West Indies

Nathaniel Gilbert's house   Click to enlarge
Methodism was introduced into Antigua in the early 1760s by Nathaniel Gilbert, when he began preaching to his own household and to his slaves and formed a society which grew to 200 members during his lifetime. After his death, a Mulatto woman and a Negress kept it together until the shipwright John Baxter arrived in 1778 and took over the leadership. Thomas Coke's missionary Address of 1786 included the West Indies among the four proposed mission fields and on Christmas morning that year he landed at St. John's, Antigua, with three missionary companions appointed by the British Conference. They were stationed in Antigua, St. Vincent and St. Christopher. On later visits he left missionaries in Dominica, Barbados, Nevis, Tortola and Jamaica. By the time of his fourth and last visit to the islands in 1792-93, membership had grown to 6,570 and there were twelve missionaries stationed in ten of the islands. The mission was extended to the Bahamas in 1803 and to Trinidad (ruled by the Spanish until 1797) in 1809. When Coke died in 1814, in spite of opposition from some of the plantation owners, who persecuted both missionaries and their converts, there were twelve Caribbean circuits with a membership of 17,000. Later developments included Haiti (1817) and Honduras (1825).

The West Indies were therefore British Methodism's earliest mission field, with the negro slaves being its main concern and beneficiaries.Two parallel Annual West Indian Conferences, East and West, were set up and met in 1884. A Triennial General Conference met in 1885, 1888 and 1891, but from 1894 ceased to be held (the East and West Conferences continuing). But for financial reasons, in 1903 the WMMS resumed responsibility for the work. Finally, in 1967 the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) was inaugurated, with its headquarters in Antigua, bringing together seven former Methodist Districts (Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Panama/Costa Rica, South Caribbean) with another (Bahamas) added in 1968. Methodism is a partner in the ecumenical United Theological College in Kingston, Jamaica; and in Antigua Methodists and Anglicans share in the work of the Gilbert Ecumenical Centre. In 1956 the missions that later formed the MCCA reported a membership totalling 66,700 with a community roll of 252,200. By 2002 the MCCA had a reported membership of 195,971 and an estimated community of 478,960.

  • Thomas Coke, History of the West Indies (3 vols., 1808-11)
  • Thomas Coke, Journals, new edition, ed. John A. Vickers (Nashville, 2005)
  • Report of the Principal Speaches delivered at the formation of the Methodist Missionary Society for the Leeds District, October 6 1813
  • William Moister, A History of Wesleyan Missions (1871) pp.109-54
  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924), vol. 2
  • London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1960
  • John A. Vickers, Thomas Coke, Apostle of Methodism (1969) pp.149-72, 299-303
  • John Pritchard, Methodists and their Missionary Societies 1760-1900 (2013), pp.161-80