died of fever. The then Governor, Sir Thomas Modyford, writes about this time to His Majesty's Lords Commissioners the following description of the religious condition of the island:--

"Five parishes only have churches, the rest are coming on as fast as their small means will permit them; but alas, my lords, these five do not preach to one-third of the island. The plantations are at such distance from each other that it is impossible to make up convenient congregations or find fitting places for the rest to meet in; but they agree among themselves to meet alternatively at each other's houses, as the primitive Christians did, and then to pray, read a chapter, sing a psalm and home again; so that, did not the accessors to this island come, men and women, and so well instructed in the articles of our faith in their own countries, it might well be feared that the Christian religion would be quite forgot, or at least little minded among them."

This quotation is interesting, partly as illustrative of what we know has gone on in later years in out-of-the-way parts of other and more important Colonies than Jamaica, and is now going on, and partly as suggestive of the quiet influence of some of the Cromwellian exiled settlers only a few years before Modyford wrote.

In 1671 we know from records that a Mr. Barrow was working as a clergyman in the parish of St. Elizabeth. In 1675 there were only four clergymen resident in the island. These were Mr. Hansyer (a native of Switzerland) at Spanish Town, Mr. James Zellers (another Swiss) at St. Andrew's, Mr. Hayne at Port Royal, and Mr. Lemon at Guanaboa. It will be noticed that these places are within a limited radius of Spanish Town, confirming the accuracy of Sir Thomas Modyford's letter. The journals of the House of Assembly of this period speak highly both of the ability and of the piety of these men. Of the ministry of the Rev. James Zellers and his successors some facts are known, owing to the preservation in very good condition of the Registers belonging to t? St. Andrew's Church, which for certainly more than a century has been singularly fortunate in being under the pastoral care of a series of most efficient clergymen.

Mr. Zellers himself was rector of the parish for thirty-six years, namely from 1664-1700. He began his ministry in a small and plain building and in 1684 commenced the erection of a church, which was completed in 1692, and was unfortunately destroyed by earthquake less than six months after it had been opened for public use.

Nothing daunted by this calamity, Mr. Zellers set to work again and lived to see another church built. This structure suffered much at various times from storm and 'hurricane and was patched up and repaired over and over again. In 1879, during the rectorship of the late Rev. H. H. Isaacs, whose great work as Secretary for many years of the Jamaica Home and Foreign Missionary Society has left its mark all over the island, the church was admirably restored, beautified and enlarged, the shell or outer-wall of Mr. Zellers's second church being retained. Mr. Isaacs died in 1900, and in memory of his faithful ministry the church was further enlarged to meet the demand for increased accommodation. The west end of the church, including the tower, was much damaged by the earthquake of 1907. It has again been restored and again enlarged, an extended nave replacing the old tower.

In 1681 the Island was divided into fifteen parishes and an Act of Assembly was passed by which the magistrates were authorised to raise taxes for the maintenance of ministers and for the erection of new, or the repair of old, churches. The incomes of these parishes varied, the Rector of Port Royal receiving £250 per annum, of St. Catherine's (Spanish Town) £140, the Rectors of three other parishes £100 each, and the remainder £80 each. These figures, by no means represent the total incomes of the clergy. There were various supplementary sources of revenue, a contemporary writer informing us that "in most parishes the contingencies, by voluntary presents for christenings, marriages, buryings and otherwise with houses, taking boarders, schooling, etc., make considerable additions."

At this time--and until its formation in 1824 into a distinct see--Jamaica, like other "plantations" or colonies, was under the episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. It is evident that this jurisdiction was not intended to be merely nominal. We find in a Report, dated 6th of August 1681 from the Committee of Trade and Plantations that it was recommended to the King as necessary "that no minister be received in Jamaica without license from the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of London; and that none, having his Lordship's license, be rejected without sufficient cause alleged; as also, that, in the direction of Church affairs, the ministers be admitted into the respective vestries." [In 1634 an order of the King in Council (Charles I.) was obtained by Archbishop Laud for extending the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London for the time being to English congregations and clergy abroad. This order does not appear to have contemplated missionary work.] This was embodied in the official instructions given to successive Governors. But the Jamaica Assembly, during the whole 202 years of its existence, was one of the most independent legislative bodies that have ever administered Colonial affairs, and was never in a temper to submit blindly to the jurisdiction of an ecclesiastic who was separated by a whole ocean from the objects of his supposed supervision. An early statute accordingly decreed that "no ecclesiastical law, or jurisdiction, shall have power to enforce, confirm or establish any penal mulct or punishment in any case whatsoever." This plainly questioned the right of the Bishop to suspend any clergyman in the island either ab officio or a beneficio. As a matter of fact everything was new, and very much mixed, and there was neither tradition nor precedent to guide. It is not likely that the Assembly had any rooted objection to Episcopacy as a form of Church Government, but it probably saw and appreciated the absurdity of an Episcopacy when the Bishop lived 4,000 miles from his clergy and had not the slightest intention of personally visiting either churches or congregations. Nor, as we shall presently see, were the character and attainments of some of the clergy, licensed by Bishops of London, calculated to give the laity of Jamaica much confidence in the judgment or tact of the prelates who selected these clergy and licensed them for their sacred duties.

In 1683, as the result of a suggestion of Bishop Compton (of London), the clergy were appointed ex officio members of the Parish Vestries, which had the assessing of taxes for Church purposes; and at the same time the minimum stipend derived from taxes was fixed at £100 a year. Whether the former of these arrangements was wise or not at that particular time need not concern us now, but there can hardly be two opinions that in recent years much valuable help has been given to parochial boards by the presence thereon of judicious clergy who have been able to look after the temporal needs of their parishes as well as to attend to their ministerial duties. Of course it all depends on the man, but it would be a deplorable thing, in the opinion of most thoughtful people, if Jamaica clergy of any denomination were to become an exclusive ecclesiastical class, holding themselves aloof from the material well-being and progress of the Colony.

An interesting feature of the religious life in Jamaica during the reign of Charles II. is the broad, generous spirit of toleration displayed by the king towards those who differed from his religious ideas. Charles II.'s religion at best sat rather loosely on him and, such as jt was, it was narrow and cramped; and few who have studied his conduct in England, or been shocked at his religious policy in Scotland, can hear without surprise and amazement that his policy in Jamaica was that of a tolerant, liberal ruler. It may be that this was merely the outward sign of an utter indifference, but there are many Scotch Presbyterians who would regard the indifference of a Stuart as a virtue when compared with his zeal for Episcopacy. We find, as evidence of this toleration, that he gave instructions "for the encouragement of persons of different judgment and opinions in matters of religion to transport them with their effects to Jamaica." There may possibly be those who think that transportation two hundred years ago to a scarcely-known tropical island was but a poor sort of encouragement to independent religious thinkers, but the tolerant spirit and the good intentions of the king are seen when he further directs that in order that these transported persons "may not be obstructed and hindered, under pretence of scruples of conscience, the oaths of supremacy and allegiance shall be dispensed with in those that should bear any part in the Government (the members and Officers of the Privy Council alone excepted) and that some other way of securing' their allegiance should be devised." Further evidence pointing in the same direction is to be found in an order of Council bearing date, 19th January, 1682. The Order authorises the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of England

"to provide passage, together with provision of victuals as shall be necessary, for forty-two French Protestants, whose names are to be certified unto them by the Right Reverend Father in God the Lord Bishop of London, to be transplanted to his Majesty's Island of Jamaica, with the first conveniency they can, and the Right Honourable, Mr. Secretary Jenkins is to send letters recommending the said persons to the favourable reception of Sir Thomas Lynch, Governor of His Majesty's said Island, they intending to plant and settle there."

Few events of importance to the Jamaica Church are to be noted in James II.'s short reign. The Protestantism of the colonists was perhaps too apprehensive of tjie King's possible policy, but it turned out that he confirmed all the ecclesiastical laws existing in the colony. Whether he would have continued that policy is another matter. It is indeed probable that, had James II. been permitted to reign long enough, the history of a good many places besides Jamaica would be very different reading from what it is. In 1687 the Duke of Albemarle, a Roman Catholic, was appointed Governor. He brought out with him Sir Hans Sloane as his private physician, and Father Churchill who was described as

"the chief pastor of His Majesty's Catholic subjects in Jamaica." The priest's mission was soon cut short, for the Duke, after a serious quarrel with the Assembly, died in the year following his arrival, and in the same year William and Mary ascended the throne and issued a proclamation granting "liberty of conscience to all except Papists."

The reign of William and Mary is memorable in the annals of Jamaica as being that in which the wealthy * town of Port Royal was destroyed by earthquake.

Perhaps no account of Jamaica would be complete without some reference to this dire calamity, while it has its own importance to our present purpose as indirectly throwing light on the religious condition of the colony at that time. It must be remembered that not only was s Port Royal the principal sea port and distributing centre of the island but also, since the capture of Jamaica by Cromwell's forces, it had been the head-quarters of r British buccaneers, who had previously, together with their French and Dutch comrades, made the island of Tortuga, off the north-western coast of Haiti, the basis of their operations. The catastrophe itself has often been described and no fresh description can add to its horrors. About midday on the 7th of June, 1692, the earth was shaken with repeated shocks of such violence that on all sides were heard and seen the din and confusion caused by falling walls and buildings. Wharves, laden with valuable merchandise, private houses of wealthy men, merchants' stores, together with the church of the town and the Government fortifications, were all overwhelmed in one common ruin: as the earth opened and closed again, receiving (so we are told) whole streets of houses and hundreds of terrified people, so did the sea rise in large waves and, sweeping over the ruined and sunken town, complete the devastation. But this was not the end; for many days after mutilated corpses floated up and down the harbour or lay unburied on the shore, and the pestilence thus generated claimed almost as many victims as did the earthquake. Nor was destruction confined to Port Royal, for nearly every district in the island suffered to an extent which in some instances seems almost incredible. One well-known and extraordinary escape should not be omitted from any record of this terrible visitation. At Green Bay, on the opposite shore to Port Royal, is the tomb of Lewis Galdy, a Huguenot refugee, who died in 1739. The inscription on the tombstone records that Galdy was swallowed up by one earthquake shock and that, before life was extinct, a second shock cast him up again into the sea, whence he escaped by swimming to a boat which carried him to the shore. He lived for nearly half a century after this strange adventure, was a member of Assembly and a respected merchant in Port Royal, but has left no record in writing of the sensations or impressions produced by this remarkable experience. One cannot help feeling something of Tennyson's regret at the silence of Lazarus, when one thinks of all that Galdy might have told:--

"Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unreveal'd;
He told it not; or something seal'd
The lips of that Evangelist."

Inscriptions on tombstones may sometimes give an exaggerated estimate of the moral character and varied virtues of those who are gone, but their historical accuracy is generally admitted. The inscription on Galdy's tombstone quoted by Bridges is as follows:--


who departed this life at Port Royal,
the 22nd December, 1739, aged 80 years

He was born at Montpelier in France, but left that country for his religion, and came to settle in this island; where he was swallowed up in the great earthquake in the year 1692; and by the Providence of God, was, by another shock, thrown into the sea, and miraculously saved by swimming, until a boat took him up. He lived many years after in great reputation, beloved by all who knew him and much lamented at his death."

Among the survivors of this terrible catastrophe was the Rector of Port Royal, whose letters relating his experiences have been preserved in the columns of the Gentleman's Magazine. The religious condition of Port Royal, if we may judge from these letters, must have been appalling. Having remarked that by daily prayers he had endeavoured "to keep up some show of religion amongst a most ungodly and debauched people," the Rector proceeds to describe the earthquake itself and his own narrow escape from destruction and then continues:--

"The people, seeing me, cry'd out to come and pray with them. When I came into the street, every one laid hold of my clothes and embraced me, so that I was almost stifled with their kindness. I persuaded them at last to kneel down and make a large ring, which they did. I prayed with them near an hour, when I was almost spent by the sun and the exercise. They then brought me a chair, the earth working all the while with new motions and tremblings, like the rolling of the sea, insomuch that sometimes when I was at prayers I could hardly keep upon my knees. By that time I had been half-an-hour with them, setting before them their sins and heinous provocations and seriously exhorting them to repentance."

Later on he writes: "I hope by this terrible judgment God will make them reform their lives, for there was not a more ungodly people on the face of the earth."

This is very strong, not to say hysterical, language, but no stronger or more hysterical than has recently been used--not in the West Indies, but in England,--after the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902 or the earthquake in Jamaica in 1907. It is of course quite possible that even in the seventeenth century (to say nothing of the twentieth) the lessons of the fallen tower of Siloam had been imperfectly learnt by an otherwise reputable clergy-man, but the estimate formed by the Rector of Port Royal seems to have been acknowledged as generally accurate. The Assembly at its first meeting after the earthquake decreed a perpetual fast on its anniversary, the 7th of June, on the ground that it had "pleased Almighty God justly to punish the inhabitants of this island for the manifold sins and wickedness committed against His Divine Majesty."

Commenting some forty years after on what he calls this "unhandsome Reflection on the Country" an anonymous writer compares the destruction of Port Royal with the violent earthquake at Palermo in 1726 and remarks that "no such Reflections were flung upon this unhappy people as this clergyman has occasioned upon the Inhabitants of Port Royal." He further clinches his point by an unanswerable argumentum ad hominem by asking, "But what would he have said when the hurricane of 1722 blew down the house of the Rev. Mr. May, the present Lord Bishop of London's Commissary in Kingston, and killed his wife and broke his leg? Would he have carried such reflections down to posterity (of a man much superior in character than most of the West India Clergy) as he has done of the inhabitants of Port Royal? "

The bell of the destroyed church of Port Royal was rescued by divers and is to be seen in the Museum of the Jamaica Institute. It bears the inscription: "Jesu Maria. Et verbum caro factum est et abita" and is undated.

The population of the island at the end of the seventeenth century consisted of (in round figures) 7,000 Europeans and 40,000 Africans, a large increase since the Restoration, the growth of the slave population being disproportionately great when contrasted with that of the European. This large increase in the African population marks the rapid growth of the sugar industry. In the early days of the British occupation it was found that, though the best kinds of cane were not indigenous to Jamaica, yet both the soil and climate were admirably suited to the cultivation of sugar. Consequently--and unfortunately--almost every other form of cultivation had to give way to sugar. The effect of this was as important socially as it was materially, for while British settlers and white slaves--for such in reality were many of the persons transported for political and other offences in the Stuart period--could carry on agricultural pursuits in the cooler and more bracing mountain districts, they were incapable of hard and continuous manual labour in the cane-growing districts in the lowlands. Hence the traffic in African slaves and the system of negro slavery increased with the extension of sugar cultivation.

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