By 1888, it had been approximately fifty years, since the early end of slave apprenticeship. Many changes to the negro consciousness had occurred during this half century. The negro, in The Bahamas, began to realise that the same institutions set up by their former white colonial masters, now citizen counterparts for God and country, offered the same political, social and economic power to the negro, as it did for whites. The negro, on his part, only needed to educate themselves and learn by the examples set before them.
The best examples were of course, that power could be harnessed by the collective. One man may be powerless and destitute, but 50 or 500, may prove formidable or at the very least, form a voice or an economic cooperative. Negroes, by 1888, were increasingly socially organised through their historical tribal identities. This was only a natural state of affairs given that there were many direct descendants of liberated Africans, who came before and after, the end of slavery in the British West Indies. Then there were Bahamians who were freed as slaves in 1834 and 1838. These various groups sought their own identity and wanted their own recognised black power base within the colonial system of Bahamian government.
Speech delivered by the newly elected president of the Bahama Friendly Society Mr. W. C. Adderley in 1888 on how the Society is not just a Burial Society but a political one.
“Gentlemen, this society has always been considered throughout this colony as being more than a common Burial Society, that is, it is also a political one, and I must say that we have a right to raise our voices when we consider our rights assailed as loving subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. Let us get ourselves ripe to ascend to the attitude of material and honourable success – success that will produce in as a real improvement for extensive usefulness hereafter. The question may be asked, what are the passports to this honourable success?” —-The Nassau Guardian, Wednesday August 1, 1888
By 1888, more than the pulpit on Sunday morning, negroes soon realised that substantial political, economic and social power was being harnessed in the plethora of black organised Friendly Societies. These Friendly Societies had greatly expanded in number since 1834. In 1834, there was the Grant’s Town Friendly Society and Bahama Friendly Society.
By 1887, there were Congo No. 1 and No. 2 Societies, Bahama Friendly Society, Egba Friendly Society, United Burial Society, Young Men’s Cooperative Friendly Society, Ebo Reform Union Society, Fox Hill Friendly Society, Victoria Burial Society, The Nassau Nangobar Society and a new Anglo-African League. This list is by no means exhaustive. There were a number of formally named others.
Nassau Societies also went to the Out Islands to start chapters, enrol members and take financial subscriptions. Societies became the repository for considerable sums of money. Negroes began saving their coppers and shillings in these Societies. Those who ran them gained substantial political power and a raised social standing in the community. Naturally, there would eventually be a fight for this type of new power in the Bahamas negro communities.
Grant’s Town Friendly Society visits Nicoll’s Town, Andros with the view of amalgamating the Nassau and Nicoll’s Town, Andros branch of the Grant’s Town Friendly Society —— The Nassau Guardian, Saturday, July 28, 1888
Some Friendly Societies became money lenders like those in the Sandilands Village. It was said that for some of the Societies, at the end of the year, accumulated monies were shared among members.
By July 1888, there were only 600 negro inhabitants of Sandilands Village. They formed their own Friendly Societies. There were eight (8) Friendly Societies in the Sandilands Village alone. Two of these Societies had organised themselves into a savings and money lending for local inhabitants. —— The Nassau Guardian, Saturday, July 28, 1888
Problems apparently arose with the increase in Societies vying for members and their money, and with the formation of the Anglo-African League. This League must have been formed under the very noses of the Bahama Friendly Society by those in key positions in the Friendly Society. In November 1887, John H. Bosfield was Chairman of the Anglo-African League as well as President of the Bahama Friendly Society.
The Bahama Friendly Society members were furious. They did not like this all too cosy arrangement of John H. Bosfield being head of two organisations. This meant head of a growing political body and member’s financial contributions. The vote to change this was met with bitter opposition on Emancipation Day 1888. A public war of words ensued.
Acrimony and Allegations of Racism by the Church and Race Traitor Taunts Between Anglo-African League and Bahama Friendly Society
Emancipation Day 1888, became an acrimonious affair with the election of a new president for the Bahama Friendly Society.
In the days leading up to August 1, 1888, it was clear that some Societies wanted to go their own way. The Congolese Society was the first. Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, accusations of racism was the most memorable thing to come out of it.
Nassau Freeman’s Newspaper Suggests Church Was Racist For Only Allowing Congo Societies Through The Back Door
In July 1888, ahead of the expected collective August 1st celebrations, Congo Societies Nos. 1 and 2, decided to have their own Emancipation Day observances, separately from the other Nassau Societies and groupings. Their observance included the usual procession with banners and music provided by fife and drum. The Congo Societies then went to Trinity Church for a sermon delivered by Rev. Francis Moon. This was followed by a formal visit to the Governor.
The following day, the Freeman newspaper accused Trinity Church of apparent racism because it reported that the Congolese were only allowed in through the back door.
Congo Societies, Nos. 1 and 2 make their own procession to Trinity Church and Government House – July 18, 1888
What happened next… Freemen newspaper ignites a war of words over supposed racism by the Church.
Reverend Francis Moon adds a not so subtle message that the Church recognises the Societies of the labouring classes and fosters what is good in them. But, if in doing this, the church is subject to slander and misrepresentation, then maybe the Church should question whether or not it is wise to do this.
Nangobar Friendly Society also skipped the collective Emancipation Day observances to attend their own church service the following week.
Emancipation Day 1888 – Only Grant’s Town Friendly Society and Bahama Friendly Society March
Then came the explosive message from the newly elected president of the Bahama Friendly Society, Mr. W. C. Adderley, who addresses being called a ‘race traitor’ by Anglo-African League
“ I shall and will be President of the Bahama Friendly Society,” although distasteful to many of you here, and some outside of this hall, as was remarked by some of the members of the “Anglo African League” that the traitor of the African race is elected president of the Bahama Friendly Society. I am aware that many honest and upright men are connected with the league in some form or other, but I am certain that I endorse your full sentiment when I say the Bahama friendly society is in no way concerned with the Anglo African League, as I am sure gentlemen that you would not for a moment look for leaders from among those whose everyday life shows that most of them are unfit companions and to be drafted from oblique rum dens or a pack of cards.” —- W. C. Adderley, President Bahama Friendly Society, August 1, 1888
“ I refused for reasons that were only known to myself and a few of my most trusted friends – when it was remarked to by some of the members that you must serve as Vice President; my reply being President or nothing; you will call me when I am wanted. A few days ago these words with were verified you called me and I answered.” —- W. C. Adderley, President Bahama Friendly Society, August 1, 1888