This country’s lone female national hero, the Right Excellent Sarah Ann Gill has been described as a trailblazer and a champion for non-violent resistance in Barbados.
This is the view of historian and researcher, Dr. Henderson Cater, who was speaking during the third annual National Heroes Lecture yesterday in the West Wing of Parliament.
Calling her the Rosa Parks of the 1800s, he said she brought non-violent resistance to Barbados some 100 years before Mahatma Gandhi and some 140 years before the civil rights movement in the United States.
Dr. Carter added that her stance against this planter class was even more significant as she was perhaps the first woman in Barbados to fight against the establishment, even when the Governor was fearful and appointed missionaries were afraid to visit the island.
According to the historian, Ms. Gill defied the plantocracy at a time when women could not vote, could take no part in the political process and free coloureds were still subject to racial abuse.
Dr. Carter believes that against this backdrop, Mrs. Gill’s efforts represented a very bold political statement for women.
"Gill’s stance earned her respect… In standing up to [the plantation owners], Gill was saying that women should have the right and freedom of association and the freedom of expression.
Her stance introduced a method of non-violence against severe oppression… In her letters, she called for prayer and saw good coming out of her experience, even though 200 men surrounded her house waiting to pull it down… She is truly deserving of the honour bestowed upon her in 1998 by the Barbados Government," Dr. Carter remarked.
He stressed that the 28-year-old widow struck a decisive blow for religious tolerance in Barbados, which kept the Methodist religion alive when it could have so easily folded.
In addition, Mrs. Gill’s exploits against the planter class reached as far as England, with the issue debated in the House of Commons in 1825, led by Thomas Buxton, a noted abolitionist.
Dr. Carter is of the view that her stance on slavery helped to nudge the anti-slavery movement from a process of gradualism and "kick-start a fresh campaign for full abolition."
The historian also called on the Ministry of Education to reintroduce history in the secondary schools’ curriculum, in forms one to three, and have modules taught on the national heroes.