Mount Elvin Baptist Church sits quietly on a little knoll off Hindustan Road on the outskirts of New Grant in southern Trinidad. It is an unpretentious church and yet it can be considered the epicenter of the Baptist religion in Trinidad and Tobago. This church was established 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 War of 1812 between the British and the Americans were settled in Trinidad in what came to be known as the Company Villages. According to A.B. Huggins in his book “the Saga of the Companies” the term “Merikens” arose because these individuals could not properly pronounce the letter A in American. John McNish Weiss in his paper “The Corps of Colonial Marines” says that these “Merikin” soldiers were slaves in the USA who were promised their freedom if they fought for the British. Recruited by the British first in Maryland and Virginia and later in Georgia, they were a fighting unit much praised for valor and discipline.
When the British Army companies left for home in England in April 1815, the six Black companies became the 3rd Battalion Colonial Marines, garrisoned in Bermuda on Ireland Island. They did garrison duty and worked as artisans and laborers in the building of the new Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda. When transfer to the West India Regiments was proposed the men rejected the idea. Their persistent intransigence finally led the British government to offer to place them in Trinidad as independent farmers. On accepting the offer they left Bermuda on 15 July 1816.The first group of 71 settled in Dunmore Hill and Mount Elvin while the second group of 72 settled in Indian Walk.
These were religious people who followed the Baptist religion practiced in the southern United States. Although there were no clergymen among them there were 5 men who were described as Anabaptist preachers who held Sunday ceremonies. One of these men was known as Brother Will Hamilton. In 1808 the London Missionary Society (Baptist) sent workers to Guyana and Tobago and in 1809 one of them, Thomas Adam, relocated to Trinidad. He and later Reverend George Cowen while working on the establishment of St John’s Baptist Church in Port of Spain Trinidad also gave assistance to these African-American ex-slaves who were practicing a version of the Baptist faith. In time, the similarities of the religion led to the adoption of the missionaries’ version of the Baptist faith that came to be called in Trinidad, London Baptist.
Over time however, according to Ashram Stapleton in his book “The Birth and Growth of the Baptist Church in Trinidad and Tobago”, there developed a schism as some persons in the church wanted certain African practices included and the London Missionary Society frowned on those practices. Eventually these persons left the church and were first called the “Disobedient Baptists” and finally the Spiritual or Shouter Baptist. Other differences within the London Baptists then led to further variations of the Baptist religion with the development of the Independent Baptists and the Fundamental Baptists.
So today the Mount Elvin Baptist church sits quietly on its knoll, overlooking the fields that these African American ex-slaves toiled in and created, continuing in its adherence to the London Baptist version but having spawned the entire Baptist religion in Trinidad.