Sarah Ann Gill is one of Barbados’ ten National Heroes and only woman installed. She was responsible for protecting religion tolerance on the island during the early 19th century. She was born Ann, a free mulatto in February 1795 and active both before and after slavery was ended on the island. Her early life isn’t heavily documented and her relevance to the country’s history comes only after the Methodist missionaries are run out of Barbados.
Sarah Ann Gill joined the faith in 1820. It was following the death of her husband Alexander George Gill in 1823 that Ann Gill decided to do her part. Ann and her sister-in-law Christina offered her home as a house of worship after plantation owners attempted to stamp out the movement in Barbados. The church that the Gill family helped finance was burned down later in 1823.
The primary reason was that the Methodist missionaries who arrived in the 1780s were considered heavily anti-slavery. Their message spoke to Black slaves in the colony and that effectively made them a problem. Prior to Ann Gill taking up the cause, planters aggressively pursued the missionaries, eventually managed to run them out of the colony or at least reduce their influence. They then turned their attention to anyone still promoting the denomination—including Ann Gill.
The services held at Ann’s house were considered illegal in Barbados due to a longstanding law. The main issue was the congregation of six or more outside of a licensed church. Beyond the law, she was subjected to both verbal and physical violence as her house was targeted by gunfire.
The sinisterly named Secret Committee of Public Safety were the instigators of the violence and threats against her. They also pushed for the Assembly to bring her in on charges. Ann Gill met all legal challenges from the House Assembly at her own expense.
Her friend, Reverend Moses Rayner returned to Barbados in 1825 and built a new church. Built on land owned by Ann Gill, it is now the James Street Church. Later that year, the House of Commons finally announced that they would step in and grant religious tolerance to British subjects.
As a result of her work in keeping Methodism alive, she was given the name Sarah by the Methodist Church. She passed away in February 1866 and is buried in the churchyard of the James Street Church. Sarah Ann Gill was declared one of the National Heroes of Barbados in 1998. There are several churches on the island that bear her name in honor.
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