Images de page

heavy trials, and without seeing any fruit from their labours, the time arrived, when, having sown in tears, they were permitted to reap in joy. Towards the close of the year 1747 they had the satisfaction, which they had so long and ardently prayed for, perceiving that it pleased God to excite an earnest desire after his word among the Arawaks, who frequently visited them, entreating to hear more of Christ crucified. This inflamed the zeal of the missionaries to return their visits; and the very women, who had formerly fled at their approach, now became their guides through the wood. Passing by the huts of such as were disposed to mock and ridicule their endeavours, they conducted them to those dwellings of the Indians, where they knew they would find eager hearers. Wherever they came they met with a welcome reception; all the inhabitants seated themselves around them, and listened to their discourse with the greatest silence and eagerness.

In March 1748, an aged Arawak Indian woman obtained admission to the church of Christ by holy baptism. She was the first of her tribe who had been received into the Christian church; and about forty of her countrymen were present at this solemn transaction: and it made such a deep impression upon them, that several of them came the next day, and with much importunity begged to be admitted to the same privilege. The change wrought in the baptized was visible in their whole conduct. This had such an effect upon others that hardly a week passed, in which this sacred rite was not administered to one or more converts, on their profession of faith in Jesus. By the end of June the baptized amounted to thirty-nine, among whom were several aged people.

Many of the converts could not endure the thoughts of leaving the missionaries and again returning to their former places of abode, and therefore requested permission to erect some huts on the land of the settlement, promising to cultivate a piece of ground for their support. The missionaries the more joyfully acceded to this proposal, as, by having them thus constantly near them, they would be the better able to teach them "to observe all things whatsoever Jesus hath commanded." This outweighed every consideration of the trouble and expense connected with such an arrangement, for they must maintain all these people till the cassabi sown on the new ground was ready for reaping; most of the produce of their former fields having been stolen by the savages. By the end of the year, eighty Indians, including children, lived in the settlement.

Before the brethren in Europe could receive this gratifying intelligence, the directors of the missions had come to a resolution to appoint a man of learning to superintend the establishment at Pilgerhut, conceiving that he would more easily acquire a knowledge of the language and other local circumstances. They found a person well qualified for the office, and willing to undertake it, in Theophilus Schuman, late a tutor in the Protestant cloister of Bergen, in Saxony. He arrived in the country in the autumn of 1748, and in one year attained to such proficiency in the vernacular language that he could translate several portions of the Holy Scriptures, and converse with the natives without an interpreter. He closed his useful and active life in the scene of his labours, October 6, 1760, after serving this and the other missionary institutions of the United Brethren in Guiana, for twelve years, with indefatigable zeal and faithfulness.

While the missionaries were filled with joy and gratitude for the success which had attended their endeavours, and heeded no difficulties or labours which might in any degree further the cause in which they had embarked; their adversaries were not remiss in their attempts to oppose the growing work. Some White people, displeased with the conversion of the Indians, tried to make them jealous of the missionaries; and when this did not succeed, they insinuated that the numerous assemblies at Pilgerhut might

tend to excite a rebellion, and that it would be wise in government positively to prohibit these meetings for the future.

The governor, Mr. Loesner, paid no attention to these representations; but on every occasion testified the pleasure he felt in contemplating the blessing of God, which so evidently rested on the labours of the missionaries. But it was not long before an unfavourable change took place. Mr. Loesner received his dismission; and though he most warmly recommended the mission to his successor, it soon appeared that this gentleman was not very favourably disposed towards the missionaries. Shortly after his arrival he summoned them to appear before the Council, and on their appearance he read to them the orders of the directors in Amsterdam, requiring their taking a formal oath; adding, that, in case of refusal, he would send them back by the first ship to Europe. Schuman answered, that, as some of them had scruples of conscience respecting taking an oath, they would abide by the declaration made on their arrival in the country, and, in case of a breach of their simple affirmation, they would consider themselves liable to the same penalty as if they had been guilty of perjury. Having replied with modesty and firmness to some other questions, and remonstrated against several restrictions intended to be imposed on their labours, their adversaries were silenced, and the Council finally resolved, that their simple affirmation should be accepted instead of an oath.

The enemies of the mission, who for some time had expressed their joy at its approaching destruction, finding themselves thus disappointed, again resorted to their former contrivance, and endeavoured to render the Indians suspicious of the missionaries, by insinuating that they would make them slaves. But, though the idea of slavery was more formidable to these people than death itself, they were so firmly persuaded of the sincerity and affection of their teachers, that the White people effected nothing by these false insinuations. Thus the missionaries enjoyed a season of rest and tranquillity, and the number of the congregation was gradually increased.

In the beginning of the year 1750, a deputation of eleven Indians arrived at Pilgerhut from the Spanish possession on the river Oronoco. These people had been visited by one of the Christian Indians, and his conversation had made such an impression upon their minds that they now came to hear the "great word" from the missionaries themselves. Their embassy led to the result, that several Pagans from that territory (a distance of about eight or ten days' journey) embraced the Gospel and settled at Pilgerhut. A visit made by some of the converts to their relatives on the river Corentyn was followed by consequences equally pleasing. Their testimony excited the astonishment of their friends, who sent a deputation of seven men to Pilgerhut to inquire what the good news was which the missionaries announced to the Indians in the name of their Creator. Before the end of the year, several companies, consisting of fifteen or twenty persons, came from those parts to settle at Pilgerhut. The missionaries remark: "It is impossible to behold these people without deep emotion. There are some very aged persons among them, who have come hither on crutches, a journey of four or five days. They have left a district, where they had abundance of provisions, and now are satisfied with a very small pittance, that they may daily hear of Jesus. Without reckoning those who occasionally visit us, there are at present three hundred belonging to our congregation, of whom two hundred live in the settlement."

Scarcely had the missionaries been enlivened by this pleasing progress of their labours when new troubles broke out. Their enemies, at home and abroad, were still secretly plotting the ruin of their establishment. One of the directors of the Surinam Trading Company arrived from Holland, with unlimited powers to make such regulations as should be deemed most ad

vantageous to the trade. This gentleman lent a willing ear to the complaints, that the endeavours of the missionaries for the conversion of the Indians were injurious to the interests of the Company. In November brother Schuman was summoned before him and the governor. The former in an imperious tone demanded that the missionaries should not draw the Indians to their settlement, but let them live dispersed in the woods; that they should clothe their converts, and pay a personal tax for them, equivalent to that charged on the White people. He more particularly insisted, that the Indians should be required to lend their services to the Dutch colony, and that the missionaries should be compelled to take the oath prescribed, perform military duty, and appear on the parade. To every one of these demands Schuman replied in so satisfactory and convincing a manner, that the conscience of the director was touched; and he remarked, not without considerable emotion, "that he knew the Brethren were quiet, peaceable, and regular people, but that he was not authorized to exempt them from bearing arms and taking oaths. If his superiors in Holland would grant them a dispensation from these duties, he would not only make no objection but assist them as far as he could and allow them eight months in order to refer their petition to the mother-country." He dismissed Schuman with expressions of kindness, and a few days after was suddenly removed by death.

The vexations of the missionaries, however, did not terminate here. Once the governor sent some soldiers to Pilgerhut, who forcibly compelled two of the Christian Indians to serve in the colony. This so terrified the rest, that many of them fled into the forest: by degrees, however, they all returned. When new missionaries arrived in 1751, they were again commanded to take an oath; and those who had scruples of conscience on this point were obliged to return in the same ship to Europe. This greatly increased the labours of those who remained, especially as one of their number, after six years' faithful service, had departed this life.

For several years no further impediments were thrown in the way of their operations. Their plain, but zealous, testimony respecting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had a powerful influence in convincing the heathen, and establishing their converts in the faith. The visits of Indians from distant regions still continued, and through them the knowledge of the Gospel was widely diffused. Many came and took up their residence at Pilgerhut; among whom were some of the rudest and most ferocious tribe, being considered even by the Arawaks as the greatest barbarians, for they were said to feast upon the flesh of those whom they had taken and killed in war. But the doctrine of the cross of Christ tamed these tigers in human shape, and changed their ferocity into the meekness of the lamb.

The congregation increased in piety, and evinced their faith by a conduct and conversation consistent with their Christian profession, and by the simple utterance of their feelings when they described the change wrought in them by Divine grace, and their desire to press forward to the mark set before them. One of them, wishing to write to the Brethren in Europe, dictated the following: "Having arrived at manhood, I spent many years without any knowledge of my Saviour. When I afterwards became desirous to experience what I heard, it was granted me. Jesus has cleansed me in his blood, and delivered me from my disobedience. This truth, that he died and shed his blood for me, hath conquered and captivated my heart : this I can never forget; and therefore will I love him with all my soul, and daily give my whole heart to him. I fervently pray that he will keep me, and never suffer me to stray from him, or lose the impression of his death and sufferings. His love to me is astonishingly great, therefore hath he

drawn me to himself." Another expressed himself thus: "I love my Creator with my whole heart, and I rejoice that when I leave this earth I shall go to him, and worship at his feet, who hath washed me from my sins in his own blood. He gives me eternal life. He knows my heart, I had gone astray from him; but he appeared and took away my polluted, evil, and flinty heart, and gave me a heart of flesh: for his blood hath purified and softened it. It remains deeply impressed on my mind, that he hath shed his blood for me: He hath granted me the grace that I can leave this world in assured hope, and full of joy go to him and behold him as he is." In this confident expectation of eternal glory, the missionaries saw several of their converts removed to a better world; the fear of death being completely vanquished by faith, and the hope of immortality.

Another circumstance which greatly promoted the prosperity of the mission was, that about this time several of the converts were sufficiently advanced in knowledge, and prepared by the Spirit of God, to assist in preaching the Gospel. These assistants afforded the missionaries essential service, especially in visiting and discoursing with the savages, and in accompanying their Christian countrymen when going out to hunt, or fish, or till their fields, which lay at some distance in the woods. On these occasions large parties used to go together and remain several days, or even weeks, away from the settlement. The assistants, who accompanied them, held daily meetings for prayer and exhortation, endeavoured to preserve good order and maintain brotherly love among them; and gave in reports to the missionaries, with a view that, as far as possible, every thing might be averted which might tend to injure the cause of the Gospel. They had now, within the space of eight years, since God began visibly to bless their labours, baptized three hundred and sixty-seven persons, of whom forty-eight had died. At the close of the year 1756 there resided at Pilgerhut two hundred and thirty-three persons, besides some children not yet baptized, and, reckoning the converts who resided in the neighbourhood, the whole number amounted to upwards of three hundred.

This hopeful progress of the work was about this time slightly threatened by a demand made by the new governor, M. Van Ryswyk, that they should send away all those Christian Indians who belonged to the Berbice territory. But, upon proper representation, that not one in ten of those who lived in the settlement had come from that territory, and that they never wished to interfere with the affairs of the Dutch colony, he withdrew his demand, commended their benevolent exertions, and ever after befriended them.

Under these favourable auspices they and their flock of converted Indians began the year 1757 with joy and thanksgiving, happily unconscious of the heavy sufferings which God, infinitely wise and righteous in all his works, in the sequel permitted to assail them, doubtless to try their faith and constancy. The wife of Schuman having unexpectedly departed this life while her husband was at Paramaribo on the concerns of the mission, he found it necessary to visit Europe in 1758. Thus Pilgerhut was left without an ordained minister, and the two missionaries, who resided there and had hitherto assisted in the ministry, did not think themselves authorized to baptize or dispense the Lord's Supper; and an ordained minister who was expected from North America did not arrive, as he could find no ship bound for Surinam. This proved injurious to the spiritual welfare of the congregation. To add to their discouragements, a contageous disease broke out the following year, and raged for many months, spreading consternation and death through the whole country. Not less than forty of the Christian Indians died within one year, and, as numbers had left the settlement, and many of those who remained were confined by illness, CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 375. X

Divine service was attended by no more than ten or twelve persons. This distress was further augmented by a dearth of provisions in the Berbice territory.

When Schuman returned in the spring of 1760, he found the congregation greatly diminished, and the whole country in the most deplorable situation. Nearly one half of the Dutch colonists, and also the governor, had been carried off by the prevailing epidemic. His arrival, however, revived the faith of the missionaries, and diffused new life through the congregation. But their joy was of short duration; for in less than six months after his return, it pleased the Great Head of the church to call him to his eternal rest. His removal appeared an irreparable loss to the mission; and the wound inflicted by this event was opened afresh a few weeks after, when two active young missionaries, who had come with him from Europe, likewise finished their earthly pilgrimage.

The contagion still raged with unabating violence, and the famine became so general, and rose to such a pitch, that the Indians for months had nothing to sustain life but wild roots and fruits. The missionaries, indeed, obtained a scanty supply from Paramaribo; but their fare was exceedingly coarse and it occasioned frequent attacks of illness. In consequence of these calamities Pilgerhut was almost deserted; and this settlement, which two years before contained nearly four hundred inhabitants, was at the end of 1762 reduced to twenty-two.

Still the missionaries were determined not to abandon their post, but, in hope of better times, patiently to persevere in their labours. Towards the end of February 1763 they were alarmed in the night by the discharge of cannon; and the next day they received intelligence that the Negroes had risen in rebellion, murdering several White people, and obliging the rest to fly. The insurgents had already cut off all communication with the Fort by land or water. The next day, hearing that the rebels were within a few miles of the settlement, they resolved to proceed withous loss of time to Demerara. They effected their escape by water in two companies; the missionaries Beutel and Climan, together with the wife of the former, and the widow Bambay, still remaining at Pilgerhut, in order, if possible, to retain possession of it. But for the sake of safety they spent the night in the wood. The fugitives encamped in a thick forest on the banks of a small river, about nine miles from Pilgerhut. Of the subsequent events, Beutel, one of those who had remained in the settlement, gives the following relation :

"March 5th I went to Matare to learn the disposition of the Negroes towards us. They told me that they would not harm us, well knowing that the Brethren had not done them any hurt; but they could not be answerable for the more embittered Negroes, who threatened to murder all the White people, and intended to come to Pilgerhut that day. On receiving this intelligence we penetrated farther into the wood, and encamped there. Here we were visited by seven Negroes, whose looks were rather savage: but they departed in peace, after taking our two best guns, promising not to injure us, as we were good people. We, however, thought it most prudent now to join the rest of our brethren. Upon this, some of the missionaries immediately proceeded to Demerara, where they met with a kind and hospitable reception. Climan, Vester, and myself, went once more to the settlement to fetch away such of our things as had not been taken by the Negroes, and on the 2d of April we commenced our final emigration. Having at length arrived at Demerara, Mr. Finnet very kindly provided us with the necessary accommodations on his estate; and the Christian Indians who came with us likewise found here the needful means of support."

« PrécédentContinuer »