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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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