PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: A HISTORICAL NOTE
When Reverend John Morton, a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, Canada and a Canadian of Scottish
descent, came to Trinidad to recuperate from illness, he visited sugar estates and seeing the East Indian Community,
about 20,000, in a state of neglect, he returned to Canada asked his Church to initiate a mission. He offered himself to
lead this mission and so on 6 January, 1868, Rev. Morton, his wife and infant daughter arrived in Trinidad. When Rev.
John Morton and his wife Sarah arrived in Trinidad, the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland (USA) was already
established at Iere Village, Princes Town since the 1830s. This small mission was however on the verge of collapse and
so instead of allowing this to fall completely, the American Church agreed to hand over its mission work to Reverend
Morton.Iere village then, became the first community of Presbyterian converts in Trinidad.
Before the Canadian missionaries arrived in Trinidad, they had sent a missionary to India in 1854 to learn about Hindu
philosophy, culture and way of life. Rev. John Morton imported a lot of literature from India and had a Hindi press in
Tunapuna. His wife, Sarah Morton also produced a Hindi hymnary, "A Garland of Flowers" and their son, Harvey Morton
continued using this printed material. Their daughter Agnes Morton was fluent in Hindi and she promoted it in many of
the institutions of the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad.
After the emancipation of the slaves, Indians had been brought to Trinidad as cheap labour to work on the sugar cane
plantations. In the beginning they were confined to their plantations. At the end of the indenture period, the Indians
were allowed to move freely and were given their own plot of land. This was the system in which the missionaries were
obliged to work. From the beginnings in Iere, the mission progressed to neighbouring estates.
They preached in the plantations and later helped to build Indian villages providing churches and schools.
Presbyterianism developed in the rural areas of Trinidad such as Sangre Grande, Cumuto, Biche, Barrackpore,
San Juan, Monkeytown and other places. Simple services and cottage meetings were conducted in Hindi and other
Indian dialects. The house also served as a church and the primary schools were transformed to churches on Sundays.
At the prayer meetings, the Indians would bring their flowers and sing bhajans, some of which are still sung nowadays.
Three popular bhajans still used by the Presbyterian Church at prayer meetings and church services are "Karo Meri
Sahai" (Help me, Lord Jesus), "Yisu ne kaha" (Jesus said, 'I am the Bread.') and "Yisu Mase Mero Pran Bachaya"
(Lord, save my life). Some of the Presbyterian Churches originally had Hindi names: Morning Star Presbyterian Church
in Fyzabad was Bhor Ka Tara, Light of the World Church in Siparia was Jagat ka Prakash and the Rousillac Presbyterian
Church was also referred to as Sun of Righteousness or Dharm Ka Surj.
For Indians, joining the Presbyterian Church meant overcoming dependence, getting a job, acquiring education, and
becoming part of the middle or even upper class. The first ordained Indian was Lal Bihari, a highly educated Hindu who
had converted to Christianity. Many church buildings are called by Hindi names, and Hindi Bhajans are often used in
The Presbyterian missionaries did not only focus on the religious, but also attempted to improve and Indian life in many
areas. They were one of the first groups to liberate women.
From 1826 to 1901 they continuously brought down Canadian women missionaries and teachers and in 1928 they
started the Women's Missionary Society. The Trinidad Girls in Trinidad (TGIT) had also been established in 1922. The
Women's Missionary Society was responsible for training the East Indian women as leaders - 'bible women' they were
called. One of he first bible women was Fanny Subaran. Others were Catherine Copeland-Grant and Amelia Bissessar.
These developments occurred at a time when Indian women had to leave school at a very early age and take up marital
duties. There was also a problem of domestic violence and as widows, the women were ostracized. Against this
background, the Presbyterian women missionaries created a native leadership among the women and they taught them
various skills at the Iere Home. They taught Hindi, domestic skills, singing, bible reading. So these East Indian women
were getting an education that they had been previously denied. These bible women became very outspoken in the rural
areas and they were very active in the Church.
The Canadian missionaries also targeted social and moral improvement. In the newsletter, ‘The Trinidad Presbyterian’,
they attacked alcoholism, wife abuse and improper behaviour. The missionaries were also concerned about the health
of the Indians. Some of them gave out tablets for worms and other medication for conditions brought about by plantation
ca 1870 Reverend Morton transfers from Iere Village to Princes’ Town, a more suitable and healthy locality.
1870 To assist Rev. Morton and expand the mission, the Rev. Kenneth J. Grant is appointed to open a new station at San
1871 First primary school is opened.
1872 Susamachar or “Church of Good News” in San Fernando is the first church building. Susamachar now has the largest
Presbyterian membership in the country.
1874 Work commences in Couva as a new field of endeavour; Lal Behari assists in San Fernando, etc.
1876 By this year, missionary work is extended to Cedros, Caroni, Tunapuna and Guicao.
1880 Rev. Morton is transferred to the new field in Tunapuna, being replaced by Rev. J. W. McLeod in Princes' Town.
1880 Four stations [Query Couva, Princes Town, San Fernando and Tunapuna] are established serving all of Trinidad.
1881 The Aramalaya Presbyterian Church, Tunapuna is established.
1882 Rev. Lal Behari is ordanied and continues to assist the mission.
1883 Rev. Dr. Grant conducts first secondary school classes for his son George, other children of the Mission, and Charles
Pasea, by tradition under a samaan tree on Carib Street, San Fernando, near his own home, site of present-day
Susamachar Presbyterian Church, and the Grant Memorial Elementary School.
1885 A report of 1885 shows forty-two schools in operation, with an aggregate roll of 1,965, and a daily average of 1,369.
1891 Rev. Dr. Morton continues his work in Tunapuna.
ca 1891 The Presbyterian church at Arima is partly owned by the congregation of Rev. Dickson (Church of Scotland) and
partly by the Women's Foreign Missionary Society (Canadian Presbyterian Mission).
1891 The communities founded by the Scottish and Canadian missionaries are incorporated into one presbytery. This
includes Greyfriars, St. Ann’s Church, San Fernando, Savanna Grande (now Princes Town), Couva & Tunapuna.
(The presbytery is recognized in Canada but not by the Church in Scotland. Thus two Mission Councils, one
Scottish and the other Canadian, continues to exist.)
1892 2 February the Presbyterian Theological College is formally opened in San Fernando and 36 East Indian young men
are enrolled as students. In the following decades high schools for boys and girls are established.
1893 The Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago is known as the Presbytery of Trinidad.
1896 (late) Rev. J.S Wilson, the Scottish Presbyterian minister establishes the Marabella Presbyterian Church.
1898 Morton Memorial Presbyterian Church, Guaico is built and a Primary School is also established.
1905 Marabella Presbyterian Church is renamed the Wilson Memorial Presbyterian Church.
1931 Association between the Church of Scotland and the Canadian Mission ends; the latter becomes a local autonomous
1941? Cumuto Presbyterian Church is established.
1975 The United Church Board of Missions formally closes the Canadian Mission to Trinidad.
2008 (Sept) The Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago and the Church of Scotland, Trinidad enter into a three-year
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: RECOMMENDED READING