Presbyterians in Trinidad: Humble Missionaries, Local Workers

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Jerome Teelucksingh
By Jerome Teelucksingh

THE Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT) celebrates its 155th anniversary with a special service being held at Aramalaya Presbyterian Church today.

Some Presbyterians are neither appreciative nor aware of the sacrifices made in the 19th Century. Rev John Morton, a missionary of Canada, sympathetically understood the plight of the East Indians and their lack of interest in colonial education at the ward schools.

In January 1869, Morton envisioned a large-scale outreach and formulated “a scheme for the education of Indian children at the expense of the Government” which was presented to Governor Sir Arthur Gordon of Trinidad.

Subsequently, after a cordial agreement with the government, the Presbyterian Church in Canada began financially assisting the construction of primary schools for Indians. These educational institutions were initially known as Canadian Mission Indian Schools (or CMI schools) and later referred to CM schools and then simply as Presbyterian schools.

One of the most outstanding and enduring characteristics of the early mission was its educational outreach. Schools were established in such outlying villages as Barrackpore, Fyzabad, Rousillac, Santa Cruz, Cumuto, Biche, Plum Road, Cunaripo, Cumuto and Lengua.

One distinct feature of these mission schools was their emergence in very neglected and rural areas. These simple schools were large one-room wooden buildings and served an important function as it was reported that by 1880, only 590 East Indian children were enrolled in estate schools.

Apart from assistance from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the planters and government in Trinidad supplemented the resources necessary to continue the educational mission.

The neglect of education was an inherent flaw of the Crown Colony system in which other British West Indian colonies suffered. The 1891 census estimated that one-half of the West Indian population over five years of age was deemed illiterate. And though the expenditure on education in the British West Indies had risen from £95,000 in 1882 to £180,000 in 1896, this was considered inadequate.

The Education Ordinance of 1899 sought to assist the lower class by including a clause which exempted those families who were unable to afford the cost of education and children of indentured immigrants.

In the 1890s, one of the Canadian missionaries- Rev Dr  Kenneth James Grant, spearheaded the movement for free education. Grant believed that the Government should assist those schools with an attendance of at least 150 pupils and that education to the third standard should be free. His concerns did not fall on deaf ears because, in 1902, fees were abolished. By 1900, there were 60 CMI schools serving 7,557 East Indian children from an East Indian population of 85,000. During this period, the mission could boast of possessing 70 pupil teachers, 52 certified teachers and 16 graduates of its training classes.

One of the subtle objectives of education provided by these Canadian mission schools was to act as an opiate for the masses, thus providing a desired stability for the potentially volatile plantation society.

Indeed, the conversion from one religion to another, from one culture to another within the education system made the Presbyterian schools appear as agents of deculturalizaton, westernization and socialization.

However, provision of an English education by the mission schools was compatible with the desired social advancement which some East Indians were seeking. The Canadian mission had laid a solid foundation among its primary schools and this would later be continued among its secondary schools.

On November 22, 1870, Rev Grant (from Scotch Hill, Pictou County in Nova Scotia) and his wife Catherine Copeland (of Merigomish in Nova Scotia) and the Mortons arrived in San Fernando, South Trinidad. In 1883, Rev Grant held the first school classes under a samaan tree on Carib Street in San Fernando. Among those children attending classes included his son George, Charles Pasea and children of the Mission. Today this site has the Susamachar Presbyterian Church and Grant Memorial Presbyterian School.

Less than a decade later, in 1890, Rev Grant was fortunate to receive approval of the Presbyterian Church for the establishment of a theological training college. Two days after appealing for assistance from the Presbyterian Assembly in Ottawa, in Canada, Rev Grant received half of the total funding from two families in Canada. The foundation stone of this theological college was initially referred to as the Presbyterian Training College. In 1959, whilst Rev James F Seunarine was Principal, the Presbyterian Theological College was renamed the St Andrew’s Theological College.

Let us never forget the sacrifices and achievements of the humble Canadians and the local men and women who endured failures and countless challenges but persisted in their task of uplifting, guiding and educating our citizens.

Dr Jerome Teelucksingh is a recipient of the Humming Bird (Gold) Medal for Education and Volunteerism. He is attached to the Department of History at the University of the West Indies at St Augustine.  He has published books, chapters and journal articles on the Caribbean diaspora, masculinity, culture, politics, ethnicity and religion. Also, he has produced a documentary – Brown Lives Matter and presented papers at academic conferences.

See other articles by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh:

Sports and Caribbean Unity

Religious Plurality: Curse or Blessing

Caribbean Youth Need Optimism, Patriotism

Rethinking Identities in Caribbean, Latin America

November 19: All Inclusive International Men’s Day

Attempts at Caribbean Unity

Reverse gender discrimination

Should International Agencies be Blamed for Unemployment

Hiding Unemployment

A Need to Observe Word Unemployment Day

An Ideology for the Trade Union Movement

The Man who Couldn’t be Prime Minister 

Social Outburst vs Social Revolution 

Challenges of the Men’s Movement

If George Floyd was Denied Parole

Fathers Under Attack!

Should we Save the Boy Child

The Meaning of Indian Arrival Day in T&T

International Men’s Day – A Way of Life

Wounds that cause school violence

The Forgotten Massacres 1884

May Day: A Time for Solidarity, Strength

Who Coined the Term ‘Black Power’

Indians in Black Power

Polarisation of Labour During the 1940s



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