Constructed in 1824 by the slaves of John Cottle – a former president of Nevis – and drawing inspiration from the churches in the west of England, the Anglican chapel was the first in the Caribbean that was created to allow slaves and plantation owners to worship together. Cottle and his companions were instrumental in bringing about an end to slavery, and there is a pavilion set aside from the church with extensive historical notes that offer an insight into the remarkable achievements of these men.
The names and ages of the original congregation are detailed on a plaque in the church, a moving tribute to the people who lived as slaves.
Cottle died in 1828, five years before the Slavery Abolition Act was introduced that formally freed nearly a million African slaves. In 1834, the British government distributed over £20 million to former slave owners (nearly £16 billion in today’s money) as compensation for their loss of ‘property’; this represented almost 40% of government expenditure that year and prior to 2009 was the largest bailout in British history. In late September 2015, the British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Jamaica and declared to a group of MPs that although slavery was ‘abhorrent in all its forms’, there was no plan to make reparations for the slave trade. Caribbean countries must, he said, ‘move on’.
The day I visited the site, a youth group of Seventh Day Adventists were holding a service in the shade of an obliging tree – a serene acknowledgement of the church’s original purpose to provide a safe space for people to worship. Their bright dresses and gentle laughter were the perfect reminder of everything Cottle had wanted to achieve. The church is a romantic and enchanting part of Nevis’ fascinating history.
Google Maps: Cottle Church
Jane Thomas is a freelance writer who has loved spending the last month on the beautiful island of Nevis. She is creating a series of pieces for the Four Seasons Resort Estates, exploring the unique charms and corners of an island that will inevitably draw her back time and time again.
Banner Photo: Jane Thomas