Persecution Of The Wesleyan Missionaries In The West Indies

The exertions of Christians to spread the truths of the gospel among the

Africans in the West Indies, have met with much opposition from the

white population. Moravian missionaries, at first, sold themselves as

slaves, and laboured with the negroes on the plantations for the purpose

of preaching the gospel during the intervals of labour. The Methodist

missionaries have been treated with much indignity, and have had their

lives endangered by the violence of the white mob. In 1816, the white

rabble of Barbadoes, collected together, and totally destroyed the

Methodist chapel. The destruction of the chapel occupied two successive

nights, and so listless were the authorities, that no attempt was made

to prevent it. And when the governor issued a proclamation, offering a

reward to any person who should apprehend the leaders in this outrageous

proceeding, the mob immediately issued a counter proclamation,

threatening with death any one who should dare to comply with the

governor's orders.

In August, 1823, an insurrection took place at Demerara, among the

negroes, which was most unjustly attributed to the efforts of the

missionaries. The principal events in relation to this affair are

detailed in the subjoined account from the Missionary Herald.

Various accounts have, from time to time, appeared in the public prints,

of the insurrection of the slaves in the colony of Demerara, and of the

condemnation of the Rev. Mr. Smith, a missionary from the London

Missionary Society, on an accusation of having been accessary to the

plot. We have collected and embodied such of the leading facts, relative

to these transactions, as have come to our knowledge.

The slaves of many plantations on the eastern coast of Demerara had

formed a conspiracy to obtain their freedom. The plot was disclosed by a

servant to his master on the 18th of August; not till the conspiracy was

thoroughly organized, and arrangements made to secure simultaneous

movements; and only a few hours before the time appointed for action.

Information was immediately communicated to the commander-in-chief, and

the most efficient measures taken; but before a sufficient force could

be assembled to resist a large body of negroes, who were immediately

under arms, the evening, which was the time for executing the first

grand enterprise, had arrived. This was simultaneously to seize upon the

whites at the different plantations, confine them in the stocks, and

take possession of their arms. This was effected on nearly fifty

plantations, containing, inclusive of women and children, 10 or 12,000

negroes. The whites, to the number of about 250, were imprisoned. In

some places an ineffectual resistance was made, and several lives lost

on both sides.

On the morning of the 19th, the governor issued a proclamation,

declaring the colony under martial law, and ordered all who were capable

of bearing arms, without distinction, to be immediately enrolled. The

most vigorous measures were pursued; and in the course of a few days,

after several skirmishes, in which a considerable number of negroes lost

their lives, the insurrection was subdued.

A court martial was then constituted, and many of the negroes brought to

trial, condemned and executed. Subsequent accounts state that more than

1000 had suffered death, in consequence of the insurrection, and that

many of their heads had been fixed up on poles in various parts of the


We might easily be more particular in regard to the circumstances of the

insurrection, but our object is chiefly to relate what concerns the

missionary who was accused of having a part in the scheme, and the other

missionaries in the colony. On these points we have to regret that the

information which has yet been received is very scanty and in many

respects indefinite.

The extract which follows is from the Missionary Chronicle, and was

published in the name of the Directors of the London Missionary Society.

The insurrection it should seem, manifested itself first in Mahaica, the

district to the east of that in which Mr. Smith resides. Its appearance

on the Le Ressouvenir estate, where Mr. Smith resides, was on Monday,

the 18th August, in consequence of an order to take into custody two

slaves belonging to an adjoining plantation, whom the negroes of the Le

Ressouvenir, as the prisoners had to pass over it, rose to rescue. Mr.

Smith was at home. He successfully used his endeavours, on perceiving

the tumult, to rescue the manager from the negroes, and continued his

exertions to induce them to return to their duty, till he himself was

driven with violence, and with a weapon held to his body, from the


Mr. Smith was taken into custody on the evening of the 21st August, and

all his papers seized. He is kept a prisoner in the Colony-house, and

has, since the 24th of August, had a guard stationed over him.

Mr. Elliot, another missionary, who laboured about 20 miles from Mr.

Smith, was also taken into custody, on the ground of disobedience of

orders, "which he had not understood to be such," in visiting Mr. Smith

in his confinement. He was kept about ten days, and then released. No

charge was preferred against him. The estates on which he labours had

been quiet, and none of the negroes under his instructions were

implicated in the rebellion.

In a letter to the Directors of the London Missionary Society, Mr Elliot

writes thus:

Numerous false reports have been sent forth against Mr. Smith, but

assure yourself and all the directors, that whatever reports you may

hear, the only crime the missionaries have committed is their zeal for

the conversion of the negroes. They have neither been so weak nor so

wicked as to excite the negroes to rebellion. The missionaries want

justice only; they have no favour to ask; they have nothing to fear. The

missionaries have not degraded their holy calling, nor dishonoured the

society of which they are members, by sowing the seeds of rebellion

instead of the Word of Life. The real causes of the rebellion are far,

very far from being the instructions given by the missionaries.

On the 13th of October, Mr. Smith was brought to trial before a court

martial. All the accounts which we have yet seen of the charges brought

against him are very obscure and imperfect. The January number of the

Missionary Chronicle, from which we have already quoted, says,--

The public papers have stated four charges as forming the indictment

against him, but of their accuracy the directors are not enabled to

judge. They trust that, under the direction of Divine Providence, he has

been able to prove himself guiltless of them all.

It is not, however, to be concealed, that he will have had much to

contend with from the violence of public prejudice in the Colony, and it

is to be feared from the false assertions of some of the unhappy

negroes, whom the hope of favour towards themselves may have led to

bring against him "things that he knew not." Indeed, the directors are

informed, upon authority on which they can rely, that some of the

condemned negroes, finding the hope of life taken away, had in the most

solemn manner declared that they had been induced so to act; and that

others, on being questioned whether they had not been induced to

rebellion by Mr. Smith, had in the strongest terms which their broken

language could supply, denied the imputation. It is stated by the writer

of one letter, that he has often heard charges circulated against the

missionaries, as if spoken by the negroes at the time of their

execution, which he knew, (for he was a near spectator,) that they never

had uttered.

We can as yet learn little more respecting the evidence which was

produced before the court than that some of the negroes testified that

the instructions of Mr. Smith had a tendency to make them dissatisfied

with their condition, and that he knew of the plot before it was carried

into execution.

He was condemned, and sentenced to death. The sentence was however

transmitted by the governor, to England, for the consideration and

ultimate decision of the king. What we know of the decision will be seen

in the following paragraph, copied from the New-York Observer of March


It appears from the London papers, that "the king has remitted the

sentence of death of the court martial on Mr. Smith, the missionary of

the London Society in Demerara, (which sentence was accompanied by a

recommendation for mercy on the part of the court,) but has given orders

that he should be dismissed from the colony, and should come under

obligations not to reside within any of his majesty's colonial

possessions in the West Indies." The charges against Mr. Smith appear to

have originated in the perjury of some of the negroes engaged in the


In the mean time Mr. Smith was languishing under the influence of

disease, which rendered the stroke of the executioner unnecessary to

remove him from the earth. He died in prison, before the intelligence

had arrived that his sentence was reversed. The following notice of his

death appeared in the Demerara Courant.

Died,--In the Colonial Jail, at Demerara, February 9th, where he had

been confined, as a state prisoner since the 26th of November last, on

the termination of his trial by the general court martial, on a charge

of high treason, sentence thereon having been transmitted to his majesty

for his final decision--JOHN SMITH, missionary; he had been in a poor

state of health, and had been attended regularly by skilful physicians.

We are happy to state, from personal inquiry and inspection, that this

unhappy man had the utmost attention and kindness shewn to him, by the

humane keeper of the prison, (Mr. Padmore,) all the time of his

confinement. His apartment was airy and commodious, he had always at his

command every comfort which his taste fancied or his necessities

required. He has left a widow to deplore his fate, and deplore his loss.

The conviction which results from the present state of our information

on this subject, is that, through prejudice and exasperated feeling, Mr.

Smith was condemned, being innocent. The directors of the society under

which he laboured, have, however, given us reason to look for further

intelligence in a future number of the Missionary Chronicler, which we

hope will soon arrive.

It appears that none of the negroes under the instruction of any

missionary, either of the London or Wesleyan Missionary Society except

Mr. Smith, were implicated in the insurrection. Respecting the

Methodists in the colony we quote the following statement from the

Wesleyan Methodist Magazine:

We stated in our last number, that Messrs. Mortier and Cheesewright, our

missionaries in Demerara were safe, and that only two of the members

of our society there had been apprehended on suspicion of being

implicated in the late revolt. We have received a second letter from Mr.

Mortier, dated Demerara, September seventeenth, which communicated the

gratifying intelligence that these two persons, who were servants of the

governor, had been liberated upon full conviction of their entire

innocence, and that no one of the members of our large society of

twelve hundred and sixteen, chiefly slaves, had been in the least

concerned in the revolt: and that the slaves of another estate, under

the care of Mr. Cheesewright, had not only refused to join the rebels,

but had conducted their master to a vessel, by which he reached

Georgetown in safety.

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