Alexander Bedward, the Prophet of August Town
Race, Religion and Colonialism
- Published: July 2022
Laughter is the natural response of most Jamaicans to the name Alexander Bedward, long proclaimed as the lunatic who literally attempted to fly to heaven. In Alexander Bedward, the Prophet of August Town: Race, Religion and Colonialism, Dave St Aubyn Gosse debunks this common image of Bedward by drawing on new sources to help cast Bedward in a more positive light. Gosse argues that Bedward ought to be recognized as one of the significant black nationalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Bedwardism was a highly organized movement, especially among the working class in the early 1900s. Bedward’s Jamaica Native Baptist Church was located in almost every parish of Jamaica and had numerous chapters abroad. He affirmed Africa, its culture and traditions, laid the foundation for later black nationalist movements such as Garveyism and Rastafari, and brought to national prominence Revivalism. Bedward challenged the colonial order and those who attempted to “save” black Jamaicans from the backwardness of African traditions, and in the process, he became a hero to the masses.
Many of Jamaica’s colonial laws – most notably the lunacy and vagrancy acts – were devised to stifle all expressions of African folk culture and were instituted as a response to Bedwardism. Colonial governments used these laws to effectively silence their Afro-Jamaican critics and distort the historical record. Gosse’s work offers a necessary corrective to that record.
List of Tables / x
Introduction: Lies, Distortion and Colonial Memory / 1
1. Revivalism and the Birth of Bedwardism, 1860s–90s / 15
2. The Fundamental Pillars of the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church / 44
3. The Arrest and Trial of Alexander Bedward / 57
4. Bedwardism, Revivalism and the Jamaican State / 81
5. Judgement Day: Tearing Down the White Wall / 111
6. The Impact of Bedwardism / 143
Appendix 1: Berry, the Independent Stream Flowing from a Huge Rock / 167
Appendix 2: The Rock from which Bedward Preached Many of His Sermons / 168
Appendix 3: Remnants of Union Temple, Shown from Three Angles / 169
Appendix 4: The Churches of the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church, 1920 / 171
Appendix 5: List of Males Who Marched with Bedward and Were Imprisoned / 174
Appendix 6: List of Twenty-five Females Who Marched with Bedward and Were Imprisoned / 177
Appendix 7: Rules and Report of the 1920 Convention / 178
Appendix 8: Bedward’s Manifestation into Kingston in 1921 / 182
Notes / 183
Bibliography / 203