Born Ann Gill, she was a free, coloured woman who chose Methodism as her religion, a highly controversial religion in Barbados at the time. Sarah Ann Gill’s courage and conviction despite persecution and prosecution in her defence of the right for freedom of religion, protected the very existence of Methodism in Barbados when it was under severe threat. The Barbados Parliament has a museum that showcases Sarah Ann Gill and in the little glass cabinet they hold her original hymn book that she used back in the 1800s.
When the Methodist Church sent missionaries to Barbados early in the 19th century, Sarah embraced this faith and when white planters succeeded in ousting the missionaries from Barbados, she opened her home as a church and kept the faith going, against physical abuse — at one time shots were fired at her home. She donated the land on which the first Methodist Church was built in Barbados. For her exploits in standing firm against oppression in a society in which she was unlikely to find support firstly, as a non-white person, and, secondly, as a woman; she was named as a national heroine. The name Sarah was conferred on her by the Methodist Church in gratitude for her service and in recognition of the pivotal role she played, like Sarah of the Bible, in establishing an alternative to the white-dominated Church of England in Barbados.
A 28-year-old widow, Sarah Ann held regular worship services in the face of continued and active persecution. These included threats to burn down her house and two prosecutions in the law courts for holding “illegal” meetings. The latter came about as a result of the Conventicle Act of 1664 which forbade assembly of more than five persons for divine worship unless in a licensed meeting place and led by a licensed preacher.
Sarah Ann was persecuted continuously for one year with threats of grievous bodily harm, questioned by magistrates about supposedly having guns and ammunition in her home, and finally, prosecuted by the House of Assembly. On each occasion, and at her own expense, she not only defended herself and defied the authorities, but also took the extraordinary step of continuing to hold services in her home.
Governor Warde, censured by the Secretary of State for inaction, was forced to use soldiers to ensure the safety of Sarah Ann, her household and property when the Secret Committee of Public Safety (ringleaders of the persecution) declared that on October 19, 1824, they would destroy her home.
Instead, frustrated by the Governor, they could only burn her in effigy.
A woman of honour and perseverance and commitment to religious freedom, Sarah Ann was laid to rest on 25th February 1866 in the small cemetery at the back of James Street Chapel. The Gill Memorial Church at Eagle Hall was named after her and in the 1980s it was replaced by a new Gill Memorial Church at Fairfield Road, Black Rock.
|Barbados Parliament Museum, Bridgetown|
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