Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Baptist Beginnings in Trinidad

Baptist Beginnings in Trinidad.

JOHN BUNY AN in his preface to Grace A bounding writes:
"It is profitable for Christians to be often calling to mind
the very beginnings of grace with their souls." This statement
is also true of the beginning of Christian Missions and
what follows, therefore, is a short survey of the leading events
which led to the founding of the Baptist Church in Trinidad.
Mr. George Sherman Cowen, who was the pioneer Baptist
missionary, arrived in Trinidad in about 1836 as an agent of the
Lady Mico Charity. This Charity originated in 1666 when Lady
Mieo left the sum of £1,000 for redeeming" poore Christian
slaves" who had been captured by the Bey of Algiers. When
the Mediterranean had been cleared of pirates and there were no
more slaves to redeem, the Court of Chancery ordered that the
money should be invested in certain funds and conveyed to Lady
Mico's executors. By the middle of the ninetenth century the
amount had increased to £160,000. In 1834, Sir Thomas Fowell
Buxton suggested that this might be spent on the education of
the former slaves. A Charter was obtained and the British
Government added a grant of £17,000 for five years for the
same purpose. As a result, schools were established in several
West Indian Islands including Trinidad. Mr. Cowen, a British
Baptist, acted as inspector. In 1842, the funds of the Mico
Charity were nearly exhausted and Mr. Cowen, seeing the
spiritual needs of the people, made an urgent appeal to the
Baptist Missionary Society to appoint him as a missionary, but
owing to agreements Wlth the Wesleyan Missionary Society they
were unable to answer the call.
It so happened that in God's good Providence there was at
this time an English lady named Mrs. Revell residing in Tt'inidad,
who had for many years lived in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Mrs.
Revell had been baptised by the famous Dr. Rippon, minister of
Carter Lane Church in Southwark, and on being left a widow
she had entered business, which during the course of her life,
led her to cross the Atlantic some twenty-two times. She, too,
shared Mr. Cowen's desire for the establishment of a Baptist
Church in Trinidad and by her personal visits to the Mission
House, then in Moorgate Street, and her insistent appeals, she
persuaded the Society to appoint Mr. Cowen, who took up his
office in 1843. The newly-appointed missionary was alert to see
Baptist Beginnings in Trinidad 233
the importance of Port-of-Spain as a strategic centre, and so occupied
premises in Corbeau Town, now known as Sackville Street,
where he was able to witness to the fishennen who plied their
boats in the Gulf of Paria. Among the members of this infant
church was Maria Jones, an African slave and daughter of a chief
who had first come under the influence of John Thompson, a
Presbyterian, and had later been received into membership at
Greyfriars Presbyterian Chnrch. At the age of about sixty she
began to learn to read her New Testament and, being known to
Mr. Cowen, he enlisted her services in distributing tracts-a
service in which she delighted. One of these tracts dealt, with
believers' baptism and Maria became convinced that baptism was
clearly taught in the New Testament. Later she was baptised
in the sea by Mr. Cowen. Little is known of the other members,
but we may be sure that it was a mixed community consisting
of the freed slaves from Trinidad and other West Indian Islands
as well as some Negro-Americans who came here in about 1816.
Property was soon acquired in Pembroke Street which formerly
had been a part of the old Spanish Cabildo or City Council: the
lower part was used for worship while the upper portion accommodated
the missionary and his wife. In the first year, Mr. Cowen
baptised twenty and the number at the various stations were fiftyone.
In 1845 the Rev. John Law arrived to take charge of this
work in the city and, in the year 1854, the Church now known as
St. John's wao; opened on the site adjoining the manse; from this
time the work began to increase rapidly. In this brief survey
reference should be made to John Law's work as a printer. A
poem entitled, "The Baptism" was printed in 1845 on paper made
of plantain leaf and when the Portugese refugees came from
Madeira in 1846, the Rev. John Law held worship for them every
Sunday in Portuguese, and he used his printing press and plantain
leaf paper to provide hymn sheets for them.
Mr. Cowen, being released from the north, took up his
residence in the south at Princes Town then called "The
Mission," where he laboured until his death in 1852 at the age of
forty-two. The Baptist church in the south was located in rural
districts known then as "The American Villages" and it owed
its origin to the Negro-American families who first settled here
a short time after the Battle of New Orleans. These loyal slaves
who had fought with the British Armies in the American War
of Independence were granted sixteen acre portions of land as
compensation for their services and they named their districts
after their old regimental companies. There is no indication that
the second company ever settled here, but the remaining five still
retain their names. These loyal soldiers who came from Virginia
and South Carolina brought with them their Baptist faith, but
234 The Baptist Quarterly
it was not until Mr. Cowen commenced work that the church
became properly organised. Many difficulties were encountered
in the early days, due to the fact that for many years these
settlers had lived in very isolated districts, and as a result, African
customs and superstitions became incorporated in their religious
belief. Camp meetings were occasions of much disorder and
drunkeness, the all-night shouting meetings had also become a
common feature. The nature of these meetings consisted in
singing and clapping, while many would work themselves up in
excitement, and begin to jump up violently and shout until they
passed into a kind of epileptic fit and at length fall exhausted
to the ground. In this state they were regarded as being under
conviction of sin and upon coming out of the stupor were expected
to make profeSSion of faith.
Mr. Cowen was assisted in his work by Mr. Augustus Inniss,
a schoolmaster and catechist. Property in a number of villages
was acquired and schools were started. Preaching stations were
established at Mount Elvin, Woodlands, Sherringville, Indian
Walk and Mount Hopeful. In 1852 Fourth Company Church
was built and became the real centre of the southern district.
In addition to preaching, Mr. Cowen was able to minister to the
sick, having made some study of medicine. He met with much
hostility from the village people on account of his efforts to put
down heathen practices. .
Mr. Cowen was succeeded in 1856 by the Rev. W. H. Gamble.
The name of the Rev. George Cowen thus deserves an honoured
place in the roll of Baptist pioneers. His resting place has
recently been discovered in Princes Town and we hope at some
future date to mark this place with a more permanent memorial;
at St. John's a marble plaque has been placed above the pulpit
to his memory. This valiant warrior truly fought the good fight
and today we thank God for his noble life.
Jubilee Souvenir of London Road Baptist Church, Porismouth
1902-1952. Prepared by Mr. J. Rawlinson, this illustrated
booklet outlines the story of the church which began as an offshoot
of Lake Road and owes much to the ministry (1915-39) of
the late Rev. John Edmonds. The chapel was erected in 1902,
but the church was not formally constituted until 1904

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