The Right Excellent Sarah Ann Gill
National Hero of Barbados
Sarah Ann Gill (16 February 1795 – 25 February 1866) was a social and religious leader in Barbados during the era of slavery. By an act of Parliament in 1998, she was named as one of the ten National Heroes of Barbados.
Sarah Ann Gill was born of a black mother and a white father (Gill), and baptized with the name Ann. She was a free, colored woman who chose Methodism as her religion and by 1820; Mrs. Gill was a full member of the church.
As Methodism grew in popularity so did the hostility towards it. Membership included blacks and those referred to as colored. In October, 1823, a white mob of rioters destroyed the chapel and the Methodist Missionary. Reverend William Shrewsbury (the Reverend of the church) and his wife had no choice other than to leave the island to protect themselves and the life of their unborn child.
Methodism was brought to the shores of Barbados by Dr. Thomas Coke in the year 1788. This 'new' religion challenged the existing social order and was met with great hostility by the social upper class of the island. By 1793 the Methodist missionaries were viewed as anti-slavery antagonists and deemed agents from the English based Anti-Slavery Society.
With the chapel in ruins, Sarah Ann and her sister-in-law, Miss Christina Gill, who were leaders of the church, demonstrated tremendous bravery by opening their homes to enable church members to continue to meet and hold services to the Lord.
The Conventiclers Act of 1664, which stated that no more than five persons could gather for worship at any time, unless in a 'licensed meeting place, led by a licensed preacher' - was considered broken and Sarah Ann was persecuted by society and the legal authorities. For one year, Sarah Ann received threats against her life and warnings that her home would be burnt down. The worship services were deemed "illegal meetings" by the law courts and resulted in Sarah Ann receiving two prosecutions. Badgered by magistrates about supposedly harboring guns and ammunition in her home, Sarah Ann and was eventually prosecuted by the House of Assembly.
This persecution did not damper Sarah Ann's determination; she defended herself against authorities at her own expense and continued to uphold her strong commitment to religious freedom. Worship services persevered despite the incredible risk, adverse conditions and constant threat of legal and personal endangerment.
On 19 October 1824 the ringleaders of the persecution, the Secret Committee of Public Safety stated that they would destroy her home. The Secretary of State severely reprimanded Governor Warde for his lack of action in this matter as it was causing tremendous attention and embarrassment, forcing him to use soldiers to actually protect Sarah Ann, her home and property.
Reverend Moses Rayner was re-appointed to Barbados in April 1825. Upon his reluctant return he built a chapel on land purchased from Sarah Ann. This chapel was constructed on the site of the present James Street Church.
On 25 June 1825 The House of Commons in England declared that ample protection and religious toleration be secured to all … of His Majesty's dominions.
Sarah Ann Gill's courage and conviction to defend the right for freedom of religion protected the very existence of Methodism in Barbados when it was under severe threat.
Death and legacy
A woman of honor, Sarah Ann was laid to rest on 25 February 1866 in the small cemetery at the back of James Street chapel.
By an act of Parliament in 1998, she was named as one of the ten National Heroes of Barbados.
The Gill Memorial Church at Eagle Hall was named after her and in the 1980's it was replaced by a new Gill Memorial Church at Fairfield Road, Black Rock, and St. Michael.