Mount Elvin Baptist Church sits quietly on a small knoll off Hindustan Road on the outskirts of New Grant in southern Trinidad. It is an unassuming church and yet it can be considered the epicenter of the Baptist religion in Trinidad and Tobago. This church was founded in 1816 and the significance of that date has to do with the settlement of the “Merikens” in Trinidad in that year.
In 1816, demobilized Africans who had served in the British Army during the British-American War of 1812 settled in Trinidad in what became known as the Company Villages. According to AB Huggins in his book “The Company Saga”, the term “Merikens” arose because these individuals could not correctly pronounce the letter A in American. John McNish Weiss in his article “The Corps of Colonial Marines” says that these “Merikin” soldiers were slaves in the United States who were promised their freedom if they fought for the British. Recruited by the British first in Maryland and Virginia and then in Georgia, they were a combat unit highly praised for their courage and discipline.
When the British Army companies left for England in April 1815, the six black companies became the 3rd Battalion of Colonial Marines, garrisoned in Bermuda on the island of Ireland. They garrisoned and worked as craftsmen and laborers in the construction of the new Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda. When transfer to the West Indian Regiments was proposed, the men rejected the idea. Their persistent intransigence eventually led the British government to offer to place them in Trinidad as independent farmers. By accepting the offer, they left Bermuda on July 15, 1816. The first group of 71 settled on Dunmore Hill and Mount Elvin, while the second group of 72 settled on Indian Walk.
They were religious people who followed the Baptist religion that was practiced in the southern United States. Although there were no clergymen among them, there were 5 men who were described as Anabaptist preachers who performed Sunday ceremonies. One of these men was known as Brother Will Hamilton. In 1808 the London (Baptist) Missionary Society sent workers to Guyana and Tobago and in 1809 one of them, Thomas Adam, moved to Trinidad. He and later the Reverend George Cowen, while working on the establishment of the Iglesia Bautista de San Juan in Port of Spain, Trinidad, also provided assistance to these former African American slaves who practiced a version of the Baptist faith. Over time, similarities in religion led to the adoption of the missionaries’ version of the Baptist faith that came to be called in Trinidad, London Baptist.
However, over time, according to Stapleton Ashram in his book “The Birth and Growth of the Baptist Church in Trinidad and Tobago,” a schism developed as some people in the church wanted certain African practices to be included and the Society Missionary from London disapproved of these practices. . Eventually these people left the church and were called first the “Disobedient Baptists” and finally the spiritual or crying Baptist. Other differences within the London Baptists led to further variations of the Baptist religion with the development of the Independent Baptists and Fundamental Baptists.
So today the Mount Elvin Baptist Church sits quietly on its mound, overlooking the fields these former African American slaves worked and created, continuing in their adherence to the London Baptist version but having spawned the entire Baptist religion in Trinidad.