USPG ‘unreservedly apologizes’ for plantation’s impact
United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) an Anglican mission agency based in the U.K., pledged £7 million ($11.5 million Cdn.) Sept. 8 to a reparations project intended to make amends for USPG’s participation in running and benefitting from a slave plantation in Barbados, according to a Sept. 11 news release. The funds will be allocated to the Codrington Trust, a governing body in charge of managing the affairs of the Codrington Estate, which sits on the grounds of the former plantation.
“It is expected that the work will cover the following: Community engagement and infrastructure; historical research and education; burial places and memorialisation; family research,” USPG said.
From 1712 to 1838, USPG, then called the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), owned and operated the Codrington plantation, which was bequeathed to the organization by its former owner, Christopher Codrington. The society, which had been founded only a decade before, profited from slave labour on the plantation, where conditions were “horrific,” said Archbishop Howard Gregory, primate of the West Indies and a member of the Codrington Trust, in a statement on the reparations project.
“In an irony of contradiction, the training of clergy for the proclamation of the liberating gospel of God in Jesus Christ was to be supported from the earnings from the labour of the enslaved who were regarded as less than human, and property held in trust by the SPG,” Gregory wrote in a statement on the project.
According to USPG, during the 112 years the organization ran the plantation, the managers they hired routinely used “physical abuse and severe punishments” to keep the people enslaved there in line. The agency estimates between 600 and 1,200 people lived and died enslaved at Codrington while it belonged to USPG.
“USPG recognises the impact of its history and the effect it has had; it accepts and understand[s] the generational trauma this has caused over the years and unreservedly apologise[s] for this,” reads an information document posted on the USPG website.
After slavery was officially abolished in Barbados in 1834, SPG contributed £171,777—a tiny fraction of its equivalent in 2023 currency—to build schools and churches across the Caribbean region.
However, the USPG says, “Whilst this was clearly a substantial sum of money, decisions relating to how the money was spent were not made by those who had been recently emancipated, but by SPG and other actors in the context of colonial occupation by the British.” As a result, it says, the 1835 project “should be seen as, at best, a way to support and improve the situation rather than as reparatory in nature.”
The statement promises the new project will be a collaboration between the Codrington Trust and USPG, which will involve a process of listening with the descendants of the people enslaved at the plantation to ensure the work’s goals include their concerns.
Gregory called the project a milestone, but not an end point in the process of healing the harm caused by slavery at the Codrington Estate.
“Ultimately, forgiveness is the prerogative of the offended or victim and not the discretion of the perpetrator if there is to be healing and reconciliation,” he wrote.
According to USPG, the project’s work is expected to begin in spring 2024, with preparations and consultation with the community to be undertaken in the meantime.