Friday, January 09, 2009

Looking for the past in Akropong II

My parents migrated to the Gold Coast not
any outward advantage which they hoped to get, but from the true love they had for the Lord and also to witness the grace of God not only to the white man, but also to the Black Man. Their only prayer was that the eyes of the blacks whom they regarded as their brothers may be opened to see Jesus as Savior of the world
Peter Hall
Pioneer Series:
Autobiography of Rev. Peter Hall

The librarian at the theological institute didn't seemed the least surprised by my question: ' Hi, I would like to browse the library to see what information I can find on the Jamaican missionaries who moved to Ghana. Could you possibly help me? I am actually from Jamaica and I realized that my mother's maiden name and my own surname are mentioned in the list of missionaries who came'.

Her ' ah' and her look of 'business as usual' told me that this wasn't the first request of this nature she had had. In fact while poking through the books and records - each time adding the to the pile that she had almost immediately placed before me - she informed me that quite recently another Jamaican from the UK had visited asking the same question. Coincidence - he did share my surname! She also told me that in Akropong itself ' just down the road' was a house of Mullings and a house of Halls, both families direct descendants of those missionaries that had come. The house I would perhaps be most interested in (i.e. the one that shares my surname) could be found in Osu.

The stack of literature in front of me was substantial - photocopies from old Presbyterian Church manuals and notes made by different missionaries, books written by historians and others, and even several thesis's done by scholars who had researched the history of religion, the Presbyterian Church in Ghana etc. Time not being on my side, I started to flip through the various records, keeping an eye out for references to Jamaicans missionaries. The bits and pieces gathered were quite interesting :
  • The Basel Missionary had in fact decided that they would stop sending missionaries to the then Gold Coast. Their missionaries were dying and as one author noted, but for the 'Jamaican experiment' it seemed that the work in the Gold Coast was about to be abandoned. It was the idea of one of the missionaries, Andreas Riis, that this 'new faith venture' could be done with families from Jamaica, ushering in a new phase of mission work in the Gold Coast.
  • Riis' idea was to 'establish a colony of English-speaking black Christians at Akropong. (He) proposed bringing some former black slaves, now liberated and converted to Christianity, from the West Indies to Akropong'. The Basel Committee hoped that the West Indians would lead by example and would be seen as 'a light and a pattern for the local people' ... 'a desirable spectacle of an ideal Christan community which would dispel the idea that Christianity may be a good religion for white men but not for black people'
  • Interestingly, the missionaries sent from Jamaica were not Presbyterian themselves, but were rather Moravian Missionaries. A total of twenty four were ' enlisted' as colonists for Akropong.
And so began the return journey.

The West Indians included 12 married couples, 3 unmarried people and 8 children. They left Jamaican on February 7th, 1843 (some records say the 8th), landed at Christianburg* on April 16th, 1843. (*this is the same old slave Castle that now is the official residence and office of the head of state, i.e. the President). They travelled overland to Akropong and arrived on June 18, 1843.

The West Indians - I will try not to refer to them as solely Jamaicans as there was 'a man from Antigua' - actually had to sign an agreement, which in effect demanded:
  • the form and workshop and discipline of the Moravian Church were to be maintained
  • they would willingly perform every legitimate service for the mission in return for which they would be maintained by the society during the first two years
  • soon after their arrival on the Gold Coast the society would give them land to build houses and make farms on and they would be allowed at least one day in a work to work therein
  • as soon as they ceased to be supported by the society they would be at liberty to work for the Mission at cheap cost
  • after a stay for five years they could return to Jamaica. If they desired to go the society would pay for the journey if during this time they had not been guilty if any moral offense
On arriving in Akropong the West Indian missionaries immediately started to work, as the houses they were promised were in disrepair. Interestingly, the literature also notes that they built the first stone buildings in the town and 'some of these buildings still stand today as a monument to their skills and workmanship'. The area where the Jamaicans settled became known as Hanover, an interesting link to the parish (aka region for my Ghanaian readers) that they came from in Jamaica. In another parallel of what they left behind, Hanover was described as a 'community lined with mango trees' - a must in many Jamaican communities even till today.

The Jamaicans, it is said, settled in and as one author noted ' trusted that Akwapem people'. Sadly however, the missionaries and their efforts were affected by political unrest in Akropong during the period 1839 to 1850. Some records indicate that ' by January 1845 some of the West Indian Christians had grown weary of the Christian experiment and wrote to the Basel to request repatriation but the mission refused' claiming that it was contrary to the agreement signed.

In 1848, some of the families opted to make their way back to Jamaica, leaving five of the original group behind. Those that stayed behind included Hall, Clerk, Rochester, Mellings* (* spellings for the various names differed amongst the literature consulted), and Miller. It was documented that: ' the mission took steps to secure framing land for the West Indian families that decided to stay. The mission purchased land near Adami for the Miller and the Hall families and at Adobesum on the road to Amanprobi for the Mullins and Rochester families. Land was secured for the Clerk family in Aburi at the place they call Jamaican today. These families planted tropical fruits they had brought from the West indies. It was the West Indians who introduced cocoyam, which became a staple in the country'.

My hand - which was by this time cramped from all the scribbling and the writing - coupled with the prick of conscience - yes, it does occur from time to time - that this was in fact not my main reason for being in Akropong signaled that it was time to leave - at least for now. Promised myself that this would be something to follow up on in the new year. My list of things to do growing with each thought:
  • Check with my friend H., to see what he found while visiting Jamaica - he being Ghanaian had gone to trace the roots from the other end!
  • Find the family house in Osu
  • Write up the info gathered for my blog (done!)
  • Find sometime to go back and read more
Packing up my notes and while still somewhat dazed by all I just read, I told the the librarian 'thank you' as I was about to walk out, only to hear her sternly say ' that will be GH 1 please'! Needless to say that was the best one ghana cedis I have ever spent!

Documents consulted: * forgive my poor attempt at a reference list - this is what one gets for scribbling on a million and one pieces of paper! Argh! Note to self: add to list of things to do - get list of proper references!
  • An Outline history of the Presbyterian Church of the Gold Coast, Rev. E. A. Asamoa
  • Texts and Documents: A Short History of the Basel Mission, Paul Jenkins, Basel Missionary No. 10, May 1989
  • Pinoeers of Church and Education in Ghana: Danish Chaplains to Guinea 1661 - 1850 Hans Debrunner
  • Presbyterian Church of Ghana Pastors Manual Rev. Dr. Sam Prempeh, B.A., M, Th, PhD.
  • African Sacral Rule and the Christian Church: An Investigation into a Process of Change and Continuity in the Encounter between Christianity and African Traditions with particular reference to Cameroon and Ghana Pasacal Possouo, Phd Thesis 2003


Melville Mcintosh said...

These are some interesting revelations here .... sets me a thinking...hmmmmmm

Nii Ayi said...

I attended Presec-Legon(founded by the Basel Mission). Over there we had a mate whose great great grand father (guess I got it right?) was one of the initial missionaries brought to the then Gold Coast. Some of our houses in the school were named after these missionaries- Riis, Clarke,Engmann etc.

Denise said...

Hi Melville - cool uh? You have any family roots on this side?

Denise said...

Hi Nii, welcome. Didn't know about the house names and stuff - thanks for the info. Does the school have any info on the missionaries? And what was your mate's surname? I am trying to find Clarkes and Millers.

Paulette said...

You need to share this information as in a "publication". Fascinating stuff!

Patrick Selikem said...

I found this really interesting. My great grandfather was Miller who came from Jamaica and settled at Akropong. I wish it will possible to trace back the Miller family in Jamaica for reunion.

Denise said...

Hi Paul- guess what? I am a Miller too - on my mother's side, her maiden name is in fact Miller. Next time I am in Jamaica I plan to do a bit more detective work myself. Will keep you posted.

Patrick Selikem said...

Yes, my great-grandfather was Rev. Joseph Miller. Don't know if we could meet soon to see how we are connected. My mom is a Miller.

Anonymous said...

...THE GROUP THAT CAME TO AKROPONG FROM JAMAICA WERE.....THE MILLER,GREEN,HALL,ROCHESTER,MULLING AND MULGRAVE...1843..J.J ROCHESTER, a west indian,born in Jamaica,arrived at Oda in 1893,from Agona Nyakrom.he recognised the traditional value of the people and co-operated with the Omanhene and was,therefore not persecuted.As a symbol of fraternity,ROCHESTER gave his daugther in marriage to MR. J.G. ATTAFUAH a grand son of Nana Attafuah 1.ROCHESTER FELL ILL IN THE YEAR 1912 AND ON THE 10TH NOVEMBER,1914 HE DIED.ROCHESTER DIED IN THE LORD AND HIS LAST WORDS WERE "I HAVE FINISHED WITH THE LORD".....i am a Rochester..location:OSU-RE

Patrick Selikem said...

U should be right, Anonymous. My great-great grandfather was Robert Miller (born May 29, 1839 in Fairfield, Jamaica). His father was the original Rev. Joseph Miller (born 1800, Fairfield). Ur Rochester (John Rochester) was born in Fairfield, Jamaica. There were three families from Fairfield, Manchester Parish. They were the Rev. Miller and family, John Rochester and family and A. W. Clerk, then 23 years old. I'm in touch with one Rochester, just link up with me on Facebook. Same name.

naseberry47 said...

Extremely interesting! I look forward to reading more...