It is somewhat incredible, when one considers the speed in which a mutual savings scheme, a Friendly Society, was organised for negroes, after emancipation. Exactly 365 days after freedom was declared.
Grants’ Town in 1835 was mostly swamp. Liberated Africans and the now emancipated negroes who would called this mosquito infested area home, lived in abject poverty. They earned only what they could make trading between themselves and growing food, which they hawked in the local markets on Bay Street. They developed small cottage and service industries, like blacksmithing, basket weaving from straw, taking in laundry, shoe polishing, etc. which brought in pennies and shillings.
The problem that Grants Town had was a high mortality rate coupled with a growing population. People died from tooth decay, cholera, malaria, dysentery, fever, infections, starvation, dropsy, tetanus and the ever present foulness of the swamp water brought drowning and endless intestinal diseases.
The government of the day quickly surmised that if they had to underwrite the cost of poor burials, it would soon become an expenditure problem on the public purse. We also have the issue of crime, in the negro community beginning to make a dent in society. Another problem, was the issue of local beggars and street children. Negroes wandering the streets, of the city of Nassau, were a problem even before the end of slavery. After emancipation, the problem of an oversupply of labour versus available jobs became even more pronounced.
The negroes of Grants Town would have to learn how to sort themselves financially and learn to collectively contribute, in order to take care of their own. It was a tall order, considering the apprenticeship legislation was now in place.
The Grants Town Friendly Society, was established on August 1, 1835, exactly one year after the abolition of slavery in the Bahamas.
The Friendly Society was a British invention that dates back to Roman times. Interestingly enough, the first act regulating and encourage these societies wasn’t passed in England until 1875.
The wording of the Grants Town document is interesting as well. It makes specific mention to Africa. It also makes curious mention to being rescued from slavery by British seamen and all the things they must learn to be truly British. It gives, all appearance, for posterity that the signatories were saved from slavery and not actually slaves themselves. The wording is extremely clever on the draughtsman part since the people signing couldn’t read. The wording essentially absolves Britain. According to the document, they are rescuers rather than participants in the slave trade.
The signatories, the natives of Africa, mark their name, with an X. The document would have been written by a learned person, a professional draughtsman. The language and the sheer formal structure of the Grants Town Friendly society could not have been fully understood by the officers and members, almost all of which could not read or write.
The humble Petition of the President, Vice President and Members of Grants Town
To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty
We your Majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects Natives of Africa approach your Majesty to acknowledge the blessings which it has pleased God to bestow on us under the generous protection of your Majesty and the British Nation.
Torn from our Native Country and connections by cruel men and surviving the trials which destroyed before our eyes so many of their victims, until rescued from slavery by your Majesty’s brave Seamen we have found a home in your Dominions.
For this deliverance we return our grateful thanks to the Almighty and in return for the benevolent protection afforded to us in our helplessness we shall ever regard ourselves as the friends of all Englishmen and the grateful and attached subjects of your Majesty.
In addressing the Language and the habits of the English people we have learned with these the truths of the Christian religion which have moved them to be the protectors of the African Race; and as Christians we have formed ourselves into a Society for the relief of our Widows and Orphans and those who are unable to support themselves in sickness and Old Age.
We feel the benefits we enjoy under those just Laws which protect us in our persons and secure to us the fruits of our industry.
We are aware that we and our children have much to learn before we can properly perform all the duties required from us and we rely on the continuance of your Majesty’s gracious protection and assistance to enable us to improve as we wish to do and to bring up our children in those principles which have raised the English Nation to be there protectors of the oppressed and a light to those who are in darkness.
Thomas Conyers (his mark) x
Edward Butler (his mark) x
Harry Rumings (his mark) x
John Nixon (his mark) x
Ja Curry (his mark) x
William Curtis (his mark) x
In Forcer (his mark) x
In Nixon (his mark) x
Robert McDonald, Cuffy Gould, Joseph Pinkney, Hamlet Carmicheal, James Stirrup, Monday Thompson, Thomas Dunscomb, Tuesday Culmer, Samuel Cox, Duncan McKenzie, John Saunders, Charles Armstrong,
Argo Strachan, John Russell, Willian Hanna, Devonshire Williams, Toby McKinny, Thomas Burnside, John Strachan, Joseph Lighbourn, Edward Butler, William Williamson, Samuel Cox, John Strachan, Monday Thompson, James Stirrup, Hamlet Carmicheal, Joseph Pinkney,
Francis Dunshee, Devonshire Thompson, Cupid Longley, Richard Hanna, Peter McNaughton, Samuel King, Thomas Smith, Mury Nixon, Charles Munro, Jack Russel, Betty Roacher, Mary Russell, Becky Saunders, Lucy Conyers, Laura Butler, Fanny Meadows, Maria Thompson, Devonshire Lord, Margret Pinkney, Deborah Gould, Marianne Hanna, Thomas Bassett, Nancy McKensie, Margaret Carmicheal, Peggy Bassett, Sophia Strachan, Dorothea Ramings, Louisa Armstrong, Matilda Johnson, Phoebe Munro, Moses Lord, Rose McDonald, In Forcer, Diana Dunshee, Ann McNaughton, Phillis Hanna, Venus Duncomb, Wenton Lord, Ann Lord, George Wyllie, Hector Turner, Mary Turner, Rose Hall, Sarah Saunders, Susan Stirrup, Lavina Russell, Eve Curtis, Mary Forcer, James Nelson, Lucy Webb, John Smith, Catherine Culmer, Maria Burnside, Mary Russell, Harriett Ker, Celia Murrey, Michael Bunch, Thomas Poitier, Cuffy Murrey, Martin Pearson, Samuel Moxey, Gay Farrington, Paul Taylor, Peter Smith, Edward Cox, John Forcer, Samuel Cox, Diana Mayers, In Miller, Abraham Spell, Brutus Duncome, Toby Dorset, Sidney Dorset, John Forsyth, William Graham, John Pinder, John Forsyth, Ann Rushings, William Nicholas, Sophia Darrell, Margaret Bell, Daphne Strachan, Sally Smith, Catherine Culmer, Flora Cox, Francis Allen, Louisa Allen, Maria Murrey, Barbara Murrey, Rose Stewart, Caroline Duncome, Celia McKinney, John Demothe, Charlotte Demothe, Sally Smith, Samuel Kerr, Isaace G. Cleare, Charity Watkins, Stephen Hall Rogers, Tm. W. Baldwin, Sarah Jackson, Christianah Bradford, Devonshire Paul, John Braynen,
James D. Cargill, Henry Braynen, W. Wall, Alexander Bain, Josiah Mickkle Faith, Charles Longley, John Conyers, Jack Patterson, Adam Davis, Harry Munnings, Benjamin Russell, Peter Russell, Sam M Key, Lebo Browne, James Moms, Alexander Strachan.
The official record of the establishment of the Grants Town Friendly Society was written up in 1836 in Nassau. It spells out the aims and purpose. We also see a list of the first donations. Governor Colebrook gave £3. Stephen Dillet, the first coloured member of the House of Assembly, who originated from Haiti and came to New Providence at aged 2 or 3, and was a slave holder himself, gave 8 shillings. Vesey Munnings surprisingly gave £1. Munnings was against education for negro children and was instrumental in getting former Governor James Carmichael-Smith run out of office.