August 08, 2010


WHEN WE think of Emancipation the words freedom and deliverance come to mind and people often think of the positive role played by local churches.

This perception of the influence of the church is due in part to the perception of the planters of the early 19th century. In their minds, the missionaries working among the people were responsible for the series of rebellion and revolt, which preceded the 1834 Act of Emancipation.

The Moravian Church was the first to have begun missionary work among the people kept as slaves and was already 102 years in the Eastern West Indies Province at the time of Emancipation on August 01, 1734.


However, the way they perceived the influence of the local churches on Emancipation and how they were perceived by the planters, has not been as much the subject of attention.

Writing at the time of the centenary celebrations, 20 years after the Act was promulgated, J.H. Buckner, who was then minister of the Moravian Church at Fairfield in Jamaica, noted: The Baptists and Methodists ministers were loudly accused of being instigators. ...Our (Moravian) missionaries were likewise suspected and openly accused by the planters and the House of Assembly of having occasioned discontent and insurrection. The private conversations (speakings) which the missionaries held with the slaves were especially obnoxious to the proprietors, and they accused the (Moravian) Brethren of using these to instill evil disposition into the minds of the people. (Buckner, The Moravians in Jamaica (1854), 85]

Likewise, the people who were kept slaves seemed to have been of the general impression that the change that eventually came in their condition was to be ascribed to the influence of the Gospel and the labours of the missionaries. [See Buckner, 115].

In one instance at New Eden, near Bogue in St. Elizabeth in Jamaica, the missionary reported how a Negro insisted that it was not Jesus but the missionaries themselves who helped them to be free. When the day of Emancipation came, thousands went to worship as a way to mark the occasion.

The consequence of this association between the Gospel and freedom was that after Emancipation the churches expanded at a remarkable rate.

Between 1831 and 1837, the Moravians experienced a 100 per cent rise in membership. Then between 1836 and 1843 the Moravians alone built no fewer than 13 schools. The rate of expansion among the Baptists and the Methodists was equally impressive.

The Moravians purchased lands, which they made available to the ex-slaves at greatly reduced cost. This was an important intervention by the church, given the rapacious attitude of the planters who were keen to recover from the earnings lost as a consequence of Emancipation.

However, the missionaries of the local churches did not readily own the influence the church is believed to have had in the rebellions and uprisings that preceded Emancipation.

In general, missionaries were keen to be seen as not disrupting the status quo. So the church leadership was keen to maintain the social status because in that way they were assured a preaching post, free from official harassment.

As we celebrate this 176th Anniversary of Emancipation from slavery, let us be grateful and recognize that there were those who suffered for our freedom. The Church, one may argue could have done more but that is hindsight. Let us together see what we can do so that such heinous acts will never be perpetuated again in the history of mankind. As Paul said to the Galatian Christians, “For freedom Christ has set us free, therefore let us not return to the yoke of bondage again” (Galatians 5:1).