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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 IV.

THE eighteenth century is characterised in Jamaica history both by the rapid increase in the wealth of the Colony and by the beginning of the agitation which culminated in the abolition of slavery. Figures alone can show how quickly the black population grew in spite of what must have been a terrible mortality. Without detailing lengthy statistics we may mention that, between the years 1700 and 1786 no less than 610,000 slaves were landed in Jamaica, of whom 160,000 were re-exported to other parts of the West Indies or to North America. Thus more than 5,000 were added every year to the existing number. The reason for this large and constant increase may partly have been that the amount of land under cultivation was being greatly extended but it was certainly to some extent due to the hard labour and harsh treatment which retarded the natural increase of the population, and to the fact that the number of male slaves imported was largely in excess of the number of female. And there must not be forgotten the heavy death-rate among the slaves on the not infrequent occasions of famine, pestilence or insurrection.

A careful examination of the available literature having reference to the Church of England in this century inevitably leads to the conclusion that, though the Assembly ungrudgingly voted the necessary money for Church purposes, yet the Church itself was regarded as little more than a respectable and ornamental adjunct of the State, the survival of a harmless home institution which would cease to be tolerated if it showed any signs of energy or activity outside its own particular groove. The Church at home was willing to provide chaplains for white settlers, but its missionary zeal in the first half of the eighteenth century was only beginning. C.M.S. did not then exist, and S.P.G., as its full name implies, had for its object to establish and conduct missions in foreign parts. Jamaica was not foreign; it was a British colony. The probability is that the Bishops of London in sending out clergy gave no instructions as to missionary work among negroes, about whom they cared little or nothing, but, as has been suggested, exercised in many cases their office or patronage to oblige a friend or to find a home and an income for some family incumbrance. [Some writers go so far as to say that Bishops of London occasionally sent out as clergymen persons who had not been ordained. Let us hope this is not true; or, if it is true, let us hope that these irregular ministers did good and honourable service.] The most we can say is that the Church represented the * religion of the white settlers and planters and officials; but it cannot claim to have been in any sense a missionary Church to the black labourers. It may be that the good of many a pious and industrious Church clergyman lies buried with his bones in some far off corner of the colony; but few records exist and few traces are to be found of any marked efforts on the part of the Church to raise the moral tone of the slaves, to ameliorate their distressful condition or to instruct them in the elements of Christian truth. Perhaps things were no worse than might have been expected from the state of public opinion at that time. The eighteenth century was not the brightest in the history of the Church of England at home and there were peculiar difficulties in the way of the Jamaica clergyman. The Assembly, on whose vote the emoluments of a clergyman depended, consisted almost entirely of slave-owners or of sympathisers with slavery. There was, on an average, an outbreak or rebellion of slaves, more or less severe, in some part of the island once every five years. As subsequent events proved, and as no doubt the planters anticipated, the inculcation of Christian truths could not fail to produce feelings of disaffection and a consciousness of humiliation and ill-treatment in the minds of the African bondsmen. "The truth shall make you free" and those who were opposed to freedom were at any rate consistent in withholding the truth. It is easier--though it ought not to be--to find fault than it is to make allowance, and if the Jamaica clergy of the eighteenth century deserve their share of blame, they are at least entitled to a large and charitable allowance in view of the difficult and unusual circumstances under which they laboured.

The discreditable condition of Church matters at this time can best be illustrated by a few quotations and references. Thus Long in his history writes:--

"Of the character of the clergy in this island I shall say but little. There have seldom been wanting some who were equally respectable for their learning, piety and exemplary good behaviour: others have been detestable for their addiction to lewdness, drinking, gambling and iniquity; having no control but their own sense of the dignity of their function, and the censures of the Governor."


"Some labourers of the Lord's vineyard have at times been sent, who were much better qualified to be retailers of salt-fish or boatswains to privateers than ministers of the Gospel."

After speaking of the little discrimination shown by Bishops of London in the choice of clergymen for Jamaica, Long concludes:--

"Let us, however, venture to assert in their favour that, although some may perhaps be found who, in their moral conduct would disgrace even the meanest of mankind, there are others, and in a much greater number, who, by their example and their doctrine, would do honour to their profession in any part of England."

Another contemporary writer speaks of the majority of the clergy as being "of a character so vile that I do not care to mention it; for, except a few, they are generally the most finished of all debauchees." The same writer adds that many of the churches were seldom opened, a fact which only a sham sentiment can regret. There is a sort of pleasure in giving these disreputable clergy credit for the possession of that amount of grace and good feeling which was sufficient to prompt them to keep their shameless persons outside the doors of the House of God.

Mr. Bridges quotes from a French traveller who visited Jamaica about the middle of the century the following uncomplimentary opinion:--

"Les églises de Spanish Town sont en forme de croix, avec un petit dome au mileau mais les voyageurs ajouent que le clergé du pays est peu occupé de sa profession, et que rarement les portes des églises sont ouvertes. Quelle honte, s'écrie 1'auteur, quand on considère combien de mille livres sterling les habitans paient pour les églises, et pour les prêtes."

There is extant a copy of a letter, dated 1738, in which the writer, a quaint and discriminating person, thus alludes to the morality and religion practised and observed at that date:

"That vicious people are in all countries cannot be denied and no doubt Jamaica has its share, but there is too much reason to believe that more vice is brought into the country by new-comers, than what the Creoles can justly be taxed with; and among the inhabitants there are Gentlemen as remarkable for their Virtue and Integrity as in other Countries. And though Religions of all Christian Sects are tolerated, the Church of England is the Chief established, and the Clergy are better provided for there than at home, except in Dignities or Power of Ecclesiastical Courts; for besides Cotton Walks and the Labour of fourteen Negroes they have often a Chaplaincy in a Man-of-War, etc. At Kingston is a large Congregation, where may be seen from fourteen to twenty Coaches and Chariots every Sunday; the Quakers have also a meeting there. At Port Royal th* Captain of the Fort with the Garrison and Inhabitants make another; and you will believe that at Spanish Town, where the Governor resides, if there is any Deficiency or Neglect of Duty, it is owing more to the Clergy than to the people."

The Governor in question who exercised this wholesome and restraining influence was Mr. Edward Trelawny. Unfortunately all the early Governors of Jamaica did mot bear the same character or set the same example of life. We find one of them described as being "the most profest immoral liver in the world," and another as being "one of the lewdest fellows of the age." Governors in those days were probably chosen quite irrespectively of their moral character and virtuous living and, unless the combined voices of historians are misleading, there is reason to fear that the example set at Government House was not always in the direction of righteousness.

Let us now proceed to summarise the legislative and other efforts made during this century to improve the position of the Church and to advance the religious growth of the Colony. The Act, already referred to, of 1683 was supplemented by another in 1706 "for the encouragement of good and able ministers to come to the island," and an increase of income was provided as an inducement. [From 1683 to the end of Queen Anne's reign the Home Government allowed £20 for passage money to every minister or schoolmaster leaving England for Jamaica] As an illustration of how little care the legislation took in the religious training of the slaves, we may mention that the fee, fixed by law in the above-named Act, for administering the Sacrament of Baptism to a slave was £1 3s. 9d., a sum large enough to be prohibitory. Minor measures, all in a liberal direction, were passed in subsequent years until we come to 1748, when further legislation took place on the ground that the provision made for the clergy was "too scanty for a proper and suitable maintenance" and that, as part of the salary depended on the pleasure of vestries, the clergy were placed in an "improper state of dependence." Under this Act the vestries were relieved of the responsibility of providing any portion of a clergyman's salary, which was in future to be paid from the island funds. In accordance with custom the opportunity was taken to increase the salaries. The parochial vestries, however, were not entirely relieved for they were required either to build a rectory at a cost not exceeding £500, or to provide an allowance of £50 a year for rent. At that time there were nineteen ecclesiastical parishes in the island. In 1750 provision was made for a missionary to the Musquito Coast. In 1770 the attention of the Assembly was drawn to the irregular ministrations of some of the clergy, and some restraining legislation was necessary. An Act was accordingly passed to prevent the incumbent of one parish from officiating as a curate in another parish, and "a fine of £50 was imposed on any clergyman who should receive a stipend without actually officiating and residing (unless in case of sickness or absence) for a term not exceeding one month at a time or two months in the year." These conditions and penalties do not err in the direction of severity, and the island funds were not largely increased by the exactions of many fines. Nevertheless, as a sort of set-off against the very slight severity of the 1770 Act, it was decreed in 1773 that, in parishes where churches, rectories and cemeteries were needed, the respective vestries should provide them at a cost of £5,000 from parochial funds. These instructions were not always carried out, for in some parishes Divine Service was conducted in private houses.

During this period the Church was enriched by bequests or donations of land. The Rectory of St. Andrew received six hundred acres of glebe; the Rectory of St. George's received the same amount, which was vested in trustees, who appropriated the proceeds of the sale of half of it to the purchase of slaves to stock the other half which was reserved as a glebe for the rector and his successors. In the case of the Rectory of St. Elizabeth we read that "upwards of thirteen hundred acres, which had been appropriated or had fallen by patent of escheat to the use of the parish, having long laid waste the rector was joined by his parishioners in an application to the Assembly for the purpose of disposing of eleven hundred acres wherewith to purchase slaves and of retaining the remainder as a provision for himself and his successors for ever." In 1787 a sense of the reverence due to sacred buildings seems to have dawned upon the Assembly which put an end to the custom which had hitherto prevailed of holding elections in parish churches. In 1789 intramural burials were forbidden on sanitary grounds under a penalty of £500, while compensation for the consequent loss of fees was made to the amount of £640, distributed pro rata among the various parishes where such burials had been customary.

The last legislative enactment to be noted in this century was passed in 1797 and has an importance of its own to these pages as being the first indication of a change of front on the part of the Church towards the slaves. The reasons for this change will more appropriately appear in the next chapter. The main features of this Act are thus summarised by the Rev. G. W. Bridges: "The penalties attached to the non-performance of the several duties imposed by former Acts upon magistrates and vestrymen, in respect to the Church, were extended to £ 100; when parishes failed in providing places of worship, the Board of Works should cause them to be built and assess the expenses on the parishes--not exceeding the sum of £3,000; that rectors should forthwith be provided with suitable houses at an expense not exceeding £1,200; that they appropriate a certain portion of every Sunday to the instruction of slaves; that the stipends of all the rectors should be equalised and paid quarterly by the Receiver-General of the island, at the rate of £420 per annum, exclusive of certain sums paid in lieu of Church burials, but subject to a deduction of ten per cent, for the establishment of a fund to provide for the respectable maintenance of the widows and orphans of deceased rectors; that no salary be paid by the parish vestries; and that the liberty given to the rector of St. Andrew's to lease his glebe should be extended to all the beneficed clergy."

The population at the end of the seventeenth century was estimated at 30,000 Europeans, 250,000 negroes, 10,000 coloured people and free negroes and 1,400 Maroons. A few lines about the last-named. The word "Maroon" is an abbreviated form of the Spanish "Cimaroon" or "Simaroon," meaning wild, unruly, derived from cima, the top of a hill. The name was originally given to Spanish runaway slaves who escaped to Central America, where as long ago as 1572 we read of their helping Blake and Oxnam (Kingsley's Oxenham) in their dealings with the Spaniards. The Jamaica Maroons, in the beginning, were also runaway Spanish slaves, who lived in what were then almost inaccessible mountain districts; later on, when the Spaniards under Don Sasi fled from Jamaica, their abandoned slaves joined the Maroons, who were afterwards reinforced from time to time by runaway English slaves, who managed to make good their escape. For many years they were a terror and a scourge to the Colony, brave men and strong, hardened and unscrupulous. The most serious trouble with them was in 1795, when those who had made their home in the uplands of Trelawney revolted. In the end a large number of them surrendered and were shipped off to Nova Scotia and lived for a time on the bounty of the British Government. Later on they were transferred to the newly-founded colony of Sierra Leone, the climate of which was more suited to them than the rigours of Nova Scotia, and where their descendants are to be found among the better class of the Africans in Free Town. Others stayed in Jamaica, where their descendants still live, enjoying certain treaty rights, but otherwise part and parcel of the general population. In 1842 they were granted all rights of British subjects.

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