Today the Baton arrives in The Bahamas, a country which has many links to Glasgow and Scotland.
Matters of religion and missionary work were central to the movement of people from Scotland to the Bahamas as it was settled. Many Anglican and Scottish churches were established in the Caribbean in order satisfy the religious needs of the British. Certainly the ‘New World’ of the western hemisphere had a tradition of religious freedom which the church of the secession, Presbyterianism, seemed to benefit from.
One church in particular has a tangible link with the University of Glasgow. The Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk was founded in Nassau in 1810 by a group of Scottish settlers, many of whom were loyalists expelled from the United States after the American Revolution, in order to maintain the traditions of the Scottish Church.
John Rae, who studied Greek at the University, was the first minister employed at St. Andrews from 1810-1815. In a source dated to 1810, there is a valuable insight into his duties at the newly established kirk:
‘We trust their worthy minister, the Rev. John Rae, will long live to publish the pure unadulterated gospel of Christ to them… and to illustrate their sanctifying and ennobling influence is his own holy and useful life’.
Thus it was not just the intent of the church at this time to serve only Scottish settlers. It was also established to spread the word of God to the former slave population who were coming in increasing numbers to the British colony after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
The link between the University of Glasgow and St. Andrew’s Kirk did not end with Rae. Sometime later in 1827, William McLure, a theology graduate of the University of Glasgow, became minister at the same church where he remained until his death in 1863. In 1926 one Andrew Douglas came to the University to study medicine from the Bahamas where his father, the Reverend Andrew Douglas, was minister at St. Andrew’s in Nassau and was said to encourage Gaelic speaking there, sometimes even preaching in Gaelic.
In a wider sense, the Bahamas still bears evidence of Scottish cultural influence. Many place names still have a clear Scottish heritage, for example Dumfries (Cat Island) and Cargill Creek (Andros Island). There is even a tartan for the Bahamas commemorating the early Scottish settlers, and reflecting the impact of Scottish diaspora across the new world and the meeting of many different cultures and traditions there. It was formally approved by the Bahamas government in 1966.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk is still functioning in Nassau today but in 2010 became part of a U.S denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, when the Church of Scotland released its overseas missions. Nonetheless the Scottish heritage remains in the establishment and continuation of St. Andrew’s which has born witness to over 200 years of Bahamian history.
By Poppy Brooks, Caribbean Commonwealth, Club 21