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Looking back: Jersey school founder praised for anti-slavery work

Looking back: Jersey school founder praised for anti-slavery work

Monday 25 February 2019

Looking back: Jersey school founder praised for anti-slavery work

Monday 25 February 2019

A mixed race lay preacher, who went on to found Jersey College for Girls, is being celebrated for his role in freeing over 33,000 slaves.

As February - Black History Month - nears its end, Jersey Heritage is shining a light on the fascinating story of William Smith.

Born in Ghana in 1816, Mr Smith was the illegitimate son of a Yorkshireman working for the Royal African Company, which was trading on the Gold Coast, and the daughter of a local chieftain.

Video: The Methodist Church, where William Smith used to preach, is included in Jersey Heritage's Peace Trail.

When his father was transferred to Sierra Leone, William joined him there and rose up through the ranks of the civil service. He eventually become Registrar of the Mixed Commission Court and an active member of the anti-slavery movement. Under his leadership, 33,072 slaves were freed and 344 slave vessels were intercepted by the British.

In 1871, William emigrated to Britain with his family. They lived in London for about two years before moving to Jersey for the benefit of his wife’s health. The family lived at 13, Queen’s Road and attended Wesley Grove Methodist Chapel, where William was a lay preacher. He also preached at Methodist chapels across the Island.

He is described as a passionate advocate for female education and was one of the founder members of the Jersey Ladies College, where he eventually sent his own daughters. The first meeting of the committee members took place in the vestry at Wesley Grove and the school was founded with the aim of providing an education for the girls of "families of modest means."


Pictured: One of William's daughters, Adelaide Smith.

One of William’s daughters, Adelaide, spent several years being taught at home by a governess, before attending Jersey Ladies College. She described in her memoirs how "my father announced that he had joined the committee of an up-to-date college, which we were to attend as foundation pupils."

Adelaide excelled at the Ladies College and went on to study music in Germany. She married a Ghanaian barrister in London and then returned to Sierra Leone, where she followed in her father’s footsteps by continuing to advocate for female education.

William Smith died in St Helier in 1895 and was buried alongside his wife in Almorah Cemetery.

This story, based on research by Adenike Ogunkoya of Adenhist Black Histories, is part of a series in collaboration with Jersey Heritage. To uncover more stories like these, visit Jersey Heritage's Archive

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