Very little has been written about Black Loyalists who came to the Bahamas in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary war. A number of historians who make mention of blacks making their way to the Bahamas during this time, don’t refer to them as Loyalists, but as former slaves or free men of colour. For all intents and purposes, every impression has been given that white Loyalists migrated, and the role of blacks, if at all, was that of accompanying slave. During the war of independence in America, many slaves took the opportunity to runaway from their masters towards the northern states, making themselves free men in the process. Many also took up the British offer of fighting for the Crown in exchange for freedom. For one migrating person, a black man, a follower of the new Methodist religion, his impact on the islands, would be a particularly lasting one. In fact, he would be considered in history as the founding pillar of the Methodist Church in the Bahama Islands.
Joseph Paul was a black Methodist, a former slave, from South Carolina. It is not known how he made his way from South Carolina to New York where he would depart from on his new life in the Bahama Islands. He migrated to the island of Abaco in the Bahamas, as a loyalist exile in 1783. Paul is credited as the first to introduce Methodism to black communities in the islands. His stay in Abaco was brief one, just a year before relocating to capital, New Providence. Paul had some primary education (probably self-taught) and established a school for blacks and free people of color in Nassau. (Cartoon, J.W. (2016) Embracing Protestantism: Black Identities in the Atlantic World: University Press of Florida. Gainesville, FL.: p177 ) This undoubtedly was used as a medium for spreading the Methodist teaching.
From Whittington B. Johnson’s book, (2000) Race Relations in the Bahamas, 1784-1834: The Nonviolent Transformation from Slave to a Free Society: p51, we get a bit more narrative on the life of Joseph Paul. Johnson writes that he (Paul) arrived in the Bahamas with his wife Susannah along with their three children. Paul and his family were thought to be indentured to the captain of the ship which brought them to their new life in the islands. The Paul family were indentured to Captain Patrick Kennedy and it is presumed that their stay in Abaco was longer than a year as indicated in some other books, and this was because they had to work off their indenture. Once this was completed, the family moved to New Providence.
In Riley, S. (2000) Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850 with a Definitive of Abaco in the American Loyalist Plantation Period: p140, fleshes out more vital information on Joseph Paul. We read that two ships sailed from New York to Abaco. The Nautilis and the William. Both ships embarked with approximately eighty negroes. Joseph Paul was a slave who had purchased his freedom from his master, Lawrence Cartwright of New York. Paul’s wife Susannah, also a slave, noted she had purchased her freedom from her master, a Mr. Brown of New York. How Joseph Paul, a wife and children, arrived in New York from South Carolina is not known. Were they runaways? Had Paul fought for the British? We see that they were not owned together or by the same master. How did the family of five make it out of the south and into the north? Of these questions, we can only speculate on the answers. The Pauls arrived in Abaco on the ship Nautilus and were indentured to Captain Patrick Kennedy. This book, Homeward Bound, puts the Pauls’ tenure in Abaco to less than a year. Once in Nassau, Paul began preaching to a handful of negroes under the shade of the large tree. The numbers soon swelled. This was when he built the church on Augusta and Heathfield Streets. The church was said to be a stone structure to sit three hundred people. (This amount seems almost fantastical number given the time of the 1790s).
Shortly after, due to the success he was having among the small but growing group of negro followers, Paul opened a Methodist chapel on the corner of Augusta Street and Heath Field Streets. “Paul had formed a class where he taught five persons in a schoolroom” (Curry, C (2017) Freedom and Resistance: A Social History of Black Loyalists in the Bahamas, University Press Florida. As the challenges of both administration and preaching to a congregation grew, Paul wrote to the church in America for help.
According to Johnson’s book, Joseph Paul’s life took a rather precarious turn after his request for additional help from the Methodist church in America was answered. The church sent three missionaries, each would prove troublesome both the Paul and the reputation of the fledgling church in Nassau.
The first missionary a man named Johnson, did not get along particularly well with Paul. In the end, Paul was turned out of his own church and Johnson assumed leadership. Johnson got a licence to minister to the congregation, from the then Governor of the islands, Lord Dunmore. Johnson however was sent packing after he broke the rule regarding performing marriage rites among blacks which the licence to preach did not permit him to do. Another missionary, was sent, his name was Rushton. Rushton, a black man, was dismissed after assaulting his wife. The third missionary sent was a man named Melody who voluntarily returned himself back to the Americas after what was only known as a “moral lapse”.
A schism later divided the early Methodist church. The Pauls who began as Methodists moved on to the Anglican Church. They took a number of followers with them. The numbers who stayed loyal to the Methodist tradition began to follow another free black named Anthony Wallace. It was Wallace who ministered to the till fledgling congregation of believers until. By the late 1790’s Wallace, now the sole administrator of the Methodists in Nassau, requested Dr. Thomas Coke to appoint a Minister to The Bahamas. By 1800, a formal Methodist mission began when the Reverend William Turton of Barbados arrived as the first Methodist Minister. From the records of the Methodist Missionary Society in England, Colbert Williams in his book “The Methodist Contribution to… The Bahamas” makes reference to a meeting “in 1799 the British Methodist Conference meeting in Manchester decided to station William Turton, a white Barbadian, in The Bahamas. He landed at Nassau on 22nd October 1800.” (Page 35)
The Bahamas came under the jurisdiction of the British Methodist Church in 1848 through the Methodist Missionary Society.
By 1968 there were 36 Methodist churches in The Bahamas and 4 in the Turks and Caicos.
Joseph Paul, former slave turned preacher, is credited as being the first master of the Associates School in Nassau. The Associates School was the first private school for blacks in Nassau.