In April 2014, I spent a month on research leave in the West Indies, the majority of which was spent in Kingston, Jamaica. What a wonderful, enchanting place. But I was there on business. I learned lots about the long dead Scots who had been there two hundred years before me from archival sources but also from the surroundings. I visited several former plantations owned by Scots, such as Caymanas in St Catherine and Papine in St Andrew (now the University of the West Indies). However, in downtown Kingston, I also spent a really illuminating afternoon in St Andrews Scots Kirk. I have since undertaken extensive archival research on this establishment. I have recently delivered a paper on the Scots Kirk at the Scottish Religious Cultures Networks conference ‘Religion in Scotland: at home and abroad’ at Queens University Belfast in May 2015. It has since been accepted for publication and will most likely become my first post-Ph.D. publication. The Scots Kirk was built, of course, by Scots in the early nineteenth century which was comparatively late in the era of Caribbean slavery. In December 1813, a group of Scots petitioned local dignitaries in Kingston to establish a Presbyterian place of worship, evidently to follow the religion which they had been accustomed to as youths. Some of the most prominent Glasgow-West India merchant firms contributed finance, thus the connections between Glasgow and Kingston were both commercial and ecclesiastical.
The Kirk itself was octagonal shaped and based on a grand design. Indeed, opening was delayed by six years to 1819 due to the size and a lack of funding. The Kirk was evidently for the Scots plantocracy and the relationship with the enslaved population of Kingston was a little more complex but you’ll need to wait for the publication for that. Although the original building was damaged by an earthquake, they re-built it in accordance with the plans of the original. As I walked around the Kirk in April 2014, I thought about the many Scots who had been in there in a very different time. I saw many reminders of home. Understandably, Scottish clergy had a prominent role in exporting Scottish Presbyterianism to Kingston. Like the Reverend James Watson, 19 years a pastor of the Scots Kirk and missionary in Jamaica. Born in Johnstone in 1799, he was one of the few who managed to return home and died in Edinburgh in 1873. I wondered if Watson was an abolitionist, or if he was guilty of what one historian has described as ‘Presbyterian hypocrisy’. I also saw very tangible reminders of the connections with Glasgow and Kingston. Like the memorial to Andrew Scott, born in Penicuik in March 1804. A merchant in Kingston, he died in London and was buried in Glasgow Necropolis. The memorial also referred to his wife, Anna Maria Mayne, who died on the passage from Jamaica to Scotland in 1843. Their children, some of whom were born in Kingston, were also mentioned. No doubt they all worshipped and perhaps were married or christened in the Scots Kirk. Other memorials testified to the elevated status of Scots in Kingston in the post-slavery period. Another Andrew Scott, late merchant and magistrate of Kingston, died at Rothesay in January 1866, aged 42. The monument was erected by his widow and brother, suggesting they had remained in Kingston whilst he went home temporarily. The members of the Scots Kirk remembered him for his excellence as an office-bearer and his ‘unwearied efforts to promote its prosperity and & perpetuity’. And perpetuate it did. St Andrews Scots Kirk still remains an active place of worship today although as far as I am aware, there are no formal connections with the Church of Scotland as it was disestablished in the twentieth century to join with other Caribbean Churches. I still found it amazing that little historical dots of Scots, including their places of exploitation and worship, remained in Kingston over two hundred years later.