In the civil marriage and birth records of St Kitts, my husband’s 2nd great grandfather Richard Johnson Marshall is listed as a school master, with race recorded as “colored”. It is known that he was born about 1845 on the nearby British West Indian island of Antigua, only a few years after the abolition of slavery in 1834. As a formal education was discouraged by British authorities and West Indian slave owners before emancipation, what was Richard’s path to his position as a teacher on St Kitts?
The answer was found in an unlikely place – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the Moravian Church Archives. In a old book labeled “1860-1863 Antigua Candidates for Communion”, male and female Moravian congregation members were listed with attendance records and notes on whether they were confirmed or married. In a very few instances, unmarried men had the note “Mico” next to their names. A Richard Marshall was one of these men.
The Moravian church, with roots in the fifteenth century Czech Republic, is a protestant sect that has emphasized missionary outreach to less developed areas of the world. Although Moravian missionaries in the West Indies accepted slavery, they felt that part of converting enslaved people to Christianity was providing them with an education. Before emancipation, the Moravians had started schools for children of African descent on islands including Antigua and St Kitts. Just after abolition, missionaries on Antigua opened a school there with the specific goal of preparing young boys to qualify for acceptance to a local teacher training program. They hoped to produce young male teachers that could be sent out to islands across the West Indies. The teacher training program had been established for young people of the “negro and colored races” by the Mico Charity.
The Mico Charity was founded in 1670 in the will of a British aristocrat named Lady Mico. She left a large sum of money for the purpose of buying the freedom of English men who had been forced into slavery in North Africa. In 1835, with a push from members of the Anti-Slavery Society in England, the fund was applied to the cause of educating newly-freed young people of the West Indies as teachers. Although the school was non-denominational, religious education was an important part of the curriculum, and a teacher there was to have “satisfactory recommendations as to his religious and general character”.
A man named John Miller was appointed as a Mico superintendent and sent to Antigua in 1838 to scout out a good location for a new school. He enthusiastically wrote back to his superiors about what he saw as a great need for education there:
“… the wickedness that prevails here… convinces me that this must be the scene of my labors… Here are the ball-rooms! Grog Shop and brothels… It is a very Sink of Sin.”
The school was established in St. Johns, Antigua, and produced teachers who were sent out to the Virgin Islands, the British West Indies, and as far south as Trinidad and Tobago.
Was Richard Johnson Marshall one of these teachers? It looks very likely, as the names, places, times, and circumstances all fit. He was recorded as attending the Mico School in the early 1860s in Antigua. He would have been in his late teens at that time, given his approximate birth year. He shows up on St Kitts in 1866, when he married Ann Marie Richardson at the Moravian Chapel in Estridge, and was listed as “full” age, meaning he was at least 21 years old. His appearance in St Kitts jives with the mission of Mico schools to send their teachers out to other West Indian islands. In the birth records of his many children born in parishes on both St Kitts and Nevis from 1868 to 1891, his occupation was recorded as school master.
A similar story was shown on the BBC program “Who Do You Think You Are”, about the West Indian branch of journalist and newscaster Moira Stuart’s family tree. Her ancestor from Antigua was also educated by Moravian missionaries, and he was sent to the island of Dominica to work as a teacher.
- Family Search library, various microfilms of civil records for St Kitts and Nevis
- Moravian Archives in Bethlehem PA, the official repository for the records of the Moravian Church in America – Northern Province, including churches in the United States, Canada, and the eastern West Indies
- The British Missionary Enterprise since 1700 by Jeffrey Cox, Routledge, 2007
- A Brief History of the Moravian Church, Moravian Church in North America website, 2017
- The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions by Patrick Taylor and Frederick I. Case, University of Illinois Press 2013 – background on Moravian schools in the West Indies and establishment of the Mico school in Antigua
- The Mico Charity Schools in the British West Indies, 1835-1842 by Frank J. Kingsberg in the Journal of Negro History, July 1939
- Moira Stuart episode of BBC program Who Do You Think You Are in 2004
I find this very inspirational ,& some thing very instrested would love to learn more about st kitts Nevis thank for ur out put
My great great great grandfather was also a schoolmaster in St. Kitts in the 1870s and 1880s. My great great grandfather was born in St. Kitts but later moved to St. Lucia to become a schoolmaster in the 1900s. I’m trying to track down records of the old Mico college to see whether I can figure out whether they were trained there. Do you know where they might be? I find it interesting that you found the records in the Moravian Church because my great grandmother always said her father was a Moravian.
How interesting! It’s certainly possible that there is a Mico connection, especially if your g-g-grandfather was a Moravian. There is one Mico school still remaining, the Mico University College in Jamaica. I have tried in the past to contact their library, to see if they have any information on former students, but haven’t gotten any response. You might also want to look at some of the Moravian records from St Kitts (and other islands) that have been digitized and are available online – take a look at https://dloc.com/results/?t=st%20moravian. If you give me the names of your gg and ggg-grandfathers, I would be happy to keep an eye out for them in my research!
Are you aware of any rosters for the school in Antigua from the early 1890s?
No, I’m not aware. I have tried contacting the remaining Mico School in the Caribbean, located in Jamaica, but I haven’t been able to get any response. I would think that there might have been yearbooks, or at least class lists. This is their library webpage: https://themico.edu.jm/mymico/library/
Maybe I’ll try again to contact them.