Sarah Ann Gill was born in 1795 to a black mother and a white father. Born in the midst of a racial society, she too had her fair share of challenges when it came to being socially accepted. Despite this, she possessed a unique ability to fight social ills without physical confrontations but rather, meth by using powerful and effective prayers to strengthen and redirect her focus and that of her church members.
Her chosen religious belief was Methodism and by 1820, she became a full member of the church. Choosing such a path was by no means an easy and straightforward road as she became quite susceptible to persecution at what seemed to be almost every level. As the church grew, so too did the persecution and in October of 1823 the Chapel building was destroyed by a mob of white rioters. This disturbance caused the Methodist missionary Reverend William Shrewsbury (the Reverend of the church) and his pregnant wife to flee the country as an means of protection for themselves.
The Road of Persecution
Despite the destroyed chapel and the great possibility that the battle wasn’t quite over, Sarah Ann and her sister-in-law Miss Christina Gill showed amazing strength of character by subsequently opening their homes to church members as places of worship in an effort to continue in their unwavering commitment to the faith. The continuation of the undertaking of such heroism on their parts didn’t sit well at all with authorities and the society at large and so Sarah Ann found herself in breach of the Conventiclers Act of 1664. This Act clearly stated that no more than five persons could gather for worship at any time, unless in a ‘licensed meeting place, led by a licensed preacher’.
A 28 year old widow, Sarah Ann became subject to a perpetual amount of threats and warnings for one year as she chose to stand by her beliefs even if it meant risking her very own life. Such faith provided the necessary backbone that she eagerly displayed for her members to hold firm to in the face of adversity. Her worship meetings were deemed “illegal meetings” by the Law Courts and so she received two prosecutions. Magistrates repeatedly and annoyingly questioned her about supposedly harboring guns and ammunition in her home and eventually she was prosecuted by the House of Assembly. As a claim to her own power and true independence she defended herself and defied authorities. Her ability to take a stand and speak her truth clearly and convincingly could have only been an absolute show of personal power and self confidence on her part.
Determined to allow absolutely nothing to get in the way of her serving the Lord, Sarah Ann continued to hold worship meetings at her home despite the unsafe environment in which she was living. The Secretary of State expressed fierce disappointment at what was considered to be the indolence of Governor Warde. As such he was forced to use soldiers to ensure Sarah Ann’s safety when the Secret Committee of Public Safety (ringleaders of the persecution) declared that on October 19, 1824, they would destroy her home. An effigy of Sarah Ann was burnt as angry and dissatisfied protestors didn’t get their way.
In April 1825, Rev. Moses Rayner was re-appointed to Barbados. Hesitant to return, he sought by letter the advice of Sarah Ann with regard to his safety. Her response was plain and simple: "I don't advise you to come, but if it was me, I should come." This statement was just testimony to her strength, faith and determination as she felt the need to impress upon others the importance of being strong come what may. On his return, he built a chapel on the site of the present James Street Church on land provided by Sarah Ann at a minimal cost.
On June 25, 1825, the members of the House of Commons in England "... deemed it their duty to declare that they view(ed) with utmost indignation (the) scandalous and daring violation of the law and (supported by His Majesty's) ... securing ample protection and religious toleration to all ... of His Majesty's dominions."
Sarah Ann was buried on February 25, 1866 in the small cemetery at the back of James Street chapel. Back in 1893, a large wooden structure was built as a place of worhsip. It was replaced by a new Gill Memorial Church built at Fairfield Road, Black Rock, St. Michael in the late 1980s. Sarah Ann’s strength, faith, perseverance and tireless commitment to religious freedom can only serve as a tremendous source of inspiration for all women in Barbados and Barbadians on a whole.