Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


1802 - 1833 Religion, "decency and good order."

[The Slave Act prohibited dissenter ministers, who were mistrusted, preaching to slaves but the same sanction did not apply to the Established Church. For many proprietors it was seen as in their own interest to have slaves baptised into the Church if England; mass baptisms were not uncommon. Remedies to this imbalance were tied in with the Assembly's 'hostility of disposition' to other 'meliorating' changes to slave law in the eventual progress towards emancipation.

In 1802 Governor Nugent's wife, Lady Maria Nugent, was already of the opinion that:

". . ..if religion, decency, and good order, were established among the negroes; if they could be prevailed upon to marry; and if our white men would but set them a little better example. . .they would. . . render the necessity of the Slave Trade out of the question, provided their masters were attentive to their morals, and established matrimony among them; but white men of all descriptions, married or single, live in a state of licentiousness with their female slaves; and until a great reformation takes place on their part, neither >religion, decency nor morality, can be established among the negroes. An answer that was made to Mr. Shirley, a Member of the Assembly [1] (and a profligate character, as far as I can understand), who advised one of his slaves to marry, is a strong proof of this--

"Hi, Massa, you telly me marry one wife, which is no good! You no tinky I see you buckra no content wid one, two, tree, or four wifes; no more poor negro."

The overseers, &c. too, are in general needy adventurers, without either principle, religion, or morality. Of course, their example must be the worst possible to these poor creatures.

[Lady Nugent's Journal, 8th, April, 1802]

[1] The Hon. Henry Shirley, member for St. George

[2] Wife of James Bell in St. George's.

Years were to pass before Government policy on 'melioration' eventually drew from the Assembly legislation for "comfortable" religious tolerance towards dissenting missionaries as part of a new Slave Act].

London, 13th April, 1808

[From T. Coke [1] to Hawkesbury [2]

About 400,000 slaves are excluded by this law [3] from all public worship and from all public and private instruction. A law so effectual for the exclusion, as far as man can do it, of a large body of the human race from all the means of salvation, was, I think, never passed before by any Legislature.

I have no reason, My Lord, to suppose that His Majesty and his Ministers will not condescend to shew us clemency and justice in this affair, but just the contrary. Three times already our most Gracious Sovereign has put his veto in Council to persecuting Colonial laws; and I cannot doubt but his gracious heart will be moved to favour us in the present instance.

[Jamaica. CO 137/122]

1] Thomas Coke, 1747-1814, English clergyman who, after taking orders (1777) in the Church of England, allied himself with the Methodists. In 1784 he was ordained as superintendent for 'America' [this included the West Indies] by John Wesley.

[2] Lord Hawkesbury (soon to be known as Lord Liverpool) - Secretary of State for the Colonies.

[3] Jamaica Consolidated Slave Act which forbade preaching to slaves by sectarian missionaries.

London, 18th April, 1809

[From the Report of the Lords of the Committee of the Privy Council on the Consolidated Slave Act]

Religious instruction for slaves. . .confining to doctrines of the Established Church, and forbidding any Methodist, missionary or other sectary to presume to instruct their slaves or to receive them in their chapels etc - which is contrary to the principles of toleration prevailing in this kingdom, and is the more objectionable, as an act to the same effect has been disallowed by Your Majesty at a former period on similar principles, and no provision has been made by the Legislature of the Island for clergymen of the Established Church.

[Jamaica. CO 137 125]

London, March, 1810

[From Memorandum of Lord Bathurst on 'Religious Instruction for Negroes']

Whereas it is expedient that some precaution should be taken in permitting persons to preach the Gospels to assemblies of Negroes and persons of colour for the purpose of excluding from the exercise of such sacred functions all ignorant and ill designing persons who under the pretence of preaching the Gospel may disseminate principles of the peace and good order of society -

Preachers. . .must first be qualified and registered in the Supreme Court

No person. . .who shall not appear to the Judges of the said Court to be a fit and proper person to perform the office of preacher. . .

Meetings. . .only in places notified to the Supreme Court and registered. . .

Unlicensed preachers or preachers in unlicensed Houses. . .to be punished under the Act of 1682 for the suppression of seditious conventicles. . .not to extend to persons preaching to negroes or in another place with the proprietor's consent [1] or to preaching to free negroes.

[Jamaica. CO 137/128]

1] 1817 - Robert Hibbert, proprietor of 'Georgia', Hanover but living in England, employed the Reverend Cooper, a Unitarian missionary, to "ascertain the practicability of improving the condition of the negroes on this property by means of religious instruction." The mission was not a success, and was to lead to acrimonious exchanges between the two men. Hibbert had strong reservations about Cooper's aim to teach the slaves to read.

London, 19th March, 1810

[From Castlereagh to Governor Manchester]

The information contained in your letters respecting the intemperate conduct of the Assembly of Jamaica has afforded his Majesty the most sincere concern. . .in the measure which they [the Assembly] thought proper to adopt of inserting a clause on the subject of Religion, known to be contrary in principle to His Majesty's sentiments, in the Slave Consolidation Act. . .

His Majesty could have no alternative, under such circumstances, but that of rejecting the law 'in toto', of which this clause formed a part.

[Jamaica CO 137/128]

London, 7th November, 1811

[From Liverpool's circular to Crown Colonies[1]

It must be obvious that, as the slaves are usually employed in daily labour from sunrise to sunset, a prohibition to them to assemble for the above purpose at any time must amount nearly to a prohibition of instruction altogether, and such a prohibition when extended to the estates and territories of individuals I absolutely inconsistent with those principles of toleration which must be considered in force in every colony or settlement subject to His Majesty's authority.

His Majesty's Government feel no disposition from any facts which have come within their knowledge to look with jealousy and distrust upon the conduct of the missionaries, and they have yet seen no plan by which the benefits of religion can be extended to the inhabitants of some parts of the globe without their aid and assistance.

[CO 295/44]

1] Legislation for Crown Colonies, which did not have a local Legislature, was implemented by Orders in Council coming from London. Whilst these did not apply to Jamaican legislation [which was passed by the Assembly], draft legislation, based upon Orders in Council, was sent to the Governor of Jamaica as a guide to ensure that Assembly Acts were "comfortable to" the overall intentions of Government in Britain.

London, 13th November, 1811

[From Lord Liverpool to Governor Morrison [1]

I must further observe that the Act of the Legislature of Jamaica has appeared to His Majesty's Government so directly repugnant to any principle of religious toleration that His Royal Highness the Prince Regent has by the advice of His Majesty's Privy Council thought fit to disallow [2] the same.

After all that has passed upon the subject of religion in the island of Jamaica it is to be expected that some legislative provision upon this head will again be brought under the consideration of the Assembly. . .but you will understand it to be the Prince Regent's positive commands that you are to assent to no act on the subject of religion without a suspending clause unless it is strictly comfortable to the draft enclosed.

. . .if by personal communication with any of the leading members of the Assembly, there should appear to be any probability of being able to induce the Assembly to pass an act comfortable to the enclosed draft it may be very desirable that by such measures the differences which have existed in this question should be set at rest; but it must be distinctly understood that the alternative must be between such an act as the one inclosed and the non existence of any legislative provision whatever in the island upon this important subject.

[Jamaica. CO 137/131]

[1] Lt. General Morrison - Acting Governor at the time.

[2] Any act did not become law unless and until it had Royal Assent.

Hanover, 10th June, 1817

[From Reverend Daniel Warner Rose [1] to William Bullock [2]

. . .His Grace the Governor requires, that I should make a return of the slaves I have baptised - I shall be able, by the first post after the 28th of this month, to forward a correct return of the number I have baptised the last three years, say, from June 28, 1814 to June 28, 1817, [3] and should His Grace require the Number I baptised the preceding years, I shall cheerfully obey the Orders and forward a correct list. . .

[Jamaica. CO 137/144]

[1] Daniel Warner Rose: Rector, Parish Church at Lucea.

[2] William Bullock: Governor's Secretary

3] Later forwarded, a ledger entitled ' A return as copied from the Parish Register and the Estates Books of Slaves baptised in the Parish of Hanover, Jamaica. . .and the names of the Properties and Proprietors to whom they belong and the time when they were baptised.'

In the three years listed a total of 5,773 slaves were baptised into the Church of England in Hanover. In addition to the single entries, 22 mass baptisms, of between 100 and 275 people, were made on the larger estates.

Jamaica, 13th June 1817

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst]

My Lord, I have the honour to transmit to your Lordship the returns made by the several Incumbents in this Island relative to the Fee [1] if any which has been demanded on the Baptism of Slaves and the number of Slaves who have become Members of the Church of England.

[Jamaica. CO 137/144]

1] Although a fee was payable either by the proprietor or the slave, this was generally paid by the proprietor, exclusively so in the parish of Hanover according to Rector, the Rev. Rose.

Jamaica, 6th February, 1819

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst, Private]

It would be attended with very desirable effects could any means be adopted for discouraging by authority the very prevalent practice of merchants employing themselves and their clerks on Sundays in business instead of devoting the Sabbath to those purposes for which it is ordained.

I know of no mode of discouraging this practice more effectually than by removing the temptation to it which arises from the packets sailing on Monday and which lead men of business to postpone their money transactions until the last moment.

[Jamaica. CO 137 148]

Jamaica, 10th July 1819

[From Governor Manchester to Bathurst, Confidential]

But it appear to me an object of importance; as the force of example has great influence in that part of the community here, whom it is so particularly desirable to lead by degrees to a more rational way of thinking and acting; and it is in vain to expect that the negro population should devote the only interval which is allowed to them for rest or recreation to religious instruction, whilst they see it neglected and disregarded by those to whom they have been accustomed to look up with deference, and by whose habits and manners it is their aim and object to regulate their own.

I have paid the greatest attention to Your Lordship's observation as to the neglect of the Sabbath here amongst the slave population. It is a subject of extreme difficulty, and one for which a remedy has been sought by the most considerate person hitherto without success. And I fear it must be left to the operation of time and that change of circumstance and opinions which is slowly but surely leading to the improvement of the habits and manners of the slaves. . .

[Jamaica. CO 137/152]

Edinburgh, 18th February, 1821

[From a Jamaica Proprietor to Bathurst]

When I was in Jamaica a few years ago it gave me great pleasure to hear the Duke of Manchester recommend to the House of Assembly that they should turn their attention to the religious instruction of the slaves: but I am afraid the recommendation of His Majesty's minister has been very little attended to.

May I call upon you as the head of the colonial department to consider well what an awful responsibility is upon you having the fourth commandment so shamefully trampled upon (in the colonies under your charge) on the return of every Sabbath by having public markets on that day. I have been endeavouring to persuade some of my friends to give their slaves religious instruction on Sunday but an objection o this plan is that these slaves would have cause to be dissatisfied at being kept away from market. May I so far take up your time as to mention one other reason for the markets being done away with before the proprietors can make any effectual exertion to have Sunday made a proper use of: you are well aware that there are so few proprietors in the West Indies that the properties are managed almost entirely by what are called attornies. . .and I am afraid very few managers can be easily convinced that by giving a days rest once a week they can make as much produce as at present. This being the case all the attornies throw cold water on any advances that are made by the proprietors in this country, but if it was once general all the Attornies would be on the same footing and have no cause of complaint.

[Jamaica. CO 137/152]

Jamaica, 10th September, 1824

[From Governor Manchester to Lord Bathurst]

Your Lordship may be assured that my best endeavours will be employed. . .to induce the Assembly to afford every assistance towards promoting a system calculated to produce the most beneficial effects on the morals and habits of the slaves.

With respect to the Order in Council. . .I hope the Assembly may be induced to incorporate in their statutes those provisions of the Order which are not to be found in the Consolidated Slave Act, and that they will give further extension to a gradual improvement of their condition which must prove as beneficial to the proprietors as to those for whose advantage it is more immediately intended.

[Jamaica. CO 137/157]

Christchurch, Hampshire, 1826

[From Sir G. Rose [1] to Horton [2]

When coming home in 1823 I found the West India question in full blaze. There were points in which I could not agree with the colonists, but there was in the conduct of the emancipators, I thought, much frenzy and absurdity. I endeavoured to make the question of religion, omitted by both parties then, the principal one, and to persuade the West Indians to make their own, telling them that, besides the urgency of their highest duties to do so, they would defeat their foes thereby - at least leave them in the lurch, as the emancipators must either enter it under their banner and follow their lead, or neglect or oppose that question. . .

[Jamaica. CO 137/166]

1] Sir George Henry Rose, M.P. and a member of the Southampton Auxiliary Bible Society in Hampshire, England. Lord Liverpool also attended Society meetings.

He refers to "A Letter on the Means and Importance of Converting the Slaves in the West Indies to Christianity" which he wrote in 1823.

[2] Wilmot Horton, Robert: Parliamentary Under Secretary at Colonial Office

London, 10th February, 1827

[From Weslyan Missionary Society to Bathurst]

We know of no circumstances which have arisen in Jamaica to give the least colour to their adoption [obstruction of missionaries under the Jamaica Slave Act] or to any interference with our missions. None of the negroes of our societies have been engaged in any conspiracies or revolts; nor of our missionaries have ever been charged with disseminating any other doctrines than those moral and peaceable tenets which they have, from the beginning of the Mission, inculcated. They continue to have the sanction of many of the most respectable Planters and Magistrates in Jamaica, and they have been exerting themselves in every possible way to promote the moral and religious instruction of the negroes and People of Colour; nor can we all account for this renewed attempt to obstruct and perplex our missions, except from the hostility of a party of violent men whom we have done nothing to provoke.

[Jamaica. CO 137/166]

London, 22nd September, 1827

[From Huskisson [1] to Governor Keane [2]

. . .The prohibition of meetings for religious worship between sunset and sunrise will, in many cases, operate as a total prohibition, and will be felt with peculiar severity by domestic slaves inhabiting large towns, whose ordinary engagements on Sunday will not afford leisure for attendance on public worship before evening.

The penalties denounced upon persons collecting contributions from slaves, for purposes of either charity or religion, cannot but be felt, both by the teachers and their followers, as humiliating and unjust. Such a law would affix an unmerited stigma on the religious instructor, and I prevents the slave form obeying a positive precept of the Christian religion.

It may be doubted whether the restriction upon private meetings among the slaves, without the knowledge of the owner, was intentionally pointed at the meetings for religious worship. No objections of course could exist to requiring that notice should be given to the owner or manager. . .but, on the other hand, due security should be taken that the owner's authority is not improperly exerted to prevent the attendance of the slaves.

[Jamaica. CO 137/165]

[1] William Huskinson, Secretary of Sate for the Colonies, 1827-1828.

[2] Major General Sir John Keane, Governor, 1827-1828

England, 2nd October, 1827

[From Agent Hibbert [1] to Horton]

I think it will not be denied that the Jamaica Bill is. . .a great improvement of the old Law; it contains many new and important provisions in favour of the slave and I am convinced that the clauses mentioned above [restrictions on religious meetings] were not dictated by intolerance or by a spirit adverse to the Dissenters and Missionaries, but that they were considered necessary in order to give effect to the provisions against dangerous nightly meetings of the negroes, under the pretext of religious worship or instruction.

[Jamaica. CO 137/166]

[1] George Hibbert, Agent for the Island in Great Britain [at £2,000 per annum]

Jamaica, 11th December, 1828

[From Governor Keane to Murray [1]

I am now to inform you that the bill after a violent and continued opposition passed the House precisely in the same words as the old law with the difference of dates. The Council amended this bill. . . endeavouring to meet your suggestions by omitting the names of sectarians or ministers of religion, and making the prohibition to attend nightly meetings generally, and without any allusion to the purposes for which such meetings were supposed to be designed.

The House have refused to adopt any one amendment. . .I need not add that I shall refuse my assent to it.

[Jamaica. CO 137/167]

[1] Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1828-1830

Jamacia, 14th July, 1830

[From the St Jago Gazette]

. . .studied and mischievous misrepresentations on the part of the Missionary preachers, will soon, however, counteract their own designs; for every sectarian must now be considered as a spy in the land. Some, indeed, may be innocent, but from the difficulty of discovering those who are so, all will be suspected, and every man who has the least regard for the peace and welfare of the Colony will now watch them as enemies, and be slow to encourage them. [The Editor, Mr. Lunan]

Jamaica, 17th July, 1830.

[From The Watchman]

I am sorry to speak with harshness of any set of men, and, until the present time, have never come into contact with sectarianism; but twenty-three years experience, and the visible alteration in the manners and habits of the slaves within the last ten years, teach me that these dissenting preachers will, inevitably, bring the country to ruin, especially if their most improbable calumnies are countenanced by the highest authorities in the state."

Jamaica, 19th February, 1831

[From Governor Belmore [1] to Goderich [2]

I have now the satisfaction to inform Your Lordship that. . .the clause respecting slaves preaching which was so strongly adverted to in Mr Huskisson's despatch has been expunged and the two sectarian clauses which formed the principal obstacle to the act of 1826 are also expunged from the new Bill. . .

21st February, 1831 [Confidential]

My publick despatches will have told Your Lordship that a bill entirely free from those objections as restraining religious liberty has been passed. I entirely rejoice that this subject has at last been laid to rest. . .the majority for passing the bill became so great that it unequivocally manifested the sense of the country as to the propriety of refraining [3] from all invidious distinctions between ministers of religion.

[Jamaica. CO 137/138]

[1] Earl of Belmore, Governor, 1829-1832

[2] Viscount Goderich, Secretary of State for the Colonies

[3] However. . ..

Jamaica, July 1832

[From the Royal Gazette]

Lucea, 11th July, 1832

At a very numerous and highly respectable Meeting of the Inhabitants of this Parish, held at the Court-House in this Town: Alexander Campbell Esq. being called to the Chair, A Letter addressed to the Custos from the Secretary of the Trelawny Colonial Union was read, together with a copy of the Resolutions entered in Falmouth on the 9th instant.

The following Gentlemen were appointed a standing Committee:-

John Campbell, Chairman. John Edward Payne, John Haughton James, John Vincent Purrier, George Hibbert Oates, William A. Dickson, Alex Grant, George Robert Johnson, Henry Edward Walcott, William Gordon, John Napier Dawes, Esquires. Peter Grant, Esq. Treasurer. Richard Chambers, Secretary.

Resolved, That we are determined at any risk not to permit any sectarian Missionary to disseminate their Doctrines in this parish, being convinced, from evidence not to be denied, that the late, unhappy Rebellion was the result of their pernicious system of teaching inculcated on the minds of our Slave Population.

Resolved, That we most cordially agree with the Resolutions of the Trelawny Colonial Union, and that we, collectively and individually, pledge ourselves to support the same to the utmost of our ability.

Resolved, That the Committee do meet at the Court-House in the Town of Falmouth, on Saturday 28th inst. to co-operate with the committees of the other Parishes.

Resolved, That a Copy of these Resolutions be published in the County Papers and Jamaica Courant.

Jamaica. CO 141/26]

Jamaica, 12th November, 1832

[From Governor Mulgrave [1] to Goderich]

It would be quite useless to institute legal proceedings against any of them [the magistrates], and even if the result of an investigation of a different nature were to establish the substantial accuracy of Mr. Dyer's [2] information, it would be scarcely possible, at this time, to visit so many persons filling the situation of magistrates with that mark of displeasure which such proceedings would appear to call for, sustained, as I fear these gentlemen would be by the applause and encouragement of no inconsiderable part of the community. . .an investigation. . .would only tend, at this time, to keep alive that agitation in the community which it is so important should be suffered, if possible, to subside.

[Jamaica. CO 137/183]

[1] Earl of Mulgrave, Governor 1832-1834

[2] Mr. Dyer, Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, London, informing Goderich, by letter, about actions such as those taken at Lucea in July.

Jamaica, 7th July, 1833

[From Governor Mulgrave to Stanley [2]

It would on every account be desirable that all uncertainty on this subject [Dissenters] should be terminated; the feelings of the majority of the magistrates are too much prejudiced for them to be entrusted with any indefinite discretion which can be avoided. On the other hand I cannot avoid taking this opportunity of bearing my testimony in favour of a set of men who are here the objects of much calumny and misrepresentation. Since I have been here I have never known an instance in which a Dissenting Minister has not tempered zeal with discretion. They have upon all occasions shown that implicit confidence in the intentions of the Executive which I have endeavoured to deserve - and whenever the peace of the country could possibly be endangered they have uniformly proved the value they set upon maintaining that object by forbearance under what they consider as persecution.

[Jamaica. CO 137/189]

[2] Hon. Edward Smith Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1833-1834 [later Viscount Stanley]

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