Nov 23, 2008 News
Today, Smith Memorial Church will be holding a special service beginning at 9:00 a.m. to commemorate its 165th Anniversary.
The Church which is located on Brickdam, Georgetown, was erected in memory of the
Rev. John Smith who was sentenced to death for allegedly inciting an insurrection of slaves in Demerara in 1823.
The epicenter of the revolt was the Bethel Chapel on Plantation Le Ressouvenir, where Smith was based. This chapel is now located in Beterverwagting.
Evidence suggests that Smith did have some prior knowledge of the insurrection, information that he did not pass on to the authorities.
The church insists, however, he certainly did not incite it, that instead, he attempted to dissuade certain members of his chapel from going ahead with any action.
Following his conviction by a military court, he was sentenced to death and was subsequently pardoned by the King. However, he died in prison three days before the instructions were received.
He had arrived in Demerara in February 1817 as a successor to reverend John Wray at the Bethel Chapel.
This house of worship had been erected by the former Dutch owner of Le Ressouvenir, Hermanus Post, whose initiative led the London Missionary Society to send Rev Wray to Demerara to provide Christian instruction of Africans on his cotton plantation.
Despite specific instructions from Governor Murray to the contrary, Smith, like Wray, proceeded to teach the Africans literacy skills, so they could read the Bible for themselves.
Quamina, a slave who was a senior deacon of Bethel Chapel, was regarded as the official leader of the rising. His son Jack Gladstone, was probably its most important active figure.
The revolt was put down with great savagery. Some of the participants were hanged in that part of Georgetown, which was then known as Parade Ground.
The case of Smith became a cause celebre in Britain, as a consequence of which he acquired the sobriquet, the ‘Demerara Martyr’.
The 1823 rising itself, as well as the controversy which Smith’s trial aroused, gave new impetus to the abolition movement in England to have slavery abolished.
Smith Memorial Church was opened on November 24, 1843, twenty years after Smith had been sentenced to death, as tribute to his memory and work.
A long line of distinguished Guyanese ministered at Smith Memorial. These included Rev. Pat Matthews (1964 — 1968), Rev. Adam T. Johnson (1969 — 1970), Rev. Oscar Wharton (1978 — 1991), Rev. Clare Smith (1991 — 1993). Pastor Oslen Small, who was also a former High Court Judge and a former chairman of the Guyana Congregational Union, is now Pastor in Charge.
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