Devon Dick | When Did George William Gordon become a revivalist?
Recently, after giving a lecture at the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) about the religious beliefs and practices that influenced the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising, I was invited to view the exhibition.
One would have thought that since I made some observations in 2015 about the negative portrayal of National Hero Paul Bogle, and had a meeting with officials of the IOJ, that changes would have been made to the exhibition. However, they still had National Hero George William Gordon as a 'Revivalist at heart".
Edward Underhill, in the biography of James Phillippo (1881), remarked that Gordon was baptized in December 1861 by Phillippo, English Baptist missionary. Gordon was commissioned by Phillippo to start Independent causes. He, along with Paul Bogle, his partner in Christian ministry and campaign manager, started Native Baptist churches.
There were at least a dozen Native Baptist churches in St. Thomas in the East. The Native Baptist churches were well organized with rules, regulations and a leadership structure. They established schools and supported worthy anti-slavery causes. Gordon credited his victory to the work and support of Native Baptists and not revivalists.
Where is the evidence of Gordon being a revivalist? Furthermore, how did the writers of the exhibition know what was in the heart of Gordon? One was taught that it is only God who knows the heart. Thankfully, on the same day that I visited the exhibition, there was a JIS programme stating that Paul Bogle was a Baptist deacon.
In addition, the exhibition claimed that the 1865 protestors took an oath by drinking 'rum, gunpowder and blood'. Where did they get this information from? Not even Clinton Hutton, political scientist, makes such statement in his 2015 book. Hutton quotes a policeman whose papers were laid by Governor Edward Eyre as witnessing a concoction of rum and gunpowder. This policeman could be termed a hostile witness and there is no other such record. But who added the 'blood' to the story?
It reminds me of that article by a Gleaner columnist in October of 2003 which said, 'Viscount Ellibank ... insisted in old age that from second-hand information ... (that) Negro women sat on the corpses and gashed them with broken glasses. The men opened the skulls, scooped out the brains into calabashes, mixed them with rum and drank the mixture in the Baptist Chapel. ... ' Bogle and his fellow Native Baptists were depicted as rum-drinking cannibals based on second-hand information!
There seems to be an attempt to rewrite our history and sideline Christianity. Persons want to make it seem as if Christianity was not a major motivation in inspiring the nature and scope of the protest movements, whether of 1831 or 1865. In addition, Bogle and Gordon are not being credited with the intellectual ability to understand God and interpret the Scriptures differently from how they were taught by the missionaries. Gordon and Bogle could read for themselves and they rejected the prejudice and shortsightedness of the missionaries' understanding of God and consequently started Native Baptist churches.
There was also an attempt to claim that these protest movements were Muslim in character when there was no evidence of the use of Muslim symbols, such as amulets, clothes, prayers and passages from the Koran. In the 1865 Uprising, no evidence emerged from the trials, their letters or the JRC Report, that anyone was a Muslim.
There is hope for the IOJ, in that, with the return of Vivian Crawford as Executive Director we will get accurate information on Gordon, Bogle and the Native Baptists.
- 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.