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 Gossedebunks 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.
2.The Fundamental Pillars of
the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church / 44
4.Bedwardism, Revivalism and
the Jamaican State / 81
Appendix1: Berry, the
Independent Stream Flowing fromaHugeRock/167
Bedward’s Manifestation into Kingston in 1921 /182
Notes / 183
Bibliography / 203
Dave St. Aubyn Gosse
is a senior lecturer and director, Institute of Caribbean Studies, the
University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. He is the author of Abolition
and Plantation Management in Jamaica, 1807–1838.