Clarke, John (1802-1879)
Autograph Letter Signed, Jericho, Linstead, P.O., Jamaica, March 1877, to Rev. James Hume

folio, four pages, closely written, formerly folded, in very good clean and legible condition.

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An extensive autobiographical letter written by John Clarke, pioneer of the Baptist Missionary Society in Jamaica, Fernando Po and the Cameroons, to his fellow missionary Rev. James Hume.

      Clarke, an Englishman, sailed for Jamaica in 1829, where he worked until 1840. In response to the desire of many newly emancipated slaves to send the gospel to their native continent, he and G. K. Prince were sent by the BMS to West Africa in 1840 to explore the possibilities of a mission to the Niger. They landed on the island of Fernando Po in January 1841 and began work among the freed slave population. Rather than proceeding to the Niger, Clarke and Prince recommended that the BMS establish a mission on the island and on the neighboring Cameroonian mainland. In the course of 1842 and 1843 Clarke visited Jamaica twice and England once to recruit volunteers for the new mission. In February 1844, he returned to Fernando Po with a party of forty-two Jamaican teachers and settlers. This experiment was not a success, as it was dogged by problems of ill health and quarreling. In 1847 Clarke led many of the migrants home to Jamaica. Nonetheless, the Cameroons mission survived and later became the springboard for the BMS Congo mission. Clarke spent the rest of his life as a Baptist minister in Jamaica.

     “Jericho, Linstead P.O. Jamaica, March 1877

     Revd. James Hume

     My dear Brother,

           I feel the infirmities of age, and former exposure, and sicknesses, thickening rather fast upon me. I hear also of fellow labourers in this field, younger than I am, passing away to the rest of heaven: Gardner, Walbridge, Joyce, Alloway, and Niven, have recently gone from earth, and of those remaining many are now old: the Brs Carlisle, Aird, Phillipps, Dendy, myself, Reid, & Jones, are all old, and near the close of our labours for God on earth; I feel deeply for the land, next to Africa, I so dearly love; and seeing evil more and more abounding, I am anxious that all should be done, that we can do to stem the abounding iniquity, and so reap, more abundantly, than we have yet done, fruit, from the faithful labours of so many years of toil. I know Jamaica Churches ought to do more for the cause of God among them, and for the heathen world; but, if left to themselves, they will do less; and enough of spiritual life does not seem to be in them to cause them to act voluntarily, and without pastoral advice or pressure, for themselves. It has been my quiet pleasure since I became a Missionary in 1829 to do as much for the cause of God, and at as small an expense to the society, as possible; and when I have seen anything I thought wrong, I have named it to the secretaries, that evil or injury might be arrested-

           In 1829 I had £15 handed to me by the late Mr. Dyer to take me to Edinburgh, to remain there a month at lodgings, & to take me back, by coach, & steamer, to London – I caused it to serve me, got married at Berwick on my return; and, to save expense, left my wife with her parents, from May 9th to the 26th of July, when she sailed for London to be present at my designation service in Eagle Street Chapel on the evening of July 28th, 1829. On sailing with Bros. Ivison, Nichols, and Cantlow, the sum of £50, in Spanish dollars, was given to each of the newly appointed Missionaries.- This sum was employed by me in procuring furniture for a small house in Kingston, previously occupied by our late brother Knibb, while he had held the position as pastor at Port Royal, and school master at East Queen Street which I was sent out to occupy until disturbances arose in the East Queen St. Church and Congregation, about the new model deed which was sent out; and refused by the two native Trustees. I had my salary from the church, & from the school fees; but on the departure of Mr. Burton, and return of Mr. Constant, my aid from the East Queen Street Church was withdrawn; but I remained with the school for more than a year and a half, while the sums usually given to the school master, were taken to liquidate a debt for a brick wall around the Mission premises, said to amount to £400, and to press heavily upon the church- I met at this season, of my first trials, with kind, and fatherly counsel and sympathy from the late Mr. Dyer – and was instructed to draw on the society for what my needs required. … In 1831 I was requested to take charge of a third station in Kingston, begun by Mr. Burton, but objected to by other Ministers. The request sent to me by the committee was because I was friendly with Mr. Burton, & his people, who had followed him from East Queen Street to a private Manse in the heart of the City. I had however refused to assist him in preaching unless the step was sanctioned by the committee at home & the committee had now arranged for Mr. Burton to go to Belle Castle, near Manchioneal and wished for 6 months longer time to consider whether a 3rd station in Kingston should go on, or be discontinued. After 6 months it was decided by the Home Committee that, as the Station had been begun in some unpleasantness and that most of the missionaries were unfavourable to it, it had better be discontinued; & if, on consultation with all the missionaries, a 3rd Baptist Station, in a City of 30,000 inhabitants, was deemed necessary, it should be begun, if possible, with the approval of all- The people of the 3rd station supported me, & paid the rent of the house for the 6 months I was in upper King Street; but on this decision of the Committee I removed to Port Royal and spent 6 months there in the rooms under the Chapel going across the killf to preach at times on the opposite shore near East Henderson. Mr. Joseph Burton had gone to Belle Castle, had bought and settled that station and was preparing to leave for the Bahamas; the 3rd station was given up, another native church was formed, & I was urged by Mr. Phillipps at the close of the Insurrection of 1832 to leave my uncomfortable position at Port Royal & take charge of the Church in Spanish Town, until he (Br. Phillipps) should regain his health, and return to his sphere of labour there. I did so and two of the happiest years of my life, though mixed with sorrow by the death of two of my children, were spent there. The church supported me, I paid off a small debt of £50, left by Br. Phillipps, & I saved a small sum, over my support, to put into his hand, to help to repair the premises on his return in 1834. I then left Spanish Town for St. Thos. In the Vale, which I had visited even as early as 1830, and which station, without house or chapel, Br. P. wished me to take; and @ 200 of the Spanish Town members were given over to my care. I began the four stations still kept up – viz. Jericho, Mount Hermon, Moneague, or Smyrna, and Springfield, near Point Hill, in St. John - £300 sterling for each was allowed by the Society, from the fund given for the rebuilding of destroyed chapels, and for the erection of new ones, and with the kind aid of 6d a month each, from the numerous people, able to give; 3 stone chapels, & one of hardwood, with stone foundation, were erected – I, drawing for my support, and giving a regular account of income and expenditure all the while – the £1,200 enabled me to erect chapels worth from £6,000 to £8,000-

            I also preached in several localities, as Guy’s Hill, Fairfield, Dalrymple Park, Ewarton, Lucky Valley, &c. and secured Mission Land at six eligible Preaching Stations, viz. Ewarton, Moneague, Guy’s Hill, Mt. Hermon, Lucky Valley, and Jericho. – Thus at work in the time of the cruel apprenticeship, I had my feelings tried by the sufferings of the people, and in endeavouring to lessen these, I offended the special magistrates – they sought to injure me and induced Sir Lionel Smith to send home to Lord Glensby a report of my interference with their illegal proceedings – This gave me much labour & anxiety, & under the too heavy extra pressure of building, and trying to save the helpless ones from suffering I left home for St. Ann’s got several wettings in going & returning, & rode in wet clothes. I took yellow fever, had a doctor with me day & night for five days, had black vomit 3 days and on recovery was left a wreck, with life only remaining. I tried to regain strength, but did not – and so in 1838, went to North America, and returned the same year, nothing improved by the change-

             In 1839, by the advice of the doctor, I repaired to England, and soon recovered, so that in 1840, I was ready to return to Jamaica, but was sent to Western Africa with Br. Prince, and remained there until Feb 5th 1842, when we sailed in the “Mary,” for Liverpool – on Feb 11th we were struck by lightning near Princes Island, and the steward lay dead near us, the Mizen Mast was shattered & the Captain came below with his head bleeding from the fall of the splinters from the mast upon him. On the 25th March in mid-Atlantic, at 11 of P.M. our main mast fell, and brought down the mizzen top, & fore top masts, and fore top masts and we lay like a log upon the deep – we got under way, with jury masts, in 2 days, and found we were 2,000 miles from Demerara, & had only 2 weeks provisions on board for from 30-40 persons – we reached the Demerara light ship, when our provisions were almost all gone, & met in Georgetown the kindest of treatment from the Christian friends there. We left our ship to be repaired and in a fortnight sailed in a wind ballasted schooner for St. Thomas – The American Captain, & seamen were agreeable but not so the ship, as the vermin were abundant. – At St. Thomas we remained 18 days and spoke to the people daily & were taken before the judge for conducting worship in the town of Charlotte Smalie – but on reaching Jamaica in a fine large Sugar ship, we were glad to spend 7 weeks in visiting most parts of the Island to speak of Africa and of the openings we had found there – We next sailed for England, and reached London on Aug 8th with Mr. & Mrs. Merrick and again left in 1843 for Africa. I left with Mrs. Clarke, Mr. & Mrs. Hume, and Mr. & Mrs. Parker by way of Jamaica early, and leaving Mr. & Mrs. Hume in Jan, we reached Fernando Po, with the Christian settlers, 42 of us in all, in 1844. In 1846 we were forced from Clarence to Bumbia where Br. Merrick resided by the Spaniards, and took over much timber to form a settlement there, in about a year my health entirely failed from inflammation of the liver and my dear wife was brought very low. We left in 1847 in the Dover for Jamaica, and after some danger of being run down by a larger vessel at night, and an escape from the dangerous rocks near the Island of Antigua, we again in this small iron vessel of 56 tons, reached Jamaica in safety, and remained until 1848, when we left in the steamer for England.  I was ill for two years after my return but was able soon to travel for the society & continued, at deputation work, until we heard of the death of Mr. Merrick, when I was asked to return to Africa alone, for a year. I consulted Dr. Cahill, a killful physician who had been my doctor since my return & had been in the W. Indies, who affirmed it would be equal to an act of suicide for me to return to exposure & hardships on that coast. I could not, he thought, live six months there. I must soon die, from the climate or return with the liver in a worse state than it was in 1847. – I therefore declined, and gave some offence, I fear, to some friends in doing so – but I could not think it right for me uselessly to sacrifice my life, and put the society to expense, and leave my wife and daughter, a second time, for no really useful purpose – I soon saw that I would not return, even to Jamaica, unless I found the way there for myself. I might be sent to Haiti, to Trinidad, or even to Nassau in the Bahamas, but not to Jamaica.

            I offered to take a small church, & act as one to visit the churches for a part of the year, to keep alive an interest in Africa – I next was invited to take Hanover St and Mount Charles by the Pastors, but the people did not give the necessary invitations. I thought my former flock might call me to them again when Mr. Cornford left, but they did not; so I accepted a call from the church in the City of Perth and was happy with that church until the Cholera of 1851 had swept one of our ministers away. I was then invited to come to Westmoreland & I came to Savanna La mar, & Fuller’s Field, and remained there for 13 years, repairing the chapels and premises, & erecting a chapel at Sutcliffe Mount, renting a house in the Darliston Mountains, and preaching at Bunyan’s Mount, & at places around, from point Negril to Suldair, & Bunyan’s Mount, assisting also, in the absence of Mr. Yeall, at Lucea, and Green Island. At my own expense I brought out my nephew from Scotland who aided me for four years, and was of no expense, all the while, to the society – In the 13 years, I employed £1,300 in this way, which I could have obtained salary promised, but I simply lived, paid my way, and spent all the rest in keeping the stations in good repair. You will remember now I sold my best horse for £18-10 to help to pay for the shingling of the mission house, and had to borrow £25 from you, to bring me comfortably over to Jericho, when, I felt compelled to leave Westmoreland for lack of the necessary support from the people. A root of bitterness had sprung up to oppose, madness, called Revivalism, & other evils were the causes, which forced me to depart. I have not regretted coming here – I have been very happy and some good has been done. My dear wife has entered into rest, after a faithful companionship of over forty years, and I have now only my daughter to provide for when God shall be pleased to take me to himself. – You know what has been done here by yourself, and me in the covering of the Chapels at each place, & mission homes, the repair of the premises, erecting school houses, & other necessary buildings. – In this way I have only been able to keep, as my own, the amount left to my dear wife by her father, & her three brothers, which you know is not much – I left it with Mr. Hose, & he so manages it, as to pay £20 odd, a year for an Insurance of £300, with profits, in the Caledonian Office, Edinburgh, which I effected while in Perth, much of what I have been able to save here, has been lent to the stations, but as the late W. B.. Smith has sent me £25, on coming to my former station, with which I bought Mr. Aughton’s old chaise, which has served me well, and as I have no hope from promised rememberances [sic] in the will of a rich gentleman, this being before I went to Africa, & contingent on my dying in that land, and he having children of his own since, I can count on nothing for my daughter, but the Insurance, and what I may be able to save. – This last might reach nearly £200 and with this, I am told, a house in Kingston might be purchased; and that climate would suit my daughter, so weak in the lungs, the best – Mr. East, & Mr. Roberts are now looking out for such a purchase for me; as if secured and not immediately needed it could be rented out, and the purchase might prove a good investment of the money now in the saving bank – The Building Society would not suit me, and I should not like to make a purchase beyond my means – In doing this my mind wants to be freed from much of the anxiety I feel on account of my daughter; & I should feel I was acting the part of a Christian parent, and was not distrusting that kind providence which has guided, & watched over me all my days; now on the other hand, presumptuously looking to others, when I am gone, to care for her, for whom I am bound, not only by duty, but by gratitude to God for prolonging her life to be my helper and comfort, and to her, for making it her great concern to care for my health, and make me as happy and comfortable as it is well possible for me now to be-

            I have given my services unreservedly to the cause of God – I have never valued them highly, but have thanked God for condescending to employ me in his great work – When I see the Society in difficulties I only then wish I were rich to help them out of them, and am more disposed to struggle on, than to ask aid unless indeed God shall put it into the heart of any of his servants, to whom he has given the means, out of their abundance to lay up treasures in heaven and taking a larger share in that work, for which the world was made.

      I remain your ever affectionate brother,

      John Clarke”


     Anderson, Gerald H., ed., Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, p., 137