The Post-Emancipation and Modern Periods 1835-1947
Dr. Donald M McCartney, DM
Education in the Pre-Emancipation Period – 1734 -1834
The period 1734-1834 was seen as the earliest attempts at establishing an educational system.
The Bahamas became a Crown Colony in 1717. Before The Bahamas became a Crown Colony, there was no (real) interest in education. It was during the period 1734-1834 that some interest in education had its genesis. During this period, education was left, for the most part, to the philanthropic bodies.
Those who took up teaching did so because they were not suited to do anything else. (In some instances, this is still the case today in the field of education.) Education of the young was spasmodic at best. Government’s responsibility was relegated to the provision of teachers’ salaries and even this was fraught with uncertainty.
The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (S.P.G.) opened the first organized school in 1739, twenty-two years after The Bahamas became a Crown Colony and seven years before the passage of the first Education Act in 1746. The SPG was a Church of England sponsored missionary organization active in the British Atlantic world during the 18th and 19th centuries. The SPG was founded in 1701 by Reverend Thomas Bray and a small group of lay and clerical associates; it sent Anglican clergymen and religious literature to Britain’s colonies; supported schoolmasters and the establishment of new churches; and lobbied for a more expansive role for the Church of England in Britain’s burgeoning empire.
The SPG focused its attention on those British colonies that were without strong Anglican legal establishments. As a result, while its role in the Chesapeake and most Caribbean colonies was minimal, the S.P.G. was continuously active in the lower South, the mid-Atlantic, New England, Bermuda, Barbados, and The Bahamas. Although the S.P.G. established the school, the non-payment of teachers’ salaries prevented the continuity of the operation of the school. There were three jurisdictions (islands) that made up The Bahamas during this period: New Providence, Eleuthera, and Harbour Island.
However, the focus of the limited provision of education was the island of New Providence. Boys were the only ones who initially attended school. Shortly after the establishment of a school for boys, two schools for girls were soon established.
As alluded to earlier, the first Education Act of The Bahamas was passed in 1746. In order to fund education (to build a house presumably for the headmaster and the payment of the headmaster’s salary), the Education Act of 1746 mandated that taxes be levied at the rate of one shilling and sixpence (equivalent to 50 cents) for White men, Mustees, Mulattoes, Indian, Negro (black) men, or women between the ages of 16 and 60 of years (Pegg, 1947).
The headmaster was mandated to instruct and teach reading, writing (‘riting), and Arithmetic (‘rithmethic). If it became necessary, the headmaster would be required to teach Latin and Navigation. Despite the passage of the Education Act of 1746, there were no attempts made to organize the education system. Schooling was seen as a luxury because the provision of the necessities of life was deemed to be more important.
The poor children were to receive a free education; all others were made to pay a fee, of nine pence per week for attending the school. The schoolmaster was to be licensed by the Governor. The first appointee as schoolmaster and pastor of the church was the Reverend Robert
Carter of the S.P.G. He served in these posts between 1749 and 1765.
The school was known as the “Free School and was located in New Guinea (now known as Fox Hill), a settlement that was five miles from the City of Nassau. The school population, under Reverend Carter’s administration, consisted of 36 boys, two of whom were black boys. The inclusion of the black boys, at this time, was integration at its finest given the fact that slavery was not yet abolished. Both of the (black) boys were baptized.
Perhaps, the fact that they were baptized was their redeeming grace that allowed them to be included among those who were allowed to receive an education.
The state of education in Harbour Island was so appalling that Reverend Carter dispatched his mother to keep school. Reverend Carter’s mother contracted a fever and died.
Between 1749 and 1765, the population of New Providence consisted of 178 families. Harbour Island numbered 203 white men, women, and children, and that of Eleuthera was 315 white persons. It must be noted that people of colour were not included in the population count.
The school population on the islands of New Providence, Eleuthera, and Harbour Island was increasing. For example, the number of families on New Providence had almost doubled in fifteen years. A new Education Act was introduced by way of A Bill in the House Assembly in 1770 to establish schools in what was then known as the “Out Islands” (Eleuthera and Harbour Island) and in New Providence. By the year 1770, there were two “men’s schools” and five “women’s schools” in New Providence.
Before the Act of 1770 became law, a disagreement ensued between the Governor in Council and the House of Assembly over the provision of funding for the establishment of the new schools (The Senate, in the modern Bahamas, has replaced the Governor in Council.). The provisions of Education Act of 1746 had occasioned the dissension.
The Act (1746) had made provisions for the payment of a Poll Tax of one shilling and sixpence (50 cents) to assist with the operation of the schools. The Council and the House of Assembly could not agree on the implementation of the Poll Tax. As a consequence of this dissension, the Governor dissolved the House of Assembly.
The same House was re-elected, and the dissension continued for a further period of two years. It was not until 1772 that the dissension was resolved and the Bill was assented to by the Governor This Bill became the Education Act of 1772, which, in addition to providing for the opening of a school in the Eastern District of New Providence (Nassau) and one each on the islands of Eleuthera and Harbour Island. The schools in Eleuthera (Wreck Sound now Rock Sound and Savannah Sound) and Harbour Island were operated and managed by governors or “School Commissioners,” who were provided for by the Act of 1772.
The Act of 1772 continued to be the basis of education for the next seventeen years without any substantial amendment. Ministers of religion were appointed as commissioners of schools within their churches. Schoolmasters were under the supervision of the S.P.G. to whom they were required to submit yearly reports. The curriculum was simple; it provided for the teaching of reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic (known as the three Rs). As noted earlier, where necessary, students were taught navigation and merchant accounts was added to the subjects offered.
Provisions were made for 10-15 poor children to be admitted to the schools free of charge and received their books, pens, ink, and slates. There were no attempts made to regulate teachers’ qualifications. However, each teacher was required to be licensed by the Governor. The schools in Eleuthera and Harbour Island did not open until 1790, when legislation authorizing their establishment, was passed in the House of Assembly.
Presumably, the only other school or schools, before the Act of 1772, were in the Western District of New Providence. Young people (presumably white) could not hold down jobs in the Public Service because of the inability of the education system to provide schools. Therefore, the additional schools were established to give the young people an opportunity to receive an education. The fee for attending the school was nine pence per week.
The achievement of Majority Rule, like other events in The Bahamas, had its roots in occurrences and events outside The Bahamas. These external events and occurrences have impacted the history of The Bahamas negatively and positively.
The American War of Independence had an impact on the development of education in The Bahamas. The Peace of Paris of 1783 was the set of treaties which ended the American Revolutionary War. On 3 September 1783, representatives of King George III of Great Britain signed a treaty in Paris with representatives of the United States of America—commonly known as the Treaty of Paris (1783)—and two treaties at Versailles with representatives of King Louis XVI of France and King Charles III of Spain—commonly known as the Treaties of Versailles (1783).
At the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, Britain exchanged Florida for the Bahamas. Britain offered approximately eight thousand displaced American Loyalists (who also had few other options) vacant land grants throughout the Bahamas. Later another sixteen hundred followed them there after they had tasted anarchy in the new USA. The Loyalists settled in Abaco at New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay and Hope Town on Elbow Cay. The Loyalists also settled on Harbour Island, Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, and George Town Exuma.
I invite you to read the novel The Wind from the Carolinas. The book is fictionally based but it is historically correct. It follows several generations of a British Loyalist family from Charleston, SC, immediately following the American Revolution. England offered land in the Bahamas so they packed up the plantation and shipped it to the islands where it failed spectacularly.
Bear in mind that The Bahamas was considered a Crown Colony from the year 1717. However, Britain needed a place of refuge for those persons who were in the country (USA).
The coming of the Loyalists influenced the attention paid to the establishment of schools and the development of education in The Bahamas. As a result, the government paid more attention to schools and how they were operated. Among the many influences that were brought to bear on the operation of schools in The Bahamas with the advent of the Loyalists were (1) the central supervision of schools and (2) the creation of standards for teachers’ qualifications.
The Education Act of 1804 made provisions for the establishment of a high school (though it was short lived). When the Loyalists came to The Bahamas, they were accompanied by their slaves. These slaves along with the slaves that were already in The Bahamas, except for a selected few children of free blacks who were allowed to attend school, received no educational benefit from the educational developments.
In 1821, by an Act of Parliament, the Central School concept was introduced. The school became known as the Central School of The Bahamas. The school was conducted using the “Madras or the Dr. Bell’s system of education” (Pegg, 1947, p. 143).
In the Madras, or monitorial system as it later came to be known, a schoolmaster would teach a small group of brighter or older pupils basic lessons, and each of them would then relate the lesson to another group of children
The Act of 1821 gave full authority to the Anglican Church to operate the Central School and all government schools in the colony. The Central School replaced three schools that were maintained by law before 1821. The control of the schools, exercised by the Anglican Church, included all matters relating to the “curriculum, conduct, assessment, payment of salaries, the examination of accounts, the appointment and suspension of teachers, the appointment of Visitors for out island schools, the selection importation and distribution of books, and the selection of poor children for admission as free scholars” (Pegg, 1947, p. 143).
According to Pegg (1947), it was the intervention of the Baptist, Methodists, a few forward thinking slave masters, and enlightened citizens that a few converted slaves were given the opportunity to receive an elementary education (pp. 133-135). It must be understood that slavery had not yet been abolished in the colonies of Great Britain. Therefore, the future of the Blacks, insofar as educational and social inclusion, was not yet fully considered. In Britain, the cause of the abolitionist movement was taken up by William Wilberforce, who started the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787.
The Anglican Church’s control of schools was based on the notion of one school in each of the islands. The islands of note were New Providence, Eleuthera, and Harbour Island (Pegg, 1947). Two additional schools were provided for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were annexed to The Bahamas in 1804, and the annexation continued until 1848 (McCartney, 2004). There was already a school in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The second school was on the island of Abaco.
Following the Act of 1821, the Act of 1822 was enacted because it was felt that the previous act was insufficient to meet the needs of education in The Bahamas. The new Act gave authority to the Commissioners to expand the school system by establishing more schools without restriction on numbers. Under the Act of 1822, the salaries of teachers were increased from one hundred pounds to four hundred pounds per annum. Despite the involvement of the Anglican Church, Blacks were not included fully in the educational system such as it was at the time.
Before the emancipation period, there were groups of missionaries who were known as nonconformists. These nonconformists offered elementary instructions to the slaves. However, the efforts at educating the slaves were relegated to the instruction given at Sunday School.
The instruction given at day schools was reserved for the children of slaves who served at the behest of their owners. These children were referred to as “free Negroes.” The Methodist established Day schools, but they were primarily for white children and freed black people. By 1834, a day school was established in Eleuthera.
In 1829, Sir James Carmichael Smyth, after whom Carmichael Village is named, was appointed governor. Governor Carmichael Smyth served until 1833. His appointment was significant if no other reason than his persistent efforts on behalf of the slaves in the colony. As a consequence of his interest, on behalf of the slaves, he earned the opposition of the House of Assembly. In the feud between Governor Smith and the House of Assembly, there was blame on both sides. Governor Smyth, subsequently, dissolved the House of Assembly and governed The Bahamas by fiat.
During his term, the Governor established schools in Adelaide and Carmichael. Adelaide and Carmichael were experimental settlements where liberated Africans lived. The expenses for the establishment of the two schools and the provision of supplies came from Crown Funds and a contribution from the Bishop of Jamaica. These funds were under the control of the School Commissioners who refused to release the funds. Since Governor Smith was the Chancellor of The Bahamas, he was able to force the Commissioners to release the funds. Interestingly enough, the Commissioners were the rectors and wardens of Christchurch, now Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Matthews Parishes (Peggs, 1947).
Governor Smyth’s efforts did not progress beyond the two schools at Adelaide and Carmichael. However, Governor Smyth’s success, if there were any, lies in the fact that his efforts were of historical importance because he attempted to educate an enslaved people before emancipation (Pegg, 1947). The House of Assembly’s response to Westminster, regarding the education of the freed slaves, was not pleasing to Governor Smyth.
Unfortunately, Governor Smith success, the establishment of schools, was never achieved because of his failure to establish as working relationship with the House of Assembly. His failure to have a working relationship with the House of Assembly did not allow funds, for the operation of the schools, to be made available.
It was not until The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1807, making the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. After the 1807 Act, slaves could still be held, though not sold, within the British Empire. The Reform Act of 1832, along with the efforts of William Wilberforce gave rise to the strengthening of efforts to abolish slavery.
The passage of the Reform Act of 1833 gave impetus to the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act, which received Royal Assent and paved the way for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and its colonies. In1834 (1 August), all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but they were indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system that meant gradual abolition. The first set of apprenticeships, in The Bahamas, came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships, in the other British jurisdictions, were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840, two years later.
The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the WeblogBahamas (which has no corporate view).