Demerara: A Christian revolt
On its bicentenary, Stephen Tomkins tells the story of the Demerara revolt of July 1823
Bethel Chapel in Demerara, modern Guyana, was in a complicated position 200 years ago. It was an Independent or Congregational church, supplied with ministers by the London Missionary Society. It was also part of a coffee plantation that used slave labour.
The society sent ministers – and ministers went – because they believed enslaved Africans had a right to hear the Gospel and to be taught and led in worship. But they were also part of the enslaving establishment, serving at the invitation of plantation owners. The owner of this plantation – it was called Le Resouvenir – believed that Christianity made slaves ‘sober and peaceable people, [who] endeavour to please those who are set over them’. The minister required a letter of commendation from the slave-owner before allowing anyone into membership.
One member of the church there was Quamina, a man who had been born in what is now Ghana and taken into slavery as a child. He worked as a carpenter on the neighbouring Success plantation, but attended Bethel and was baptised there at the age of 30.
When their second minister, John Smith (pictured left), arrived from England in 1817, newly married and newly ordained, he invited the church to elect deacons. Quamina was one of five appointed, and he became Smith’s righthand man. The minister was humbled by the passion with which Quamina led prayers…
Stephen Tomkins is Editor of Reform and author of The Clapham Sect (Lion, 2010)
This is an extract from an article published in the July/August 2023 edition of Reform