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The Quakers in Jamaica

Until I spotted this pretty little church in Portland, one of Jamaica’s eastern parishes, I had no idea there were Quakers still on the island.

The Quakers, also referred to as the Society of Friends, were among the earliest settlers in Jamaica having come to the island after the English conquest in 1655.

They believe that God is in everyman, therefore there’s no need for priests to speak on their behalf. That was revolutionary thinking at the time and many were charged with religious blasphemy. Some were jailed in the UK, others were sent to abroad to serve their sentences. In Jamaica, the Quakers continued their religious dissent. They refused to serve in the militia or to be sworn in as jurors.

In 1671, George Fox, founder of the Quakers visited Jamaica and established seven meetings on the island and by the start of the 18th century, there were nearly 10,000 Quakers on the island.

Pretty Quaker Church in Portland

A Quaker Church, Jamaica

Although the Quakers became the face of the movement to emancipate the slaves, for a time some were involved in the trade. Following abolition in 1834, there was an “apprenticeship period” before full freedom, but ill treatment of the almost free slaves continued.

In 1837,  Quakers Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey traveled to Jamaica and other islands to investigate reports of brutality on the plantations. Sturge and Harvey’s journal notes were published under the title, The West Indies in 1937, and were used to create the storyboards at the Hanover Workhouse.

In 1898, the Quakers established the Happy Grove High School in Portland. They also created the first public health facility in Jamaica in the 1970s, and boys’ and girls’ homes for orphans.

Today, they are 14 meeting houses and about 500 Quakers in Jamaica. Their numbers have dwindled reportedly because their form of worship – no pastor, singing, rituals or collection of tithes – is too staid compared to the more exuberant congregations that are referred to locally as “clap-hand” churches.

I was curious to go inside but we didn’t have enough time.

This little church can be seen just outside of Hector’s River, Portland, near the border with St. Thomas. It’s about 30 miles from Kingston.

Comments

  1. How interesting to hear that the Quakers have travelled as far as Jamaica.
    Marlys recently posted..Go Exploring London on FootMy Profile

  2. The Quakers are a group I really didn’t know anything about but with only 500 people left on the island it doesn’t sound like they’ll be around for long. Interesting history though.
    Leigh recently posted..Hiking in the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Range, ColombiaMy Profile

  3. You don’t hear much about the Quakers – at least, I don’t, so this was interesting. Thanks. 🙂
    Sophie recently posted..The Cape Peninsula: penguins, baboons and spectacular sceneryMy Profile

  4. I love learning all about Jamaica\’s interesting history from you. I never even knew the Quakers set foot in Jamaica. The building certainly looks interesting from the outside. I hope you get to visit the inside one of these days.

  5. Didn’t know Quakers still existed in any parts. I’m pretty impressed in their way of thinking back then. The thought for slave owners were that their slaves had no soul and Quakers saw past all of that. They were very much ahead of their time and before Lincoln. Good information.
    totsymae1011 recently posted..Interviewing Clive and Serving the PublicMy Profile

  6. Now you’ve peaked my interest. . .you must go inside the next time! What an interesting post, Marcia.
    Jackie Smith recently posted..On the Road in Tuscany. . .My Profile

  7. Thanks, Jackie, glad it got your interest. I’m planning to go in next time.

  8. Interesting history about the Quakers, Marcia. I wouldn’t have guessed that they had a presence in Jamaica. I especially like the story of the Quakers who traveled to Jamaica and other islands to investigate reports of brutality on the plantations.

  9. It’s definitely interesting, Cathy, and courageous that they took it upon themselves to investigate what was happening in the islands.

  10. They were definitely ahead of their time, for sure. Very forward thinking, pretty impressive stuff.

  11. Thanks, Mary. I do hope to go inside next time, I’m curious to see how it looks. I suspect it might be a bit austere.

  12. Very interesting… I love the simplicity of those meeting rooms. 🙂
    ElizOF recently posted..Reflections: 20 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging When I Started…My Profile

  13. I like the *idea* of them. Will let you know what I really think when I see one.

  14. I can’t believe there are still Quakers nowadays.
    Sarah Park recently posted..How to Become a Child PsychologistMy Profile

  15. I agree, Sarah, it’s hard to believe they’re still around. We don’t hear much about them these days.

  16. You’re welcome, Sophie. I agree, we don’t hear much about them, which is surprising, since they were so far ahead of the curve in their thinking.

  17. It is interesting history. You’re probably right, Leigh and it’ll be interesting to see what will happen in the coming years.

  18. They travelled far and wide, Marlys, to Asia, Africa, Australia, etc.
    I’m just amazed at how much travelling they did back then.