Sun | Jul 22, 2018

The Moravians in Jamaica 1754-1834 Part III

Published:Saturday | July 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMPaul H Willliams
The Redeemer Moravian Church at the corner of North and Duke Streets.

When plantation absentee owners, brothers William Foster and Joseph Foster-Barham got the Moravian Church to send missionaries to Jamaica, it was for the missionaries to attend to the spiritual needs of the enslaved Africans on their various plantations in St Elizabeth by way of religious instructions.

But when the missionaries arrived, they were met with resentment by the overseers and attorneys, who frustrated them by not taking care of their financial and domestic needs as agreed upon by the foster brothers. They operated from the estates initially, but they set up a new mission station on land donated to them by the brothers, not far from present-day Santa Cruz. They called it Carmel.


On the Holy Cross Moravian Church Website in a section called Moravian History in Jamaica, there is an article titled, The Moravians in Jamaica: The First Hundred Years. The third paragraph reads, "In 1756, the place was opened as a separate mission station and given the name Carmel. The missionaries also decided to cultivate provision grounds and to keep a cattle-pen at Carmel so that they could better support themselves. In order to do this, the missionaries became slaveholders and Carmel was worked by 30 to 40 slaves. It was a decision that the Moravian Church was to later regret deeply."

Yet, at the time Christians did not see anything wrong with the holding of enslaved Africans. Some owners, overseers and attorneys were Christians, and missionaries were instructed, in their zeal, not to intervene into the relationships between masters and slaves, and slaves were not to be encouraged to be subordinate to their masters. In fact, the overseers depended on the missionaries to encourage slaves to be obedient, and to get those who were pretending to be ill and lame back to work.

However, the situation at Carmel was to become untenable, as the missionaries in their dual roles as savers of souls and enslavers were very ineffective in achieving their initial objectives. The lines between ameliorating missionaries and merciless masters were now blurred at Carmel, creating further resentment towards the missionaries.


Lloyd A. Cooke, in The Story of Jamaican Missions explains it thus: "But this arrangement was disastrous and only created problems for the missionaries. They wished to reach the slaves, but could not convince them to attend services. They were doubtless kind to their slaves, but having to discipline them sometimes, and even to put a collar around the neck of runaways, no wonder they were looked upon as just another slave master."

The credibility of the missionaries at Carmel became questionable. The slaves did not trust them, thus their nonchalance and lack of interest in attending services. "But the problems of owning slaves, operating an estate for their livelihood, and of preaching the gospel and planting churches became too great for the Moravian missionaries. The decision was finally taken in 1823 to give up Old Carmel," Cooke writes.