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Robert Gordon, 1836-85

                                                                                                                 London, 1885

 In a letter written in January 1868, Robert Gordon gave a brief account of his background and upbringing:

I am a native of Jamaica, and of pure African blood. My parents were natives 
of the same place - my mother was a well-educated, pious, amiable woman, who, 
although dead for nearly a quarter of a century, yet the grateful remembrance 
of her Christian character cannot but be specially endearing to me - She was a 
Methodist, and so was my father - They both did everything in their power to 
make me follow the denomination to which they were attached - But finding that 
my religious sympathies were with the Church of England, to which I was 
instinctively inclined, they eventually permitted me to follow my own path.

Robert Gordon was born in 1836, presumably in Kingston. His parents, as good Methodists, were probably members of either Coke Chapel on East Parade or even more likely Wesley Chapel on Tower Street.

Robert Gordon also wrote of his early contacts with the Church of England.

There is a Church in Kingston, St Michael's, into which I used to stroll every evening when returning from school, whilst it was being built, at the consecration of which, though a boy of only about 10 years, I vowed to devote myself to the ministry of the Church of England, and in which, in after years, I frequently preached. 

Robert Gordon did not identify the school he attended, but since he later taught at East Branch Church of England School, it is possible he had been a pupil there. His walk home took him past St Michael's Church, so it is possible that the family lived in Rae Town, where Black Kingstonians had bought house plots in the early 19th century.

 In the Church of England in the 1850s:

Bishop's Book No 4 page 169 (Jamaica Archives) 
Robert Gordon: Licensed as Catechist and Lay Reader,
Highgate District, [nr Sligoville] St Catherine;  April 4 1853

I, therefore, became a Catechist at the age of 17, and determined to educate myself for the position. (letter, Jaanuary, 1868)

In the same 1868 letter Robert Gordon  gave his account of his unsuccesful attempts to enter the priesthood of the Church of England between 1853 and 1858:

I had to undergo difficulties of a most extraordinary character, yet I 
presented myself for examination on arriving at the canonical age of 23 
- As it has ever been the policy of the Jamaica Church to exclude the 
black man from preaching the gospel, obstacles were ever after studiously 
raised to prevent the realization of my object. - The wrongs and injuries 
done me, because I did not feel disposed to expatriate myself to Africa, 
must ever be remembered by me with anything else but pleasure - I 
persevered for years, and, finally, as the Bishop of Kingston, who was 
afraid of offending his Clergy by the ordination of a Negro, would neither 
say Yes, nor No to my being admitted to the Diaconate, I quitted the 
country for England, where I arrived in the early part of 1858, with the 
view of obtaining Deacon's orders from the Bishop of London.

1. If Robert Gordon was 17 in 1853, as suggested by the Bishop's Book               entry, he would not have been 23 until 1859; 

2. There is no indication of the education which would have been necessary              to prepare him to become an ordinand; 

3. By leaving Jamaica in 1858 he seems to have indicated a level of impatience  which other young men in his position eschewed; for instance, Robert Love in      the Bahamas (born 1835 or 1839), a contemporary of Gordon, did not give up      his hopes there until the late 1860s.

 Bishop Courtenay gave his account of the situation in relation to Robert Gordon
in 1853-8 in a circular to the clergy in 1861 after Gordon's return to the island:

 KINGSTON, APRIL 22, 1861 

.... The case of Mr. Gordon has often received my most serious consideration. Since I entered this Diocese in 1853, it

 has been my desire and endeavor, as Examining Chaplain, as Lecturer in Theology, and as Bishop, at once to raise 

the standard of qualifications in Holy Orders, and to encourage youthful candidates for the Ministry wheresoever 

they could be found if apparently pious and sincere. Against Mr. Gordon I had no personal prejudice [whatever?]. I 

was very far from insensible of the advantages I should acquire, by proving myself superior to all prejudices and by 

assisting merit in its efforts to rise, and, in fact, I have, in more instances than one, rather gone beyond others than to 

be behind them in the measure of encouragement I was disposed to give Mr. Gordon. But had Mr. Gordon conducted 

himself wisely, he might, without any assistance from me, have been now, for many years, engaged in the work of the 

Ministry. In 1853, if not sooner, he applied for Ordination to the Bishop of Jamaica. For this he was utterly in 

competent, but the Bishop offered him a Missionary Studentship in Codrington College, Barbados, where he might 

have qualified himself for most important services under the West Indian Church Association for the Propagation of 

the Gospel in West Africa. But this systematic preparation , and this arduous labor, - in which the present Principal of 

Codrington College , the truly devoted Christian Mr. Rawle, was, with difficulty, restrained from sacrificing himself, 

was, by Mr. Robert Gordon, disdainfully rejected. He, nevertheless, reiterated his applications for admission to the 

Ministry; and was not altogether discouraged by me, though I had grave doubts concerning him; and though he had 

forfeited all claim to special indulgence, by his refusal to undergo a regular training. Such encouragement as he did 

obtain from me proved unfortunate, since, under the apprehension caused by a groundless report that I was about 

summarily to ordain him, the inhabitants of the district of Highgate, St Catherine, where he had long been known, 

and had acted as a Catechist, addressed to me, - in 1857 – a very energetic protest, based principally on certain 

immoralities of his, which had caused scandal in the district. Another report to the same effect, being raised, as I 

believe, designedly, during my first visitation of the Bahamas, was made the ground of what I must designate a 

violent agitation and an excitement so widely prevalent, fostered too by an influential journal, that I found it 

necessary to contradict the report [ illegible]. Bearing these occurrences in mind, I shall not attempt to conceal my 

surprise that the Bishop who was made the object of general indignation in consequence of the false report that he 

intended to Ordain Mr. Gordon, should now be asked to give effect to his Ordination, by the Bishop of a remote 

Diocese, scarcely a year afterwards. Shortly after this strong exhibition of opinion Mr. Gordon proceeded to England, 

and obtained an appointment under the Colonial Church and School Society at “London” in Western Canada, a place 

of concourse for refugees from Slavery in the United States. After, I believe, about [illegible] months, he was admitted 

to Deacon's Orders, and a year afterwards to Priest's Orders, by the Bishop of Huron; remaining still in charge of the 

same mission.

[I transcribed the above extract from a photocopy of an original, in which a number of words were blurred at the edge of the document. JL]

 I am reviewing the material I have on Robert Gordon, and looking to see what more material may exist. The situation of Robert Gordon in relation to the Church of England in Jamaica has been considered chiefly on the basis of race and colour, but it seems clear that there was a variety of other factors, especially personal ones, which influenced it.