Whites and Freedom

Essays in this section:
Overview Essay on Whites and Freedom
Plantation Owners and Apprenticeship: The Dawn of Emancipation
Missionaries in Jamaica during Emancipation
A Brief History of the Jamaican Jewish Communities of the Slavery and Emancipation Period

Protestant missionaries came to the Caribbean in the mid 1700’s and remained throughout the late 1800’s.  Very early, they began preaching the gospel to the slaves and tirelessly attempted to bring change to the cruel situation in the plantations. They were present during apprenticeship and especially dominant during the period of emancipation. The missionaries had the goal of bringing freedom to the slaves, but most of all hope. That hope came in the means of Christianity. The majority of them were of Baptist and Methodist missions and mainly from the United Kingdom. Many groups of men and women also fought hard for the cause of freedom, especially in Britain itself.  Abolitionists, both religious, and secular, were particularly important inChurch and School, Mount Zion that process.  However the missionaries were more directly involved in the lives of the emancipated people. “Being wholly independent of local influence, the missionaries were almost the only individuals on the island who dared interfere between the oppressor and the oppressed.” [1] We cannot believe that their intentions were always in the interests of freedom, as the missionaries also stood to benefit from emancipation. They gained a large following in their churches, filled up schools and communities that were tied to the missions and they were able to expand themselves beyond the West Indies.

Right after emancipation took place the missionaries were used as a means of communicating with the free people about what was going to be expected from them as civilization was and the hardships that would follow. There is no doubt that they were influential because the plantation owners came to see them as a way of trying to keep the workers in the plantations. The government was afraid of rioting or rebellion and made it clear to them how they wanted them to behave. 

Many changes began to surface following the abolition of slavery. In some cases, village prayer became an important part of the freemen’s daily activities. “After the people became free their village prayer-meetings could be better regulated than formerly. Early morning prayers were also held in several villages, where the people used to be up at dawn, and no longer being required to work before sunrise could profitably spend half an hour in devotional exercises.”. [2] These meetings became a means of bringing the church to the home and it also helped them to be more united. This unity also encouraged them to keep records of important events like marriages, baptisms and deaths.  Both the missionaries and the formerly enslaved desired to build new, free communities.  

Another desire of the missionaries, at least, was becoming part of the missions that traveled to other places were slavery was either still active or recently abolished. “The day of jubilee has come, and the arrangements have been made for sending back her long exiled sons to the land of her fathers that they may assist in diffusing throughout the African continent the blessing of wisdom and of the fear of the Lord”. [3] Despite their efforts, white missionaries had experienced only limited success in West Africa by 1834. The missionaries saw the Jamaicans as a sign of hope because they seemed to be the perfect choice to help spread the gospel in their still oppressed motherland.  In Jamaica, the missionaries wanted to replace the colorful garments worn by the people of the island with more conservative clothing. They were sometimes successful in this area, although other observers often scoffed at the expensive clothing worn by the now free Jamaicans on the Sabbath.

Christianity promised ex-slaves equality, yet the majority could neither occupy office, nor vote to select representatives.  Many missionaries were, at least in Native Christians of Creek Townthe early years after 1834 (emancipation) and 1838 (the end of apprenticeship) unconcerned with such issues.  Instead, they focused on forcing the former slaves to meet a set of European-derived norms of behavior.  The emancipated were called the peasantry of Jamaica and they were threatened with the wrath of God if they behaved in an “unchristian” manner. So now instead of having the plantation masters over their shoulder, they were now in some cases overseen by the church’s standards and the missionaries’ expectations.  Still, the missionaries, though often arrogant and insensitive, were driven by impulses different from those of the planters: “The Jamaican churches in general are essentially missionary churches and each individually of which they are composed regards it as a sacred duty to do something to promote the glory of God in the salvation of his fellow-men”. [4]   

Education was another important factor tied to the church.  For the missionaries it was a way to ensure that true spiritual change existed, it also worked as a monitor on belief, lifestyle and progress. Education was also tied closely to religion because the students were mainly taught from the Bible, which meant that most were now given the opportunity to read. There are a Creek Town Shool-House, Cemetery, and Church, from the Mission-House Doorlot of reasons why the missionaries supported education: perhaps to have more church members, more ministers and money. Most schools were built next to or in the vicinity of a church. The church members built these schools and gave voluntary donations to support them.  “The opinion that religion consisted only in an occasional attendance at the parish church is no longer general. It begins to be regarded as a daily and personal concern, and has become the subject of conversation in families where a little time ago it would have been considered ridicule or contempt.” [5] The schools also introduced more sanitation and gave girls at least some opportunity to seek an education as well. 

Now that the Sabbath was accessible to all, missionaries expected all to attend and make it their first priority. However, many people refused.  Others were part of the church yet held on to African-derived beliefs about such things as cures, remedies and superstitions.  Others moved away from the white people and the plantations because they reminded them of their life as slaves.  This could be a result of these people being taken away from their lives, forced into an inhumane life and now being pinned and persuaded to a lifestyle that was not theirs. On the other hand these people were exposed to Christianity from an early stage. So by the time emancipation came to light, they were very shaped around this concept because they had nothing else to look forward to. They embraced religion as a support system; many were attracted to the message of equality, which stood in such contrast to the life of slavery.  On the positive side of things, the missionaries helped those who were worn out and hopeless to believe in something. They helped them adjust to the real world, to celebrate and enjoy their freedom in a nonviolent form. They brought them towards education and work that would not be abused with its wages. The bible was no longer a foreign book and lines of people waiting to attend services daily replaced going to church on special occasions.

“The abolition of the slave trade; the destruction of slavery itself; the establishment of schools; and the various efforts which have been made for the improvement of the temporal condition of the people, would effected, but little, had it not been for this more powerful instrumentality and this still more effective agency.” [6]


[1] James Phillipo, Jamaica: Its past and present state (Philadelphia, 1843), 156.

[2] Hope Masterson Wadell, Twenty-nine years in the West Indies and Central Africa: A review of missionary work and adventure, (London, 1863), 169.

[3] Phillipo, 114.

[4] Phillipo 145.

[5] Wadell, 59

[6] Phillipo, 162. This quote refers to the improvements the missionaries’ efforts brought to the newly freed people.