185 Years of Hope, Faith, and Community: Clarksonville Baptist Church’s Enduring Legacy in Jamaica

On Sunday, August 6, 2023, Clarksonville Baptist Church celebrates a momentous occasion – 185 years of dedicated service to the people of Clarksonville, St. Ann, and its environs and by extension Jamaica. A church service for the celebration will begin at 10:00 a.m.

As a member of the Jamaica Fellowship of Independent Baptist Churches, this St. Ann Baptist Church was established simultaneously as slavery was abolished in Jamaica. It was established to serve Clarksonville, one of Jamaica’s first Free Villages – a haven for ex-slaves from the sugar and coffee plantations and freedom from European oppression.

When slavery was abolished on August 1, 1838, many ex-slaves from various plantations had nowhere to go but to assemble on the property of Brown’s Town Baptist Church in St. Ann.

This became a dilemma for the Baptist Missionaries who had ministered to the slaves on the plantations from before emancipation. But the Baptist Missionary Pastors were undaunted because they were men of God and men of vision.

  

They moved quickly, in particular, Rev. John Clarke, to seek financial assistance to settle the ex-slaves on property of their own. What happened rapidly at the advent of emancipation was the establishment of a free village in Sturge Town and at Clarksonville from the proceeds of a loan procured from the British Abolitionist and philanthropist Joseph Sturge.

The Free Villages and missionaries immediately established Baptist Churches to serve the spiritual and other needs of the ex-slaves. Rev. John Clarke from Brown’s Town Baptist Church secured the loan which purchased an ex-coffee plantation at Castleton and its adjoining property which was renamed Clarksonville.

The property was subdivided and sold to the ex-slaves, and several acres were reserved for church land and to build one of Jamaica’s earliest Baptist churches, Clarksonville Baptist Church.

From emancipation in 1838 until the end of 1976, Clarksonville Baptist Church had the distinction of being led and managed by missionary pastors. Rev. John Clarke was the first pastor to serve, and he would certainly have supervised the construction of what was a wooden structure that served the recently freed slaves in the district.

Other missionary pastors followed, and in 1885 a building of solid cut stones (limestone) and mortar was built, which stands to this day because of its superior construction. In 1977, the first native pastor of African heritage, Rev. Hubert Hall, took control as then-Canadian Missionary Baptist Pastor Rev. Dr. John W. Knight retired and returned to Ontario, Canada.

Throughout the 185 years of its existence, Clarksonville Baptist Church has played a pivotal role in the spiritual, economic, and social life of the people of South West St. Ann.

As a Baptist church, many persons answered the call of salvation and became members of the church. It boasted hundreds of members from Clarksonville and as far as Aboukir and Cave Valley.

  

It was the only church that had Christmas and Easter cantatas in South West St. Ann; Missionary Sundays with Missionaries from Canada, the USA, and even Cuban Baptist emigres participating in the calendar event in January each year.

Clarksonville Baptist Church had the only Vocational Bible School up to the early 1980s led by white Canadian Missionaries from Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto.

Throughout its 185th anniversary and under the leadership of the missionary pastors, Clarksonville Baptist Church housed the Elementary School that served thousands of students. The school with the church’s influence provided primary education for Jamaicans of African heritage but also the sons and daughters of latter-day immigrants whose parents had businesses at the famed, agriculturally rich district of Cave Valley.

The sons and daughters of the Early Lebanese families such as the Habers and Azans came to Clarksonville School, as well as those of the Lindos (planters) and those children of the Chinese Merchants – the Lyn Cooks, the Chungs, and Youngs – as the church-run school was the only one of status worthy to attend by the immigrant children.

Almost all pastors of Clarksonville Baptist Church served on multiple Primary School Boards, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. External Examination activities were also invigilated and managed by the pastors of this Baptist church as the ministry of education could rely on their integrity and reliability.

Pastors such as Dr. John W. Knight provided strong support for agriculture at Clarksonville and even served on agricultural boards. The church, therefore, was and is today committed to agrarian activity of the communities it serves. The church unselfishly allowed small farmers to utilise church property for agriculture. The history also showed that over the years pastors indulged in farming activities in addition to their spiritual duties.

Today, Clarksonville Baptist Church continues to shine as a beacon on a hill, some 2000 feet above sea level. It continues its spiritual mantra to save souls for Christ, but it also recognizes that being a part of society it has to extend itself to help mankind in every way possible. Under Rev. Hubert Hall, it continues its educational programme by housing an Early Childhood School. 

Rev. Hubert Hall has provided sterling leadership and service to Clarksonville Baptist Church since 1977, and this has benefited many youths, especially the males of the district and the environs. Some are now serving as Christian leaders, and many have migrated to Canada and the United States where they are engaged in profitable economic activities benefiting their immediate families and those who are in Jamaica.

The church cemetery continues to provide a final resting place for members and non-members of the church in an era when few Church cemeteries exist.

  

Charitable programs exist at the church to assist the not-so-fortunate members of the church who find themselves economically deprived and short on material resources.

Citizens can call upon the pastor for recommendations without rejection as the church serves one and all. Modern activities such as Health Fairs are usually on the church’s annual calendar of activities.

Clarksonville Baptist Church can proudly attest to have served the people of St. Ann. Its service to thousands over the years is to be acknowledged.

From creating a free village for those who never knew what would be their future that August morning of 1838 to spiritual leadership, agrarian support, social welfare, and education, this devoted Baptist Church should be commended and revered not only by those from the Garden Parish but from the wider Jamaica.

Our nation is blessed that such an institution as Clarksonville Baptist Church was established and nurtured by men who had a Christian heart and compassion and belief that a race of people enslaved by the British could and would survive once they got a chance to build a community and religious institution of their own.

By Guest Author: Winston Donald

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