300 Year Old Proposal To “Convert Americans”

April 10, 2014

brklygA proposal written by an Irish Bishop almost 300 years ago called for a college to be set up in Bermuda to help convert the “savage Americans to Christianity.”

The report bemoaned the lack of progress made by the gospel in the New World, and said the Americans continue in “the same ignorance and barbarifm [sic] in which we found them 100 years ago.”

The report said that Bermuda was an ideal place for conversions, as the island lacked any form of major trade, so the Americans sent to be educated on the island would not be tempted to try and make a fortune.

“The trade of Bermuda consists only in garden-stuff, and some poor manufactures principally of cedar and the palmetto-leaf,” the report noted.

“Bermuda hats are worn by our ladies. They are made of a fort of mat, or [as they call it] platting made of the palmetto leaf, which is the only commodity that one can find exported from Bermuda to Great Britain.

“And as there is no prospect of making a fortune by this small trade, so it cannot be supposed to tempt the fellows of the college to engage in it, to the neglect of their peculiar business, which might possibly be the case elsewhere.”

The report was written by George Berkeley [pictured above] and was published in 1725, laying out plans for the college in Bermuda, which was to be called St Paul’s College.

Cover of the report, first printed in 1725:

1725 proposal cover

In 1728, Berkeley – also known as Bishop or Dean Berkeley – married Anne Foster and departed for America.

He spent several years in Rhode Island and obtained a charter for the college, private contributions, and a promise for a grant of £20,000 from the British Parliament.

In early 1731, the Bishop of London told Berkeley that Sir Robert Walpole had informed him that there was little likelihood that the promised grant would be paid. Berkeley eventually left the Americas, returning to the United Kingdom.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “While the Bermuda project was a practical failure, it increased Berkeley’s reputation as a religious leader.

“It is considered partially responsible for his appointment as Bishop of Cloyne in January 1734. In February of the same year, he resigned as Dean of Derry. He was consecrated Bishop of Cloyne in St. Paul’s Church, Dublin, on 19 May 1734.”

Berkeley died on January 14, 1753, while his wife was reading him a sermon.

In keeping with his will, his body was kept above ground for five days, or “till it grow offensive by the cadaverous smell”, a provision that was intended to prevent premature burial, a relatively common phenomena at that time in history.

Although his dream of opening a college in Bermuda never materialized, one school was named after him on the island, with the Berkeley Institute opening its doors for the first time with 27 students on September 6, 1897.

The school is one of many things named after him around the world, which also include the city of Berkeley in California.

The report can be read in full here [PDF], however due to its age the PDF can be somewhat hard to read in places.

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Category: All, History

Comments (3)

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  1. Da plumber says:

    Interesting fact “savage Americans” need Christianity hmmm

  2. Valirie Marcia Akinstall says:

    There are a lot of interesting points in this story, Berkeley Institute, a predominately Black high school named after an Irish Christian Bishop? Did most Berkelites even know this fact?

    If Bishop Berkeley could see those “savage Americans” now – well educated, financial architects of our re-insurance industry and they made a financially sustainable industry in Bermuda.

    And 300 years hence, the “savage Americans” are the dominate economic power of the western hemisphere, noting that their world accomplishments outstrip both the English and the Irish. They even exported re-insurance to Ireland thereby creating jobs in the late Bishop’s very own homeland. I guess he would be gum smacked into silence to learn that the “savages Americans” rose to become the economic titans who have reinvented themselves time and time again.

    Well the “civilised Americans” could respond by taking Bermuda College from a 2 year college to a four year degreed university, with their financial might and/or their ingenuity, Bermuda could become a second campus of an ivy league university – just don’t name it Berkeley!

    For anyone who fails to understand my comments, they are steeped in irony.

    London, England

    • Ride says:

      I believe the “savage Americans” he was referring to were the native Indians not the settler Europeans.