« AnteriorContinuar »
monists breaks up, the gentleman does not retire; but, after their departure, he advances, and, apologizing for the apparent intrusion, introduces himself to the Missionary as Mr. Stephen Drew, a barrister, residing on his own estate in St. Ann's parish, which is called Belmont. In the conversation that follows, the minister discovers that his new acquaintance is not a stranger to religious influences and religious feelings; and it transpires, all the more interestingly and pleasingly because so unusual among the planters of Jamaica, that he has adopted the practice of reading prayers among his slaves every Sabbath morning, and that he usually accompanies this service with one of Wesley's sermons. This pleasant interview, destined to lead to many very important results, ends with the expression, on the part of the stranger, of a desire to have his slaves instructed in the great truths of the Gospel by Wesleyan ministers, and a polite and earnest request that the Missionary will favour him with an early visit at his residence in the mountains. An early opportunity is taken by the SpanishTown minister to comply with this invitation ; and, after a ride of about forty miles, through some of the most romantic and magnificent scenery in the world, he arrives at Belmont, and receives a warm welcome. During this first short visit, the Missionary opens his commission among the inhabitants of St. Ann's parish, by preaching every evening to the family of his host, and the slaves resident on the “pen,” (it would be called a grazing-farm in England or America,) the welcome tidings of salvation through the atonement of Jesus. It is the first time that wide-spread parish has seen a Christian minister preaching to a congregation of slaves, --for all are slaves, except the master and his family, and two or three white officials who have the direction and oversight of the property. It is true there is a parish church ; but this is small, and ten miles distant. Nor was it built with a view to the instruction of the negro race, but only of the white inhabitants ; these only being regarded as under the pastoral care of the island clergy. As to the man who officiates there, his claim to the designation of a Christian minister is more than questionable : for all that ever was Christian about him is sunk and lost in the brutal and callous slave-holder,—of which class he exhibits the worst type ; while the owner of Belmont is a pattern of the most indulgent and the best.
After a few days' visit, which has awakened a considerable interest in the neighbourhood, the Missionary retraces his path to his home in the low, hot, dusty town of Santiago-de-la-Vega, with pleasant memories of the journey, and the new friendships and associations he has formed. Some weeks later, the impaired health of his wife induces him to accept a pressing invitation from his Belmont host and hostess to give the sufferer the benefit of a change to the cool and more salubrious climate of the St. Ann's mountains. Removed thither by gentle stages, the sinking invalid in that pleasant region recruits her wasted energies ; and soon the pallid, sunken cheek exhibits again as much of the bloom of health and youth as is usually to be found within the tropics. Meanwhile, her husband is diligently spreading the truth among the enslaved population around. He can gain no access to
them on the week-day, beyond the boundary of his friend's estate ; but on the Sabbath a multitude of the poor slaves flock from all the surrounding country, having heard of the minister who is preaching at Belmont; some influenced by curiosity, but many eager to hear about the Crucified, and the heaven of joy and love which they may gain through His merits, after the unrequited toils and wasting hardships of their present unenviable lot shall have passed away. The Missionary's wife, too, devotes her rapidlyincreasing strength to the instruction of these dark children of Africa, – dark in mind, as in complexion,-with the full sanction of their God-fearing owner, who is anxious that his bondmen and bond women may share with himself the joyous hopes of life and immortality beyond the grave. The blessed seed of the kingdom, cast among the enslaved children of Ilam, has generally found a genial and fruitful soil. And there is no exception here. Dark eyes glisten with mingled emotions; and dark faces often stream with copious tears, as the man of God dwells on the story of the cross, and expatiates on God's wondrous love to the lowliest and guiltiest of the sinful race,the slave as well as the free, the black man as well as the white, all equally interested in the atonement which love has provided. The melodies of the Methodist poet, sung by clear and tuneful voices, now begin to be heard in the cottages around ; and earnest supplication, in simple, broken language, goes up from many a retreat amid these pleasant vales and mountains, where the voice of prayer was never heard before. The power of the word has been felt in not a few weary hearts; and with a ready faith the blessings of salvation have been appropriated. In a word, souls have passed from death unto life; so that, on New Year’s day, thirty to forty, professing faith in the blood of Christ, and experiencing its cleansing power, are baptized in the name of the ever-blessed Trinity. Thus the foundations of a church are laid, which is destined to pass through many trials and triumphs, the master and mistress of the property being enrolled among these its earliest members; they also having obtained, through believing, "the peace which passeth all understanding.” Before the Missionary returns to his own appointed sphere of labour in the capital, after a sojourn of three months in St. Ann's, an arrangement is concluded for this new station to be visited on one Sabbath in six weeks, to the great joy of many, who hope to have a Missionary erelong stationed in their own parish.
Three years pass away. Through the occasional visits of the Missionaries, and the zealous labours of the Christian proprietor of Belmont, (who has become an efficient Local preacher,) many souls have been brought to God; Societies, more or less promising, have been established ; and preaching-houses have been opened at several other places in the parish, chiefly along the coast. And now the time has arrived for taking measures in order to the more permanent establishment of the Mission at Belmont, by the erection of suitable buildings, for public worship, and for a Missionary's residence ; so that the growing work of God in this part of the island may be placed under immediate pastoral oversight. The estate is so held by its present occupant and owner, that the concurrence of his children, who are
all minors, is necessary to convey an absolute right to any portion of it ; which, therefore, cannot be legally done until they have attained their majority. In hope that either himself or his wife, if not both, may survive that period, or that, at all events, he may be able to effect such arrangements as will finally secure the property for the object contemplated, a suitable piece of land is conveyed to the Society at Belmont, not of much value to the estate itself, though a most acceptable gift to the Society. This is accompanied by a donation of the timber necessary for the buildings; and, after considerable delay, the several erections are commenced. Pecuniary difficulties arise, so that it is not until after the lapse of years that the undertaking is completed. But these difficulties are at length surmounted ; and, to the unbounded joy of a multitude of the sable and oppressed denizens of the parish, a commodious sanctuary, and a pleasant house adjoining, are made ready to serve the purposes of their erection. And there the work of the Lord abundantly prospers. It is a centre of Gospel light and influence, with radiations sweeping over many miles around. Hundreds of souls are there born of God, and set free from the miserable thraldom of sin. On the Sabbath morning the whole country is enlivened, as numbers of the enslaved peasantry in their best attire, and not a few of the free coloured inhabitants, wend their way in the direction of Belmont, reminding the beholder of the beautiful words of a Hebrew prophet: “ And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” (Isaiah ii. 3.)
For several years this work has gone on without interruption, though scanned by some with an evil and suspicious eye: the character of Mr. Drew, and his influence in the parish, being sufficient to restrain the spirit of persecution, until many of the new converts have become established in grace. But there is one hard-hearted man, whose talents, and position as rector of the parish, give him great power to work mischief. From the beginning this man has watched the progress of the Methodist Mission with jealous and malignant feelings, which only wanted an opportunity for development; and his influence has been covertly exerted to arouse among his parishioners a spirit of like hostility. These efforts, entirely at variance with the spirit proper to his sacred office, combined with the example of other persecutors, who have caused the death of the Missionary Smith in Demerara, and demolished the Wesleyan chapel in Barbadoes, have not been without fruit; and there now exists an amount of bitterness and hatred, among the planters of St. Ann's parish, which is likely to produce similar results in Jamaica, when a favourable opportunity shall arise. The first indication of this bad feeling is seen in the refusal of the magistrates to license two Missionaries who have been appointed to labour in the parish; these functionaries assuming to themselves the power (which, according to a subsequent decision of the highest legal authorities of the island, they had no right to do) of requiring every Missionary to take out a separate license
for the parish, or of refusing it at their pleasure. This being assumed in every other parish, the Missionaries are subjected to most vexatious restrictions. The effect in the present case is to deprive St. Ann's, for a while, of a resident Missionary. During this time one of the brethren, (Mr. Ratcliffe,) who has already obtained a license authorizing him to preach in the parish, affords it a large portion of his labours, although residing at a distance of some forty miles ; until he is enabled so far to free himself from other engagements, as to take up his abode for a year or two in St. Ann's. Thus the plans of the persecutors are frustrated. But the spirit of intoleranee has become increasingly rampant; and, before leaving his fruitful field of labour, this peaceable minister of Jesus Christ, and his family, narrowly escape the violence of a gang of ruffians instigated to the outrage by the slave-holding rector !
This Missionary, whose name is precious wherever he has laboured, is succeeded by a younger minister who has no license from the magistrates of St. Ann's. He does not, however, think himself called upon to desist from his sacred labour until the arrival of the quarter-sessions, but commences preaching at all the stations, intending to apply to the court at its next sitting. In the person of one of the parish functionaries, who combines in himself the offices of head-constable and master of the workhouse and gaol, (both places of punishment,) there is one of the worst types of humanity; a man who has grown callous and brutal, to an extraordinary degree, by doing the will of the slave-holders in punishing their poor unfortunate slaves, until he actually feels a savage delight in witnessing and inflicting suffering. The payment of a small fee is all that is necessary to secure at his hands, and to any extent, the punishment of a slave sent for the purpose. In him the rector finds a willing and unscrupulous agent for gratifying his own malignity toward those who are seeking to meliorate the sad condition of the masses in the parish, by diffusing among them the blessed light of the Gospel. The constable and gaoler first attempts to silence the man of God by threats, but in vain. Then, when the Missionary applies to the court of quarter-sessions, he opposes him there, and represents to the magistrates that this Methodist preacher has set the law at nought by preaching without a license ; although there is, in fact, no law that renders it necessary to obtain a license in any other part of the island, when, in compliance with the British Toleration Act, the oaths have been taken in one parish,—which the Missionary has done. But the designs of this evilminded man and his employer are baffled by the influence of the Custos, the Hon. Henry Cox, who has not come under the unholy influence which has been diffused through the parish, and whose knowledge of Mr. Drew, and of the labours of the Missionaries, enables him more correctly to estimate the benefits which they are conferring both upon the enslaved people and their owners. The Custos succeeds in bringing over the other magistrates to bis own views; the Missionary is allowed to take the oaths; and, having paid somewhat exorbitant fees to the officers of the court, he takes
his departure with a certificate which recognises his right to exercise his ministry throughout the parish of St. Ann.
Defeated in this attempt to break up the religious services of the Methodists at Belmont and elsewhere, the constable is frequently to be found hovering about the chapel-doors, abusing and threatening the poor slaves as they enter or leave the house of prayer, and reporting their attendance there to the overseers of the several estates to which they belong ; thus causing them, in some instances, to be cruelly punished by their taskmasters. But the malign influence of the rector is at work in another direction, Many times the Legislature of the island has enacted laws with a view to suppress the labours of the Missionaries among the slaves ; but as often have these wicked attempts been neutralized by the vigilance of Christian friends in England, and by the liberal feeling of the Home-Government. However cunningly constructed, these oppressive enactments have been uniformly disallowed by the sovereign in council. But again this engine of mischief is set to work, and all the art and address of the clever rector are brought to the task of so drawing up an Act, which is to break up the Missions, as to insure the approval of the Government at home. A law is framed, consisting of nearly a hundred clauses, professedly to improve the condition of the slaves, and to secure to them various advantages and indulgences. Among these is a provision to make slave-evidence admissible in certain cases,-a concession which the local Legislature has hitherto sternly and indignantly refused to make. But all this is intended as the vehicle for passing into the authority of established law (as nurses disguise medicine for children in that which is agreeable to the palate) other provisions of a most intolerant character, which go to deprive the negroes of all religious rights,-provisions which make punishable with heavy fine or imprisonment the assembling of slaves between sunset and sunrise for religious instruction by any, not of the Established Church, professing to be teachers of religion ; excepting, in most distinct terms, Jews and Roman Catholics ! —while Presbyterians and “ licensed ministers” are allowed to hold services as late as eight o'clock in the evening. It is also made a crime for slaves to give any instruction to each other; a clause evidently designed to restrain any slaves from acting as class-leaders. Moreover, it is proposed to punish Missionaries who receive contributions from slaves for any pious or charitable purposes whatsoever. This “new consolidated slave-law," as it is called, is nothing more or less than a deep plot, the offspring of the fertile brain of the rector, to entrap His Majesty's Government into concurrence with a system of persecution, and of great cruelty. For, what could be more cruel than to take from the sons and daughters of oppression their only solace under the iron yoke, and shut them up to all the consequences of ignorance ?
(To be continued.)