Devon Dick: George William Gordon 200th anniversary remembered
On Monday, December 14, Steven Golding, Garvey scholar, reminded me that this year marks the 200th anniversary of National Hero George William Gordon's birth and that Gordon is the only legislator to be executed by the State. It is, therefore, important that as we remember the 150th anniversary of the Morant Bay Uprising, that Gordon's 200th anniversary be remembered.
Formerly, the most popular date for Gordon's birth was 1820. David Lindo posited two other dates for Gordon's birth, namely 1819 or 1817 (Time Tells Our Story). Philip Sherlock and Hazel Bennett in the Story of the Jamaica People said 1815. 1815 is correct because an entry in the Parish Registry for St Andrew said George Gordon was about three months old when he was baptised on December 27, 1815, (Baptism in 1815, St Andrew Baptisms, Marriages, Burials 1907-1826 Vol. 2 53 in Jamaica Archives). Gordon was born to Ann Rattray, an enslaved Mulatto, and to a wealthy Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon.
The oppressive King
In 1844, at the age of 29, Gordon was elected to the House of Assembly to serve the parish of St Thomas in the Vale. He was supported by the planter class. In 1863, he returned to the Assembly representing St Thomas in the East. This time, he won with the help of the Native Baptists, with Paul Bogle as his campaign manager. After 1863, Gordon was a different man, and his position in the Assembly changed. He was scathing in his attack on Governor Edward Eyre. At the January 21, 1864 session of the Assembly, Gordon said Eyre's modus operandi reminded him of the time of Herod, and Eyre was 'a second Nero'.
Gordon compared Eyre with the oppressive King Herod who, in trying to kill Jesus, 'sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under ...' (Matt. 2: 16). Nero was a hated Roman Emperor who persecuted the early Christians most viciously and murdered his mother and wife. Gordon raising parallels between Eyre, Herod and Nero showed the depth of depravity of Eyre. Gordon advocated resistance to oppressive governance. Although Gordon was unaware of the Morant Bay protest, Eyre ensured that Gordon was arrested and later executed.
Gordon made a significant contributions to the spread of Christianity in Jamaica. Gordon bemoaned the spiritual apathy in Kingston while the Great Revival was spreading throughout the country. He, therefore, along with missionary Duncan Fletcher, hosted an open-air meeting, and thousands gained salvation. Gordon wanted all who needed salvation to hear the gospel.
Gordon was brought up in the Church of Scotland, then United Presbyterian and briefly Congre-gational. He was once an elder of the United Presbyterian Church at Kingston. In 1861, he was baptised by James Phillippo, English Baptist missionary, but was never a member. Instead, he formed Native Baptist congregations and officiated at the ordination service of Paul Bogle. Nevertheless, he was ecumenical before it was a popular term and chaired the missionary meetings of other denominations. Gordon's Christian sentiments were very broad, catholic and cosmopolitan.
In addition, Gordon, Bogle and other Native Baptists were members of the Anti-Slavery Society, which meant they believed that equality ought to be universal and none should be enslaved. Gordon was part of the worldwide movement against slavery being practised in Puerto Rico, Cuba, USA, and Brazil.
Gordon has left a rich legacy as legislator, church leader and anti-slavery advocate, and should be emulated and remembered.
P.S. Merry Christmas to all my readers.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.