FOURTH SUGGESTION: SARAH ANN GILL
Let’s recap from last week’s episode. We’re looking at Bajans who should replace Nelson de Green Man in town. There’s a criteria given on how we should look at it and I promised some suggestions, here’s my next one.
Interesting how right now we’re debating religion and the visibility of non religious people going into a Republic. I saw a status in where a religious artist countered an argument against Christianity not reconciling its past with slavery. His point was to use abolitionists like Sarah Ann Gill, while this is true, I feel like we haven’t done her justice in recognising context in her situation, due to her we have secularism and the right to religious freedom, including indigenous spiritualities of the Caribbean like Rastafarinism and Orisha, other traditional religions like Judaism and Islam and even atheists and agnostics who make up almost 20% of our population. How ab0ut we do justice to her legacy and give a further look into her.
A line most common I see by a lot of women on my timeline is ‘Good girls seldom make history’, yet to a lot of people Sarah Ann Gill represents respectability politics because of her affiliation with Christianity, I’m going to simply disagree. The lone heroine in our celebrated National Heroes did not have an easy task to liberation. Her fight sat along the lines of advocating emancipation and religious freedom.
Sarah Ann Gill was born February 16th 1795 to a black mother and white father. Due to her African ancestry despite being a free coloured she was disqualified from any benefits of any economic or social advancement in Barbados. This was due to law or private interest. Ann Gill acquired wealth at 28 years old when her husband Alexander George Gill, another mixed heritage Barbadian died. The couple also had a son who died before reaching adulthood.
The Christian denomination of Methodism were known anti-slavery agitators and its missionaries were agents of Anti-Slavery Society. The missionaries were brought to Barbados in 1788 much to the ire of the upper class white Barbadians who were staunch members of the Church of England and slave owners. They were very successful in ousting the missionaries especially by force. White rioters were known to have burnt chapels and caused physical harm to members, many of them being free blacks and coloreds.
Ann Gill became a member and an ardent supporter of the church, its message and religious equality. She opened her home for regular worship services. This caused her to be prosecuted in the law courts for illegal gatherings. The Conventicle Act of 1664 forbade assembly of more than 5people for divine worship unless in a licensed meeting place and led by a licensed preacher. Not only were these racists afraid of African Spirituality, they were afraid of religion as a tool to emancipate. She was faced with physical abuse constantly and her house shot up. She was persecuted constantly for breaking the law and even threatened dismemberment and death. She was questioned, then prosecuted by the House of Assembly for possession of multiple firearms and ammunition…I feel like calling her Sarah X Gill, now. Not only did she defend herself in the court of law, she continuously defied authorities and continued her practice without compromise. For her unrelenting bravery, her followers in the Methodist Church conferred her the name Sarah in reference to Sarah in the Bible.
The Secret Committee of Public Safety (basically the Barbados KKK); declared on October 19th that they would destroy her home and property. Governor Warde, threatened by inaction by the Secretary of State, was forced to use soldiers to protect Sarah Ann Gill. Angered and frustrated by the governor’s decision, they burnt her in effigy instead.
Eventually, the news of her repeated harassment and persecution by both law enforcement and private citizens reached the House of Commons for debate. On June 25th, 1825, it deemed their duty to recognize the absolute abuse of law and secure ample protection and religious tolerance to all. Her perseverance and protection for religious freedom sets her apart from any religious or spiritual leader of her time. When we say Barbados is a Christian society, it is not; it is a secular society that should be free to practice any form of religion or spirituality. We know that this is not always the case especially with African based spiritualities, but Sarah Ann Gill’s fight and memory should extend to those who face scrutiny. The Methodist Church sought to serve the advancement of black people and so did Sarah Ann Gill.
“Everybody Hates Kupa” is a weekly column written by Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell.