The Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society 175 YEARS – WORK IN EDUCATION

George Liele Lecture 2017


Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Harris Cunningham;  Rev. Karen Kirlew, President-Elect of the Jamaica Baptist Union; Rev. Johnathan Hemmings, Chairman of the Jamaica Baptist Union Mission Agency; Mr. Jeremy Taylor, Chairman of the Jamaica Baptist Historical Society; outgoing and incoming Moderators of the St. Ann Baptist Association; members of the clergy; specially invited guests; brother and sisters all; I am singularly honoured to be invited to give the 2017 Annual George Liele Lecture and to be part of the celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society, the forerunner of the Mission Agency. One of the great challenges of being a teacher is that you are continually being forced to learn in order to serve and not to discredit the teaching profession and embarrass yourself.  The 14th Annual George Liele Lecture on the topic “JBMS 175 years – Work in Education” occurs in the year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. This adds to the monumental challenge because there is a connection between the Protestant Reformation and George Liele.

Further, the year 2017 marks other epic milestones for Baptists in Jamaica: the 180th anniversary of the Jamaica Baptist Education Committee; the 174th anniversary of the Calabar Theological College; the 160th Anniversary of the Jamaica Normal School, renamed the Calabar Normal School in 1868; the 160th anniversary of the Calabar Model School renamed the Calabar Elementary School in 1868, and currently known as the Calabar Infant, Primary and Junior High School, and the 105th Anniversary of the founding of the Calabar High School.

The challenge is compounded because the circumstances connecting these milestones are neither linear nor logical, neither nice nor neat. They are messy and illogical because of inconvenient truths and facts, and flaws in human nature. They are not part of a grand plan of any man. These milestones of epic actions are best appreciated in terms of how imperfect people of faith and conscience contended with changes, conflicts, competition and contradictions in their own times, within the scheme of the providence of the Eternal Father who exists outside of time.

By the scheme of the providence of God, I mean how the Great I Am over-rules in the affairs of humankind to achieve His will, while at the same time allowing full reign to the exercise of free will by all people. God’s providence, when experienced personally, evokes awe, and when recognized from the hindsight of history demands thanksgiving. The Hymn writer says it best.

God is working his purpose out as year proceeds to year

God is working his purpose out and the time is drawing near

Nearer, nearer draws the time, the time that will surely be

When the earth shall be filled with the Glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”

How is the Protestant Reformation which started in Germany connected to the work of education by Baptists in Jamaica? The short answer is the Rev George Liele. What follows is a brief description of the meandering journey connecting times and places.

I wish to acknowledge alphabetically the works of Baptists scholars and historians: Reverends Cawley Bolt, Prince Clements, Devon Dick, Noel Erskine, Clement Gayle, Horace Russell and Burchell Taylor and University academics Roy Augier, Shirley Gordon, Douglas Hall, Gad Heuman, Clinton Hutton, Ruby King, Joy Lumsden,Vermont Satchell,  Swithin Wilmot and others. I have depended on them for the facts. I take full responsibility for interpretation and accept reproach for misinterpretations. Some of the material in this lecture comes from a book I am currently writing on the Electoral System and Governance in Jamaica.


The beginning of the Reformation is traced to that day in October 1517 when Martin Luther, the German Monk, posted his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg in the Electorate of Saxony. The basic tenets of the Reformation are condensed to the five solas – Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christo and sola Deo Gloria; or the five alones. The scriptures alone; grace alone; faith alone; Christ alone; and God’s glory alone.

This break from Roman Catholicism created Protestant denominations as initially Lutherans and Calvinists established themselves in different city-states in Europe. All individuals who, by God’s Grace, exercised faith in the blood of Christ shed in his crucifixion received salvation to the glory of God and had the right to read and interpret the scriptures for themselves, without priestly interpretation, for in effect every believer was a priest.

It would be a huge mistake to think that the Protestant Reformation was confined to doctrines, rites, and rituals of the church. The five alones, solas, struck at the foundations of societies and the empire organized around Roman Christianity.  Confession to a priest was no longer a necessity. Confessions could be made directly to God. The ideal for Christian leadership was no longer celibacy but the Christian family. Many monks and nuns left their cloisters, married and had raised children. Latin could no longer be justified as the sole language of church liturgy. Vernacular languages became languages of corporate worship. Translation of the Bible into vernacular languages received a great boost.  The idea of a Christian empire in which the Pope was the final authority of church and state was not connected to scripture. State-mandated tithes paid to the church for the sustenance of priests was loosened from its claimed biblical anchor.

The impact of the Reformation on education was profound. The early Protestants insisted that everyone should learn to read the Bible for themselves. This required education for men and women, boys and girls, of all social ranks. Education for the young became of paramount importance. The modern movement of Education for All began in states that embraced the Reformation. Literacy and education at all levels: elementary, gymnasium and university became obligations of Landers and were financed by taxes. The reformers were particularly interested in Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible, and with ancient knowledge. Education in the Classics became a primary focus of Protestant universities.

As with all reforms, religious and secular, many verities remained unchanged. One was the matter of the established church. While in the Holy Roman Empire there was only one established church, the principle of an established church was retained in civil entities that had embraced the Reformation. Hence the Lutherans became the established church of Saxony, Calvinists became the established church of Brandenburg, and Roman Catholics remained established in states that continued in the Holy Roman Empire. Another such verity was infant baptism.

As with all reforms, religious and secular, there are those who are of the view that the reforms have not gone far enough. Such groups are labelled radicals. So it was with the Protestant Reformation. One radical group was the Anabaptists. Their views began to be voiced as early as 1525. In essence, Anabaptists sought to restore first century New Testament Christianity, not to reform the church.

Roman Catholicism had insisted on works as the basis of salvation. The Protestant Reformers had insisted on salvation by faith alone. Anabaptists believed that salvation by faith had to be confirmed by good works. Anabaptist embraced the separation of church and state; baptism of adult believers; congregational decision-making; autonomy of local churches; the nonviolent resistance of evil; and accepted suffering as a natural consequence of obedience to Christ.

Anabaptists were given the name by their detractors. Anabaptism meant re-baptism. Rejecting infant baptism had implications not only for membership in the Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches but for citizenship of cities and states. Consequently, Anabaptists were therefore persecuted by Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as cities and states.

The first martyr of the Anabaptist movement was Felix Manz of the Swiss Brethren Congregation who was executed by drowning on January 5, 1527, by order of the Protestant City Council of Zurich. Drowning was chosen as an appropriate method of executing Anabaptists. Christian denominations with roots in the Anabaptist movement include the Mennonites, Christian Brethren, Baptists, Quakers, Hutterites, and Amish.

In order not to romanticize the Anabaptists, it has to be said that as an ‘uncompelled’ people they too had feet of clay. Division not unity was their hallmark. Some groups rejected non-violence as the means of resistance. One group floundered on the shores of polygamy.

The Holy Roman Empire broke on the rock of religious divisions between cities, dukedoms, and fiefdom within its sphere. War was first employed to resolve these religious differences. 101 years after the Reformation, these wars culminated in the Thirty-Year War 1618-1648 fought on German soil. This war is estimated to have killed about 40 percent of Germans. It ended in détente between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. Going forward nationalism would replace religion as the glue of living together peacefully. Parallel systems of denominational schooling were devised to produce German citizens who were Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist.

In summary, Martin Luther’s 95 theses in Wittenberg in October 1517 started the Protestant Reformation, produced Anabaptists, elevated education for all, gave a great stimulus to the rise of nationalism and bequeathed to the world the denominational system of education.

The Rev George Liele and Early Baptist Witness in Jamaica

George Liele was born in Virginia, converted at a white Baptist church in Buckhead Creek, Georgia after a sermon by its pastor, Rev Mathew Moore. Henry Sharp, his owner, was a deacon of the church. Impressed with Liele’s piety, zeal and passion to serve his Lord, in 1773 Henry Sharp manumitted Liele, the church ordained him as a pastor and grant him a license to preach. Liele’s preaching to the enslaved in Georgia and Carolina established several missions. The mission in Savannah, Georgia grew into a Baptist church, with Liele as pastor. This is the first church founded by an African American in the United States.

The Buckhead Creek Baptist Church was an anomaly. It was Anabaptist in beliefs; Tory in political sentiments; the only Baptist Church in Georgia that supported the British in the American War of Independence. This white Baptist church ordained an African American preacher and acted against the nationalist fervor engendered by the revolutionary war. Understandably, the current annals of the History of Baptists in Georgia record that the Buckhead Creek Church was an obscure Baptist Church and was the only Baptist Church that was Tory. Further, it refers to George Liele as anti-American. Following the War, the church was physically relocated in Buckhead Creek and reconstituted.

Henry Sharp, a Loyalist who served as an officer in the British army was killed in 1778. Not sharing the values of their father, Sharp’s sons attempted to re-enslave Liele. Having successfully defended his manumission, Liele borrowed $700 from Colonel Moses Kirkland to pay for himself, his wife and four children to be included in the evacuation of other loyalists with British troops on a ship bound for Jamaica in December 1782. The ship arrived in Kingston in January 1783. Colonel Kirkland was instrumental in getting Liele a job transporting munitions from Port Royal. Liele worked as an indentured servant for two years, repaid Kirkland who then released him and his family as free people in Jamaica.

Liele started preaching the Gospel in Race Course in Kingston and attracted much attention. His transportation business by wagon and team took him to plantations and pens across several south-eastern Parishes. This transportation business allowed Liele not only to support his family but to spread the Gospel on the estates, pens, and settlements he visited. With help from some prominent whites, including Bryan Edwards, historian and strong supporter of the slave trade, Liele acquired lands at the junction of Victoria Ave and Elliston Road, built a chapel and named the congregation the Ethiopian Baptist Church. The membership included Moses Baker, George Gibbs, and others African American loyalists who were also relocated to Jamaica with assistance from the British military; some enslaved; some free blacks and coloureds; and a few whites. The Windward Road Chapel/Ethiopian Baptist Church was racially integrated.

The Ethiopian Baptist Church adopted, adapted and followed an Anabaptist Covenant, which was read in its entirety on one Sunday each month. The signing of the covenant was a condition of membership. In addition to standard Anabaptist beliefs the Covenant included clauses that stated that the church was a covenant community of believers in which all members were equal; required believers to resist evil, but by non-violent means as taught by Jesus; insisted that differences between members be settled by leaders in the church and not in courts;  exhorted believers to submit to the civil authorities; required marriage  or faithful concubinage between one man and one woman as the basis for family life; and stated that opposition, persecution, and suffering were to be expected and endured. Breaking the covenant involved sanctions.

By 1791, Liele’s Ethiopian Baptist Church had employed a teacher for a free school to teach poor children, free and enslaved, at the Windward Road Chapel. This became standard practice at all chapels that Liele established in the Eastern parishes. In one respect, Liele was following the long-established pattern of charity schools. In another respect, he was breaking new ground by starting charity schools by the church and outside of Vestries and Trusts.

Moses Baker, a mulatto, was born in New York City in the free black community, educated in a school run by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, became a barber, married, had three children and was Tory in political sentiments.  Like Liele, Baker and his family were evacuated to Kingston with British troops in 1783. Baker almost lost his sight, fell on hard times in Kingston and resorted to heavy drinking. He came under the influence of the preaching of Liele, had a conversion experience, was baptized and became an early member of the Ethiopian Baptist Church.

Mrs. Baker was a seamstress. Isaac Lacelles Winn, a Quaker planter in Adelphi St James, was in Kingston in 1783 in search of a seamstress. He found Mrs. Baker and through her met Moses, their three children and learned of their hardship. In 1788, Baker having recovered his sight, renewed acquaintance with Winn, who employed him to set up a church in Adelphi and to give religious instruction to his slaves. Baker established a Baptist Church in Adelphi and instituted a similar Anabaptist Covenant to Liele.

In summary, Baptist entry into Jamaica in 1783 was a byproduct of the American War of Independence and sponsorship of the British Army.  Liele established Baptist witness in the Eastern and Southern Parishes of Jamaica. Baker, by Quaker invitation, established Baptist Witness in the Western and Northern Parishes. Up to the end of the 18th century, neither Moravians, who had arrived in 1754, nor Baptists constituted any threat to the planter oligarchy or slavery. Notwithstanding, both denominations had succeeded, collectively, to gain thousands of converts, largely but not exclusively among the enslaved.


Truth requires that it be acknowledged that the first fundamental challenge in Jamaica to the slave trade and to slavery came from Methodists. When Dr. Thomas Coke, Superintendent of Methodist Missions, landed at Port Royal in 1789, six years after Liele, strident opposition to the slave trade, slavery, and the planter oligarchy had made landfall on Jamaican shores. Before arriving in Jamaica, Dr. Coke had visited the United States, preached against slavery, met with President George Washington and preached before the Congress of the United States. Methodist missionaries were forbidden to own slaves and to marry women who owned slaves.

William Wilberforce, the leading advocate in the House of Commons for the abolition of the slave trade was a Wesleyan Methodist. Methodists had strong opponents and detractors in England.  They were generally regarded as misguided enthusiasts or religious fanatics.

When Dr. Coke first preached in Kingston, Mrs. Mary Ann Able Smith, another American Loyalist relocated to Kingston, defended Coke against a mob of white men with a pair of scissors, threatening to drive it through the heart of the first man to touch him. Despite constant harassment, episodic intimidation which led to the cancelling of services, backsliding by a few of the faithful, including a missionary caught naked with a coloured girl who he claimed was nursing him in illness; by 1800, Methodist Circuits was established in Kingston, Port Royal, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay.

Methodists and dissenting nonconforming Denominations met their most formidable foe when they started a mission in Morant Bay in April 1802. Simon Taylor was the most powerful Jamaican oligarch of his time and probably of all times. He was Custos of St Thomas in the East, Chairman of the Vestry, Chief Magistrate of the Parish, member of the Assembly, Lt. General of the Militia, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, the most successful planter in Jamaica and the third richest man in the British Empire.

The scope of the Lecture does not allow me to detail successful actions taken by Taylor to shut down Methodist and non-conforming witness in Jamaica. Suffice it to say that he was able to manipulate the police, magistrates, and court of St Thomas-in-the East to arrest and imprison Methodists; to prevail in the Supreme Court even when the Chief Justice sided with the appeal by Methodist missionaries; to get the Assembly, Legislative Council and the Governor and Kingston Common Council to enact legislation and ordinances forbidding preaching except by the established churches; to nullify the King’s decisions to disallow these laws and ordinances; and to delay sending remedial legislation to England that would satisfy the King’s instructions. These actions prevented the public preaching of the Gospel by Methodists, Moravians, and Baptists from 1802 to 1815. Praying and singing hymns were included in the definition of preaching. Taylor died in 1813. It is in this period of official repression of the Gospel that Moses Baker began correspondence with English Baptists to the end of sending missionaries to Jamaica.

English Baptists arose from among Puritans who, based on Calvinist theology, started to separate from the Church of England contending that the latter had remained too Roman Catholic and popish. By 1600, these frustrated Puritans began to form independent congregations which over time evolved into different non-conformist groups: Quakers, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists.

Two strains of English Baptist emerged. The General Baptist who believed in salvation being generally available to all and later Particular Baptists who believed that salvation was only available to a chosen elect.

There is evidence to suggest that Liele and Baker were aware of William Carey’s Pamphlet of 1792, which called for the establishment of a missionary society and proposed how it could be funded. Following this, twelve pastors of the Particular Baptist Church met in Kettering on October 2, 1792; and formed the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen, later renamed the Baptist Missionary Society. Among the signatures of the agreement was Dr. John Ryland, President of the Bristol Baptist College. In 1813, the Particular Baptist Association formed the British Baptist Union.

Through contacts that Moses Baker had with Anglicans in New York, the connection was made first with Dr. John Ryland. Correspondence first developed between Baker and Ryland which apprised Ryland of the history of Baptist work in Jamaica, the Anabaptist Covenant to which converts committed, the scope of their success, and the opposition that they had experienced, including official suppression of preaching. Dr. John Ryland sent the first Baptist Missionary from England in 1813 at his own expense, followed in 1814 by Rev John Rowe, the first missionary to Jamaica sent by the Baptist Missionary Society. English Baptists celebrate 1814 as the start of missions to Jamaica.

Liele and Baker were in their 60s. Looking to the future, it was strategically important to involve English Baptists, now that the Particular Baptists in England, the centre of the British Empire, had established a mechanism for missions and had sent missionaries to India. The invitation was not for English Baptists to take over the Baptist work in Jamaica but to become fellow labourers.

There are six observations that are necessary at this point:

  1. The early English Baptist missionaries were specifically instructed not to become involved in the political affairs of the colony. By translation, this meant not to oppose slavery or the planter oligarchy.
  2. In this regard, the early English Baptist missionaries were no different from the Ethiopian Baptists in their deference to the civil authorities. Although the Ethiopian Baptists affirmed their ethnicity, and suffered because of it, in the main they did not openly defy the planter class. One noted exception was Moses Baker’s support for the Trelawny Maroons in the Second Maroon War of 1796. He was saved from deportation by influential whites in the West.
  3. Because of Liele, Baptist work was stronger in Kingston and the Eastern parishes. English Baptist missionaries first worked mostly in the Western Parishes, with Falmouth becoming their headquarters. Hence, an organizational difference developed between Western and Eastern Baptists. The focal point of English Baptist Missionaries in Eastern Parishes was at East Queen Street Baptist Church.
  4. In the twenty-year period between 1814 and 1834, English Baptist missionaries became the vanguard of Baptist presence and expansion in Jamaica as membership in the denomination moved from approximately 8,000 to 20,000.
  5. John Rowe started a school in Falmouth because he could not get a license to preach. Taylor’s ban on preaching survived his death by at least two years. Several of the first English missionaries came to teach, for example, Thomas Knibb and William Knibb.
  6. The nexus between Baptist work and education, Ethiopian or English, marked their beginnings of both. In this regard, Jamaican Baptists have been consistently


While a more or less cooperative and collaborative relationship had existed between the Ethiopian Baptists and the English Baptists, over the twenty-year period 1814 to 1834, Ethiopian Baptists were consigned to subordinate roles as assistants to English missionaries. This relationship became problematic after August 1, 1834, the commencement of Apprenticeship. Church attendance and church membership had soared, especially among Baptists. Baptist missionaries became the best paid in the colony and their manses the largest and best. Some English missionaries were not above vying for the larger churches.

The first documented evidence of tension among Baptists was a letter to the BMS in 1837, written by George Lyon and John Duff, which stated that at a meeting in St Ann, about two years earlier during a visit of a member of the BMS, it was proposed that some of their ‘useful leaders’ should be sent out by their pastors. William Duggan of Spanish Town and John Duff of Kingston were recommended.  The missionaries present at the meeting had objected. The matter was referred to the BMS. However, there had been no response. Further, the letter questioned the cost and prudence of sending preachers from England to preach the gospel in Jamaica after 20 years of missionary tutelage. It could well be added that the Gospel had been preached successfully in Jamaica by the Ethiopian Baptists for 30 years before the English missionaries arrived.

Apparently, the Lyon and Duff letter was not waiting on a response. It was signaling that ‘useful leaders’ were taking action. In 1837, seven native preachers had 17 stations. The seven Native Baptist were men who had reputations of being excellent preachers.

The Jamaica Native Baptist Missionary Society (JNBMS) was founded in 1839/40. It had five rules:

  • to set aside and ordain persons of known piety for the work of the ministry;
  • to admit into the Society congregations that were fit and proper;
  • to promote Christian education of the young;
  • to stimulate and encourage each other in preaching in Jamaica and where funds permitted to send missionaries to Africa; and
  • to maintain the unity of the spirit and work with other similar organisations.

The JNBMS became the first missionary society to be established in the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States.

There were no doctrinal differences between Native and English Baptists. The Bible was the final authority in faith and life. They used the same hymnal. Congregations were autonomous. The term ‘native’ was the key difference; invoked for at least five distinctive reasons:

  • First, to claim authority and control: local versus foreign.
  • Second, to dismiss the negative, derogatory and disrespectful stereotypic connotations of the word native by assertively and openly embracing it as their identity.
  • Third, to declare the efficacy of local practice in pioneering and presenting the Gospel by Liele and Baker. Ethiopian Baptists had relied on consistency in piety, spirituality, sincerity, and practical holiness as the criteria for ordaining pastors. English Baptists were superseding these verities for ordination by placing primacy on learning, particularly of Greek and Hebrew, although Knibb, its most effective missionary had no such training.
  • Fourth, to decide priority in the use of resources. What was the prudence in bringing men from England, at great cost, to do what native men had done effectively?
  • Fifth, to demand preference with respect to access to opportunities that were emerging in the post-emancipation era.

These black and coloured men forming the JNBMS were displaying the same audacity of nascent Jamaican nationalism as the Creole whites who defied the Crown in the 1670s. They were proudly invoking the name Jamaican in the same manner that coloured people did when they were derided for not having a country. More generally, it could be said that some people of African ancestry were now emphatically embracing Jamaican identity.

The JNBMS had its first annual general meeting in 1841. The first annual report showed the JNBMS was off to a flying start. In 1840, the Society had 38 chapels with a total membership of 13,687. Native Baptist churches were in the southern and eastern Parishes: Manchester, Clarendon, Vere, St Catherine, St John, St Dorothy, St Thomas-Ye-Vale, St Mary, St Andrew, Kingston, St David, St Thomas-in-the East, and Portland. The Native Baptists immediately became larger than the Presbyterian, Church of Scotland, and Roman Catholic and also equal to Moravians. Only Anglican, English Baptists, and Methodists were larger in numbers.

From English Baptist Missionaries to the Jamaica Baptist Union

English Baptist missionaries were also acting. While the challenge of the JNBMS may have added greater urgency, English Baptist missionaries had not been complacent about the imperatives of emancipation and freedom. Further, their actions were comprehensive and systematic.

Anticipating that land would be central to the interests of freed slaves, prior to emancipation, a Baptist and Quaker alliance in England, purchased lands secretly, with the intention of making these lands available to freed slaves on a not-for-profit basis. Burchell, Knibb, and Phillippo were party to this alliance. The ethos and the ethics of plantations had been premised on coercion, exploitation, dependence, concubinage, denigration, and uncertainty. The Baptist/Quaker coalition planned to contradict these premises frontally and fundamentally. They would set up free villages premised on self-sustaining patriarchal communities based on marriage, family, small farm, school, church, the ideology of self-reliance and the primacy of dignity. In 1835, James Phillippo proved the concept in starting the free village at Sligoville. The free village movement became an instant roaring success that is so well known that there is no need to repeat it here.

In 1837, English Baptist missionaries also invoked the name Jamaica. They established the Jamaica Baptist Education Society by which to govern the schools of the denomination. Every Baptist church had a school. Most were located in free villages.  By 1840, the Jamaica Baptist Education Society had 56-day schools, with 6901 students, eleven evening schools with 407 students and 54 Sunday Schools with 11,875 students. Sunday schools taught literacy. Overall the Society employed 90 teachers. The JNBMS did not have any separate governing body for their church schools.

Just as all Baptist churches were self-supporting, the schools of the Jamaica Baptist Education Society were self-financing schools by student fees, benevolent grants, and church subsidies. The Committee did not accept any funding from the Negro Education Grant provided by the Imperial Government. Hence when that Grant was phased out in 1842, it led to the closure of many Anglican schools, all the Mico elementary schools and many schools of denominations that had accepted the Grant. Because the Baptist schools were not affected, in the context of competition between denominations, Baptists were propelled to the leadership of the nascent denominational system of education. Schools of the Jamaica Baptist Education Society had to be sensitive to the views of parents and churches; hence, rejected vocational training and opted for a general curriculum. They employed men as teachers. Other denominations followed. Even the Mico Normal School, which started as a coeducational institution quickly became a male institution.

In 1840, following the Constitutional crisis over Jamaica that brought down the Melbourne Government in England, the new Governor, Metcalfe, criticized Baptist missionaries, particularly William Knibb, for meddling in politics and acting like a political party instead of paying attention to religious matters. The immediate response of Baptist missionaries was to denounce Governor Metcalfe from the pulpits of Baptist chapels and in the Baptist Herald newspaper. The rhetorical question asked was, how could Baptist missionaries be accused of meddling in politics when the Bishop of the Established Church sat on the Legislative Council and the Rector and Curates in each Parish were ex-officio members of Vestries? While not disagreeing with the substance, the Colonial Office chided Baptist missionaries for their public attack on the Governor.

This spurred Baptist Missionaries into outright political action. They decided to:

  1. Target the General Elections due in 1845.
  2. Build an electorate of the newly emancipated through the emerging free villages.
  3. Mobilize small settlers across the island to participate in elections.
  4. Use the annual celebrations of emancipation to promote voter registration and voting as a responsibility of freedom and citizenship.
  5. Engage in public education about voting and elections through public meetings
  6. Focus on the issues of taxation to finance immigration and the Established Church
  7. Lead the campaign through the activities of the Western Baptist Union.

A quote of Rev. John Clarke, Baptist missionary at a meeting in St Ann for the two seats on the Assembly for that parish, gives the tone of the political campaign that followed. Rev. Clarke said “…in St Ann we shall have 300 to 500 good and true voters and who shall we send to represent us? Shall we send Hamilton-Brown and Dr. Barnett; those fornicators; these oppressors; these robbers of the people’s rights and privileges?” But Brown and Barnett won. The Governor called the General Elections one year early. Electors had to be registered on the Voters’ List one year before General Elections. Most of Clarke’s good and true voters, registered but were not on the Voter List for the election.

While the Baptist-led campaign did not immediately achieve the stated objectives, by 1849 it had succeeded in changing the composition of the electorate permanently. In addition, three black men were elected to the Assembly; black men won seats of many Vestries. Interestingly, while the leadership of this watershed political campaign came mainly from Baptists in the West, it was most successful in the southern and eastern Parishes: St John, St Catherine, St Mary, and Portland. This suggests that many who belonged to the JNBMS were fully supportive of this historic political campaign.

The Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society was founded on August 1, 1842, the fourth anniversary of emancipation, by English Baptist missionaries. This was in the midst of an English Baptist missionary led political campaign to change the electorate and elect their candidates to the Assembly and on Vestries. It was established with local funding and declared itself financially independent of the Baptist Missionary Society of London. The claim was that the BMS was being emancipated from financing Jamaican missions. Its original objects were “to provide for the Spiritual Destitution of various parts of this Island: to support Sunday Schools; to send the Gospel to Africa, Central America, and to the Islands by which we are surrounded, and to aid in the building of churches.” When the Baptist Missionary Society sent its first missionaries to Africa in 1843 there were two Jamaicans, Joseph Merrick, and Alexander Fuller, who boarded the HMS Chilmark along with British volunteers. The vessel was bound for Fernando Poo, an island off the coast of Cameroons. The Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society was founded in heady days and could be said to have had instant success. Since this Lecture is about work in education there is no mandate to address the fervor for missions to Africa and elsewhere by newly freed Christian men.

The idea of a local Baptist theological college had been around from 1819. The challenge from the Native Baptists seemed to have given the final push to act. The college was opened on October 3, 1843, in the little village of Calabar overlooking Rio Bueno, Trelawny. It was named the Calabar Theological Institution. The name and location of the college were not accidental. Some of the enslaved from Nigeria had brought the name of the port city on the Calabar River with them to Jamaica. The name and location was an intentionally boisterous declaration of English Baptist commitment to training Black and coloured men to pastor Baptist Churches in Jamaica. Support for the College was added to the objects of the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society. Note that the Baptist Education System now had two levels: elementary and tertiary. Note also that the objects of the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society were amended to include financial support of the Calabar Theological Institution.

At Falmouth in 1849, Baptist Churches founded by English Baptist Missionaries formed the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU). This was the final organizational step in moving the denomination from its African American beginnings through English Baptist missionary assistance to being a Jamaican denomination with the potential of local authority and control. It could be said that the BMS was taking steps to hand over its leadership to ‘natives’ because the BMS was now fully focused on Asia and started to move into Africa and could not find sufficient English missionaries to meet the demand.

Probably a better lens through which to look at what was happening is that the BMS International was setting up its Jamaican branch with the Jamaica Baptist Union as the corporate entity and the Jamaica Baptist Education Society, the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society and the Calabar Theological Institution as subsidiaries. At the time, the corporate entity and subsidies were all being run by missionaries sent out by the BMS. Over time, through the agency of the schools and the theological college whose students were natives, Jamaicans could or would take over, but this was for the future if these structures functioned.

It seems fair to say that in celebrating Baptist work in education for the rest of the 19th century; organizational differentiation between the JBU, the JBMS, the Education Society, the Calabar Theological Intuition and other entities formed later, is largely a matter of semantics and of the locus of actions by individual missionaries or ministers. In their beginnings, differences between the JBU, the JBMS, the Theological College were not as discrete as in their future development.

Through collaboration between a Committee of the JBU and a Committee of the BMS, the Jamaica Normal School was founded and began to operate in September 1857 with nine students and with Mr. A. H. Dick BA of London University as its first master. Students paid fees. Initially, Mr. Dick’s salary was paid by the BMS for the first three years. The Jamaica Normal School was located on the same premises of the Calabar Theological Institution in Rio Bueno but was a separate entity. So too was a model elementary school that was also established as part of the teacher training process. The objective of the Jamaica Normal School was to train native male teachers irrespective of denomination.

With the founding of the Jamaica Normal School, Baptists now had an education complex at Rio Bueno with three levels of education. Elementary school, normal school, and tertiary college. Baptist Denominational Education System had advanced beyond the other denominations. By 1857, Moravians had an elementary school and normal school but no tertiary college. Presbyterians had an elementary school and tertiary college but no normal school. While Rev. John Radcliffe, a Presbyterian minister had found the Collegiate School, it was a private secondary school without denominational support. Methodists and Roman Catholics had an elementary school and secondary school but no normal school. Anglican had elementary schools but no normal school or college. The Government had no school and no college.

An education ladder had already emerged in the overall Denominational system of education. Its steps were an elementary school, pupil-teacher system, normal school, and theological college. In other words, normal schools were performing the dual role of teacher education institution and secondary school. With the founding of the Jamaica Normal School, this brought the education ladder within the Baptist Denominational System. Previously, Baptists had trained its teachers through the Mico Normal School. This was not only an education ladder but an avenue of upward social mobility through letters and learning for the children of the previously enslaved.

The end of the 1850s and the early 1860s were depressing times in Jamaica. There had been an economic downturn following the Sugar Duties Equalisation Act of 1846. The JBMS which had declared financial independence from the BMS in the heady days of 1842, was bailed out by the BMS through a loan to the JBU of 6000 pounds in the early 1850s. The cholera epidemics of the early 1850s had killed about 40,000, that is, about one-tenth of the population. Severe drought and the American Civil War had caused prices of food, clothing and other goods to skyrocket in circumstances of unemployment and low wages.

Native Baptists seemed to have fared worse from these events. Its membership declined to less than one third. Its chapels were dilapidated. The JNBMS had no external support. The cholera epidemic had been most severe in Kingston and eastern parishes. It did not reach Manchester, Westmoreland, and Hanover.

English Baptist missionaries were not without their own vicissitudes. Their efforts to replace the planter class in the Assembly had failed. The wealth requirement to be a candidate for the Assembly was way beyond that of their church members. Although by 1854, most members of the Assembly were not white, many of the coloureds and Jews who replaced them had recently become merchants and planters and acted no differently from the older merchants and planters they had displaced. The coalition that they had helped to elect of the three blacks, liberal Jews, coloureds, and whites were in the minority. The government had devalued lands in some of their strongholds, disenfranchising many who very previously enfranchised. Many smaller settlers who they registered to vote did not vote in the way they wished. Some even sold their votes to the highest bidder. They could not have known that their political campaign had permanently changed the composition of the Jamaican electorate. Some missionaries became disillusioned with politics. Others sided with the planters and merchants through patronage.

The Secretary of the BMS visited the island in 1865, had meetings across the island and wrote the now famous Underhill Letter which documented the hardships, grievances, and disillusionment of these times.

But all was not doom and gloom. The second Census of Jamaica was conducted in 1861. This Census found that the Baptists headed the list of denominations to which persons claimed to have an affiliation. 51,000 of the 441,264 persons claimed to be Baptists. Also in 1861, the Moravians, despite the difficulties of times, founded the Bethlehem Moravian Normal School in Malvern to train female infant school teachers.

By 1865, Calabar Theological Institution had trained 19 native men of the total of 41 ordained pastors of the Jamaica Baptist Union.

Following the Great Revival of 1860/61, James Phillippo baptized George William Gordon on Christmas Day, 1861 and challenged him to establish an independent cause under his own superintendence. In May 1862, the Native Baptist Communion was formed.  The main church was in Kingston but most of its churches were in St Thomas-in-the-East. Gordon was its acting Secretary and Paul Bogle its first deacon. Its membership was coloured and black men who owned freeholds paid taxes, lived in homes that were of a higher standard than the general population, read newspapers, had books in their homes, wrote letters and submitted well-worded memorials/petitions to the authorities including the Governor. They were the success stories of the post-emancipation period. They were children or youths at emancipation who had successfully embraced the promise of freedom and citizenship. They were among the most vocal at the Underhill Meetings.

In 1862, Enos Nuttall arrived in Jamaica as a probationer Methodist missionary. He had great ideas about education which he submitted to the leaders of the Denomination who did not entertain them.  He left the Methodist church in 1865 and joined the Anglican Church in January 1866.

In 1866, the Jamaica Baptist Union elected its first Jamaican president, Rev. Ellis Fray senior. Rev. Fray was born a slave just before emancipation. He entered Calabar Theological Institution and was subsequently ordained a minister. Fray married Ann Knibb, daughter of the late Rev. William Knibb. Their son, Rev. Ellis Fray junior, William Knibb’s grandson, also became a Baptist Minister trained at Calabar Theological Institution and later served as Secretary of the Jamaican Baptist Missionary society for several years, the society his grandfather helped to found.

The Morant Bay Riot and the British Army’s Reign of Terror: An Alternative View

Like their elders at emancipation, the young Turks of the Native Baptist Communion refused second-class citizenship and rejected the notion of racial inferiority. They had the temerity and moral courage to unequivocally demand equality, justice, and respect from the State. In so doing they put at risk all that they had achieved.

Contrary to the constructive way the English Baptist missionaries and the BMS in England had reacted to the nascent nationalism of Native Baptists, the Jamaican State was defiant and diabolical. The Jamaican State abrogated its own laws, condoned corruption within its ranks, was hypocritical in its public and private actions, circulated false rumors of atrocities committed by the rioters and spread the fake news that British sovereignty had been challenged. The State responded to the riot in Morant Bay with malice, vengeance, and terror. It executed their leaders of the Native Baptist Communion and others, destroyed their homes, churches, and schools, unlawfully seized their property, terrorized their women and children and humiliated the men that they did not kill.

As the Baptist Magazine of 1869 stated, out of evil came good.  They planter/merchant oligarchy that had run the colony in blatant self-interest for 202 years voluntarily abdicated government. Pure Crown Colony Government was instituted in June 1866 with the mandate that the first Governors should address the grievances set out in the Underhill letter. The only constraint was that the cost of reforms had to be paid for by efficiency gains and Jamaican taxes. No funds would be coming from the Imperial Government.

The Shift of the Baptist Education Complex from Trelawny to Kingston

In 1868, the Baptist education complex at Rio Bueno was relocated, lock stock and barrel to the spacious premises of the East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston. The main reasons were given by Rev D. J East, principal of the College, was that soon after the establishment of the Normal School, and its Model School, it was recognized that Rio Bueno area was inadequate. The education complex had to be relocated to a more populous place. Kingston had a large school-age population that lacked access to schooling, the premises of the East Queen Street Church was adequate, the Church had been in decline, it was without a pastor and the chapel needed repair. By Rev East becoming a pastor, the needs of both the education complex and East Queen Street Church would be served.

Omitted from the East account are four important matters. First, the Chairman of the Royal Commission that investigated the Morant Bay riot on his return to England had approached Rev. Underhill, Secretary of the BMS, with the request for Baptist missionaries to extend their work in St Thomas and other parishes in the east. Second, Baptist missionaries were eager to respond to the request because planter hostility had thwarted their previous attempts. Taylor’s malice survived his death. Third, Rev Phillippo and Rev Thomas were immediately sent out to assess the situation in St Thomas and Portland and reported on the devastation that was left behind. Fourth, acting on the advice of John Savage, the Irish Mico man, Governor John Peter Grant in 1867, had begun to implement major education reforms.

While the education complex was removed from Rio Bueno, the name Calabar was retained. Two additional levels of education made the education system a complete prototype. Calabar at East Queen Street consisted of a theological college, high school, normal school, elementary school, and infant school. In 1868 the JBU/JBMS had again advanced to the very frontier of educational development in Jamaica. In 1872, Governor Grant relocated the capital of Jamaica from Spanish Town to Kingston. Calabar was now in the capital of Jamaica. The high school failed and was closed. This was the second failure of Baptists to establish a boys’ high school. Unlike the first failure, the second had the full support of the denomination.

The Disestablishment of the Anglican Church and Consequences for Education

In 1868, Baptist missionaries sent a to the Governor advocating the Disestablishment of the Church of England[….], a matter they had consistently campaigned on since 1840. On this occasion, Governor Grant tabled the Memorial in the Legislative Council but did not follow through with any debate. The Clergy Act by which the established Church was funded was up for renewal in 1869. The Governor’s action followed by silence was the source of much speculation. At the end of 1869, the Governor informed the Anglican Bishop that the Clergy Act would not be renewed and requested a plan for how church assets would be administered. The Anglican Church had been disestablished by default. Going forward the Government would be relieved of considered obligations. Grant used much of the saving to fund educational reforms. It is in these circumstances the JBU/JBMS departed from its policy of self-financing schools, including the Calabar Normal School, but not the theological college.

With the opening of the public purse to education, the entire denominational education system expanded substantially and markedly improved in quality. Indeed, the expansion and improvement of education were one of the achievements of pure Crown Colony Government that were almost universally applauded. It attracted international attention to Jamaica. However, by the end of the 1880s, denominations could no longer meet their costs because every denomination wanted its own schools in small villages. The result was Government take-over of the denominational system through free elementary education introduced in 1892. The government allowed denominations to continue carrying out the day-to-day management of schools they owned, but all denominations had to follow government policy. The JBU/JBMS lost much of the influence that it once exercised in the elementary school system. Moreover, when the Government withdrew funding for colleges training male teachers in 1899, the JBU/JBMS was unable to fund the Calabar Normal School resulting in its closure.

With the failure of the first Calabar High School and the closure of the Calabar Normal School, the Baptist denominational education system had reverted to what it had been in 1857 at Rio Bueno. The big gap between theological education and elementary education had returned. Theological education, training native men for Christian ministry, was threatened if this gap was not filled.

This is the context in which English Baptist missionary Rev. Ernest Price and Australian Baptist missionary Rev. David Davis founded current Calabar High School in 1912 and moved it and the Calabar Theological College out of East Queens Street to new premises at the corner of Studley Park and Slipe Pen Roads. While not on the same premises, the integrated and sustainable prototype education system that the denomination had struggled to establish had its final form on local soil: infant, primary, secondary and tertiary. But it was made at the upper levels. The English Baptist missionaries had committed to trained native men for Christian ministry. From Studley Park Road, the Calabar Theological College and the Calabar High School moved to Red Hills Road in 1952.

The Disestablished Anglicans and Girls Education

In 1876, the school in Falmouth run by the Knibb sisters accepted two black girls, daughters of Baptist and Presbyterian ministers. When white parents could not persuade the Knibb sisters to rescind their decision, they withdrew their children in protest. Rev. William Menzie Web, the Baptist Mico man, set out the mission to establish a school in Stewart Town, Trelawny, where he was stationed, that would be open to girls of all races. He placed this proposal to the JBU/JBMS which considered it but finally decided not to support it. Undaunted, Rev. Webb was able to secure funding which allowed the school to open in 1882. This girls’ school was Baptist but not JBMS/JBU.

It could be argued that times were changing with respect to girls’ education. Webb perceived this change but the JBMS/JBU did not. The disestablished Anglican Church led by the visionary Bishop Enos Nuttall, moved in the 1890s to respond to the new times and led the movement for girls’ education in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The fact is that the Anglican Church founded both girls’ and boys’ schools in the first half of the twentieth century. Energized by its loss of secure state funding, the disestablished Anglican Church replaced Baptists as the leaders of educational development principally through the efforts of Bishops Nuttall, Decartret and Gibson. Apart from Calabar in 1912, the William Knibb Memorial High School is the only secondary school founded by the JBU in the twentieth century. While the memory of William Knibb and Baptists have been bolted in the local and international arenas, the William Knibb Memorial High School is the singular achievement of the JBU since independence. It highlights the decline of Baptist efforts in education in the 20th century.

Concluding Comments

What can be said of Christianity 500 years after the Protestant Reformation?

  • Christian empires were replaced by denominations, which fragmented with alacrity, and are now under pressure from personal ministries legitimized by civil law. The mystical body of Christ appears atomized to the world.
  • Nation-states, which replaced religious empires are in flux, as globalization based on materialism and consumerism offer global citizenship.
  • Denominational systems of education have been replaced by State systems which offer secular education. States have proved to be far more effective in providing education.
  • Education for all is close to practical completion in the world. In 2017 in Jamaica, the Ministry of Education announced that 84 per cent of Grade Four students are functionally literate which means that Grade Four students can read the Bible for themselves.
  • The progression over the last five hundred years has been from believers, to nationals, to secular consumers.

Is there a lesson to be learned? Yes, unequivocally. It is not the reform of the Church that is critical but following Christ as the apostles did after his crucifixion and resurrection is paramount.

Is there a Jamaican example of such practice? Yes, definitely. It is that of the Rev. George Liele who was single-minded in his life-long dedication to the Good News of the Gospel wherever the circumstances of his life placed him, despite injustice, humiliation and unfounded accusations. Through practical holiness in service, willingness to selflessly collaborate with all who would join in ministry and with total dependence on the providence of God, he left the legacy we now celebrate. Liele died not knowing the lasting impact of his devotion to Christ. But God is faithful.

Our mission is not to change the world. Our purpose is to serve our own generation while earnestly seeking the will of God as he calls through opportunities opened by circumstances and to leave the rest to His providence.

Professor Errol Miller, October 8, 2017