Many people contributed to the development of the Cottle Church. We've included brief biographies of some of the more notable characters.
THOMAS COTTLE (1761-1828)
Thomas John Cottle, sugar plantation owner and philanthropist, was the eldest of the four children of Thomas Cottle (1726-1765), Solicitor General of St Kitts. Thomas John inherited the Round Hill Plantation on the neighbouring island of Nevis from his father. At that time the plantation was some 500 acres. He became a member of the Nevis Island Council in 1794 and later its President. He married in 1803 Frances Huggins, daughter of Edward Huggins. They had three children, one dying in infancy. Another, also Thomas John, later inherited Round Hill.
Though a slave owner himself Cottle, a devout Anglican, stood out from the vast majority of his fellow planters by his efforts to improve the working conditions of his slaves and by paying Methodist missionaries to educate them and convert them to Christianity.
Such missionaries had been preaching and teaching in the fields since the mid-eighteenth century. A number of slaves had been converted and baptised but the Church of England had been slow to show any enthusiasm for a ministry to slaves: it was not until 1792 that the Church of England established “The Society for the Conversion and Religious Instruction and Education of the Negro Slaves on the West Indian Islands” under the auspices of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London.
The Church's changing attitude was soon echoed by the British government itself. As a result, colonial Governors were directed to persuade their Legislative Councils to pass laws ameliorating the conditions of their slaves. Missionary chaplains and schoolmasters were sent out to convert and instruct them. A local Slave Amelioration Act was passed in 1798.
Yet attitudes to slavery on the West Indian islands themselves remained slow to change. Nevis gained notoriety in 1810 when Frances Cottle's father, Edward Huggins, subjected thirty two of his slaves, men and women, to a brutal flogging in the Market Place of Charlestown. This was witnessed by a number of visitors to the island and led to public outcry in England.
In a statement published in 1811 Cottle expressed his own views: he was no friend of slavery but given that it was still part of the policy of the British government he was bound to support it “until a way is found to reconcile the interest of the proprietor with the liberty of the slave.” He went on to say that since the colonies were already in debt to the mother country, suddenly to overturn the prevailing system would lead to economic ruin for the colonies; proprietors and slaves alike. Indeed such was his fear of a slave uprising that in a dispute between Edward Huggins and James Tobin Cottle took the part of Huggins, his father-in-law, even going so far as to claim that black people suffered less pain than white.
Despite central government exhortations, by 1812 Nevis still possessed no schools for slaves. But in that year the desultory Anglican ministry was shaken up by the arrival of the Revd Daniel Davis as rector of St Paul's Charlestown himself a planter's son from St Kitts who, while preparing for ordination at Oxford, had become convinced of the evil nature of slavery.
The five parish churches of Nevis* were too small even for the planters and their families, many of the plantations, like Round Hill, being far from any church. Cottle decided, with Davis's support, to build a chapel on his own estate. This was not simply to be a place where slaves could meet, segregated from the parish church, but a place where his own family and his slaves could worship together.
The first service in the church was held on 5 May 1824. Davis duly reported to the Conversion Society, “Mr Cottle made it a holiday for all his slaves, they consequently attended, as did many of the ladies and gentlemen of the island.” Many of the slaves present had already been baptised by Methodists but there were still some 70 waiting to receive communion in the Church of England. Before long, black communicants on the island outnumbered whites. “The Cottle Church” as these ruins of its walls and gables are now known was the first Anglican church in the Caribbean to be built specifically for both whites and blacks.
Cottle's example was followed from an unexpected quarter by Peter Thomas Huggins (son of the notorious Edward and sister of Frances Cottle) who built a chapel for his slaves on the neighbouring estate of Montravers. Soon the building of such chapels became general practice in other British islands, many of them subsequently becoming parish churches.
When Bishop William Coleridge (b.1789)** visited the islands in 1825 he was accompanied by his cousin Henry Nelson Coleridge who wrote of taking lunch at the Cottles' house “where the pines and oranges were most ambrosial” and where he learned the West Indian way of eating guava jelly with Madeira.
When Cottle died on 1 February 1828 a memorial tablet was erected at his church, commemorating ... a fond father and an affectionate husband, a kind relative and sincere friend, and to his negroes a mild and humane master ever anxious to promote their temporal benefit, and proving his regard to their external happiness by the erection of this chapel for their improvement ... The tablet was later removed to the nearby parish church of St Thomas and the font now stands in the Museum of National History. His great-great-granddaughters and benefactors of this project live in Toronto, Canada.
* St Paul's, St John's, St George's, St James' and St Thomas's.
** The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had several brothers. Of them, Col James's son, was William and Luke Herman's son was Henry Nelson. The latter married the poet's daughter, Sara.
(This note has been prepared principally from 'Cottle Church: An Incident in the Life of Pre-emancipation Nevis' by Canon G P J Walker, published by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, Charlestown, Nevis.)
THE REVD. DANIEL DAVIS (1788-1857) AND NEVIS
The new generation of clergymen
Daniel Davis was born in 1788, the youngest of six children of William and Anne Davis of St Kitts. He was educated in England and in 1808 went up to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he began associating with leaders of the abolition movement and by the time he was prepared for ordination saw slavery through very different eyes from those of his family and contemporaries back in St Kitts.
He found that St Kitts and Nevis were playing a part on behalf of the abolitionists out of all proportion to their size and importance. This was due to two prominent residents of St Kitts, James Ramsay (who had introduced William Wilberforce to the abolition movement) and James Stephen, a lawyer. Both these men were so outspoken in their abhorrence of slavery that after much persecution from other members of the plantocracy they were forced to leave the island; but not before they had been able over a long period to send detailed accounts of the ill treatment of slaves in the two islands to Wilberforce and other abolitionists fighting for the cause in England. Events in these two small islands became very influential in determining the final victory for abolition.
By 1812 when he was ordained Davis was in two minds whether to take up the rectorship he had been offered of St. Paul’s, Charlestown. He wished to see his family again but this feeling was dampened by the idea of returning to a land of slaves. But he came back, and stayed. In a letter to an abolitionist friend he wrote, “it will be my great objective to encourage the extensive propagation of our religion among the negroes, as well as to improve the impression which has already been made on the white inhabitants. It ought indeed to be considered disgraceful to the policy of any society, that the space of nearly three centuries should have expired since one people or other, professing civilization and Christianity, have made but feeble efforts, or rather no efforts, for the extension of their blessings among the laborious and ignorant”.
But it was not to be an easy ministry. He found that neither planters nor their field slaves were much interested in his invitations to come for worship and instruction. It was not until 1818 that, under the pressure of the ameliorative policies of the British government, local political circles were forced to accept that attitudes had changed back in Britain. With the help of the vigorous leadership in the church of Beilby Porteus, the Bishop of London, Davis was slowly able to make progress. By 1822 there were Sunday schools in every parish in Nevis. Slaves on enlightened plantations were allowed markets on days other than Sundays that had otherwise prevented them from attending church. But above all Davis had begun to win the support of a growing number of planters to the cause of conversion. Towards the end of 1821 Thomas Cottle, a former President of the Island Council and a prominent planter, came forward with a proposal to build this church.
In 1824 two Bishops (known for their opposition to slavery) were appointed for the newly created Sees of Jamaica (Bishop Lipscomb) and Barbados with the Leeward Islands (Bishop William Coleridge*). This was a signal to the local plantocracy that the British government was now fully committed to the policy of improving the condition of slaves in its colonies and was conscious that full freedom could not be very long delayed.
By the time Davis left the island for St Kitts 19 schools with an aggregate attendance of 1,247 slave pupils had been established; and just before his departure he founded, along with those who supported his views, a branch society of the Society for the Conversion of Slaves. The most active promoters of the new society’s first meeting were Thomas Cottle and Norton Herbert, the nephew of Lady Nelson.
Davis remained in St Kitts until 1838 and later became the first Bishop of Antigua. Fierce to the end in attacking racial prejudice from whatever quarter it appeared Davis died in London, aged 70, in 1857. His great-great-granddaughter and benefactor of this conservation project lives in Oxford, England.
* A nephew of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who had first met Davis while at school in England.
(This note has been prepared from “The Life of Daniel Gateward Davis – First Bishop of Antigua” by Canon G P J Walker, published by the Creole Publishing Co. St Kitts.)
EDWARD HUGGINS SNR (1755?-1829)
Edward Huggins, one of the wealthiest and most powerful slave plantation owners on the West Indian island of Nevis and the subject of a number of notorious trials on charges of cruelty, was probably the son of Edward Huggins of Nevis and his wife, Elizabeth, nee Kelly. Educated on the island, he became an overseer before setting himself up, and gaining a reputation, as a successful, but cruel, planter.
In 1808 he bought a Nevis estate called Mountravers and put in charge of it his son Peter, one of five children, whom one source describes as being a good planter and businessman, but always hysterical about slavery. The slaves, used to more liberal and humane treatment, resisted the new manager's methods.
On 23 January 1810, in response to this resistance, Huggins ordered the public flogging of 32 slaves, including at least 10 women. According to testimony at Huggins's trial the first slave was whipped for 15 minutes, five slaves received over 100 lashes each and four others over 200 each, including a woman who received 291; all this in contravention of local custom which dictated a maximum of 39 lashes. Three magistrates were present, including a doctor, but no one intervened. One of the women died some months later.
People on the island were divided on the issue. After the island's Assembly had condemned the punishment, Huggins was tried for cruelty on 1 May 1810. He was acquitted in what Governor Elliot described as a 'perversion of human feeling' in the face of 'incontrovertible evidence'.
James Webbe Tobin, brother of Rear-Admiral George Tobin RN, who led the public opposition to Huggins on Nevis and publicised the case in Britain through the African Institution, presented evidence to the Governor that the judge, prosecution and some of the jury were in various ways connected, or indebted, to Huggins. A similar story was told of the Coroner's jury which found that the dead slave had died of natural causes.
The Government took little action in this case but Governor Elliot was prompted to intervene in the case of Arthur Hodge of Tortola who was tried and hanged, for numerous acts of outrageous cruelty. Publicity surrounding both these cases, and subsequent ones of alleged brutality by Huggins and his family in 1812 and 1817, helped to sway public opinion in Britain against slavery. The outrages strengthened the case for abolition by demonstrating that laws which aimed to protect slaves did not necessarily do so.
Having reputedly survived a number of attempts on his life Huggins died on Nevis on 3 June 1829 in an accidental fall from his gig and was buried in the island church of St. George, Gingerland.
(courtesy of the publishers of the new Dictionary of National Biography, the Oxford University Press)
JAMES WEBBE TOBIN (1767-1814)
James Webbe Tobin, abolitionist and friend of radical poets was born at Stratford-sub-Castle, outside Salisbury, on October 19 1767. He was the first of eight children of James Tobin (1736/7-1817), a sugar planter and merchant of Nevis and Bristol, and his wife Elizabeth (1744/5-1824). When his parents left Salisbury in 1777 to manage the family plantations on Nevis he and his brothers George and John were brought up by their maternal grandfather and sent to King Edward VI School in Southampton until their parents returned from Nevis in 1784 and settled in Bristol. Immediately after gaining his B.A. from Wadham College, Oxford in 1791 he visited revolutionary France. However he may have come to share his brother John’s growing disillusionment with both the violence in France and the increasing repression in England.
It seems probable that he was involved in radical politics in England at this time, perhaps as a member of the London Constitutional Society, for it was suggested later that his father’s partner, John Pinney, had had to help him escape arrest by smuggling him out of the country to Philadelphia in February 1793. During this visit and before his return from Nevis in September 1794 his eyesight began to fail, a condition which plagued him for the rest of his life, ended his interest in the church as a profession and led to the epithet ‘blind Tobin’.
From at least April 1796 he shared chambers with his playwright brother John at the Temple in London. Around this time he re-entered radical circles becoming a devout follower of William Godwin, though later he grew disillusioned with Godwinian rationalism. It was probably through Basil Montagu, or perhaps through the sons of John Pinney, that Tobin became friendly with Wordsworth, Coleridge* and Southey.
He may have visited the Wordsworths at Alfoxden in 1797 with Tom Wedgwood and was certainly written by Coleridge into the original first line of ‘We are Seven’ as the ‘little child, dear brother Jem’ (Moorman, 383-5) although Tobin pleaded unsuccessfully with Wordsworth to drop the poem. Around 1798 he began a lifelong friendship with Humphry Davy who wrote an amusing account of Tobin’s part in the experiments with nitrous oxide. Coleridge, meanwhile, was dreaming of both Davy and Tobin joining him, along with Wordsworth and Southey, in a utopian colony abroad. Tobin contributed at least five poems to the second volume of Southey’s ‘Annual Anthology’ and urged Southey to produce a third.
Despite the difficulty of reading Tobin’s letters Coleridge regularly corresponded with him and indeed stayed with him in London at Barnard’s Inn in early 1804. However he began to believe that Tobin was an inveterate and mischievous gossip and they fell out on the eve of Coleridge’s departure for Malta over Tobin’s constant advice on the subjects of health and debts. Shortly after this Tobin suffered a terrible blow with the death of his constant companion, his brother John.
Tobin recovered some of his cheerfulness when he married Jane Mallet (d. 1837) on 8 Sept 1807. They had at least four children. In 1809 the family moved to his father’s plantation, Stoney Grove on Nevis. Unlike his father, a defender of the slave trade, Tobin was fervently against it and for a progressive move towards the abolition of slavery entirely. His correspondence with the abolitionist African Institution and others was responsible for the widespread publicity given to the flogging of thirty two slaves by the notorious Edward Huggins in the public market in Charlestown, Nevis, on January 23 1810, and to the subsequent acquittal of Huggins by a rigged jury of planters. In his correspondence he advocated the right of free black people to vote and attacked the standard of justice in the islands as well as other practices. This stance led both to threats from planters and the publicly expressed gratitude of the African Institution.
Tobin died on his father’s plantation of a fever on October 30 1814 and was buried a day later at St. John Figtree, Nevis. His wife continued to play a role in the cause of abolition since, when she left the island, she took with her to Bristol a free black man, Charles Hamilton, who had been enslaved illegally on the islands of St. Barts and St. Kitts and who had been freed by the courts.
* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, uncle of Bishop Coleridge and of Henry Nelson Coleridge.
(courtesy of the publishers of the new Dictionary of National Biography, the Oxford University Press)
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