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The photograph of Matthew Josephs on this page is the earliest that I have of a 19th century Jamaican teacher. He was a teacher in Trinity Ville, in St. Thomas-in-the-East, in the mid-19th century.
Where he was born ..
The Island of Jamaica has been at all times proverbial for its beautiful scenery, especially towards its eastern side. A voyager, for the first time approaching this part of the Island, cannot but be delighted with its green valleys, and romantic glades; and with the cloud capped peaks of the Blue Mountains in the distance. Sailing southward from Morant Point, the seaports of Port Morant, Morant Bay, and Yallahs Bay will successively be passed. On reaching Plumb Point, Kingston the capital of the Island, will appear in view then will also be seen at a distance, and at an elevation of 4,000 feet above the level of the sea, the cantonment of Newcastle, the only military station in the Island in which white troops are kept. Beyond a ridge of hills on the western side of Newcastle, is a broad and. beautiful valley, containing coffee plantations; on one of these, called Rose Hill I was born, on the 25th October 1831.
Ancestry and childhood.
My father was the eldest son of Agullon, a Prince of one of the Eboe tribes inhabiting a tract of country nearly bordering on the Gulf of Guinea, who, as he told my father, had been a general in his own land, before he was stolen from thence - (which was about the year 1780,) and brought over the vast Atlantic, with many others of his countrymen and countrywomen, and sold as a slave on a plantation in the valley above mentioned. Reflecting often on the high position he had occupied in his native country, he bore the iron yoke of slavery with much uneasiness; and from the turbulent spirit he frequently exhibited, he was always considered by his owner as a dangerous slave, he died at an advanced age two years after the Emancipation. My father's mother - from whom I received some information respecting the customs and manners of her country Dahomey, lived much longer. Of my maternal grandparents, as they had died before I was born, I know comparatively nothing.
During the period of my childhood there was no school in the country districts, to which the children of the people of my race could be sent to receive the elements of useful learning; but my father, having been taught to read by a kind book-keeper on the plantation on which he was 'headman', endeavoured to teach my brothers and myself to read. Books were then scarce: Fenning's and Dilworth's spelling-books were then, by us, thought of the highest excellence. After making some progress in these, I was considered by my kind-hearted father so good a scholar, that he thought me fit to read the New Testament and an old edition of Gurthrie's Geography. These were for long time my whole stock of school-books...
For four years, viz., from 1835 to l839, my teacher was my beloved father, my school-books those above mentioned, and my school, some shady tree in my father's field, under which I sat learning the lesson he appointed me, to be repeated to him whenever he could conveniently attend to me. It will at once be seen that at such a school, and by such a mode of tuition, I could make but little progress in learning still I must own that I derived much benefit therefrom; for having been so early thrown, as it were, on my own resources, I then acquired that taste for reading, and a habit of reflecting on whatever I read, which have always been of the greatest service to me in endeavouring always to improve my mind.
In the year 1839, the Church Missionary Society established a mission and school at Woodford, two miles distant from my native place. That school I attended for about a year. On my father leaving that part of the parish to settle in another district, I was taken along with him, and as there was no school near our new home to which I could be sent, he resorted to his old plan of teaching me himself. Finding that by that way I was making no progress, he sent me to remain with a relative residing near Woodford, by which means I was again enabled to attend that school, and where I received such little instructions as were then given in the country schools generally. As my attendance at school was irregular - having been absent therefrom at times for six months together - although I had a thirst for learning, my progress was not satisfactory. In the year 1847 having, by some answers in geography, attracted the attention of the Rev. (now the Ven.) W. Rowe, then Curate of Woodford, he promised my father to recommend the Board of Education, to send me to the Government Normal School, then recently established near Spanish Town, to be trained as a teacher. On 14th February of the following year I was admitted as a student into that institution, in which I remained however, but eighteen months, having been sent for by Mr. Rowe to take charge of Woodford School, on the mastership of it becoming vacant in July, 1849.
After labouring at Woodford for seven years, in September, 1856, I obtained the more important situation of the mastership of the Church School, Trinity Ville, Blue Mountain Valley under the management of the Rev. W. Stearn. It was while residing in this place, where Nature is seen in all her loveliness and sublimity, that I felt an ardent desire to express in verse the thoughts I had always, from my childhood, so strongly entertained of Nature, of Nature's God, and of the cruel wrongs inflicted on my race. In 1862 I published 'The Slave', and minor poems, and two years after, 'Time and Eternity.' These little publications having met with much success, I have been induced and advised to collect all my principal poetical writings and publish them in a single volume.
Although conscious of many shortcomings, I may be pardoned in saying that I look back with some degree of satisfaction on the twenty- five years I have spent in endeavouring to instruct, in useful learning, hundreds of the rising generation of my native land; and I have further the pleasing satisfaction in knowing that, by Divine aid, many of those, who in years past were under my tuition, have now become useful, intelligent, and respectable members of society.
Matthew Josephs and some of his opinions.
...And here I may observe in passing, that many have asserted that the negroes have but little desire for intellectual improvement. Had those persons who hold this crude and erroneous opinion known the many strenuous efforts made by my father, labouring under difficulties, to instruct his children, although his own acquirements were extremely limited, they would have greatly qualified their assertion, so unjust and so unfounded. The love of knowledge is peculiar to no particular race or nation. It is a principle implanted in every human breast, for the noblest purpose by the Allwise Creator. The presence or absence of noble incentives are the chief causes why some nations are found in the van of human progress, and others, after reaching a certain height in civilization, relapsed again to a state of barbarism...
(from the Autobiographical Preface to 'Wonders of Creation', the book of poems he published in 1876.)
Poems by Matthew Josephs
Lines for August 1, 1874.
Again returns the happy morn
In Woodford's sweet, delightful vale again
The village school appears, where oft I joined
In songs of praise to Him who reigns on high.
The pleasant playground still is there, where oft
When from our tasks released, a joyous band
Of happy children met in innocent
And gladsome mirth, and made the vale
Resound afar with childish melodies;
While looking on, with countenance serene,
The loving Teacher, who the happiness
Of all his tender charge did ever share,
With pleasure inly moved, then smiled for joy.
Matthew Josephs died in 1901.
By the death of Matthew Josephs, there has departed an honoured member of the Teaching profession, and a man who was a credit to the Negro Race. I met him once in Kingston in the year '93, and his form still lives in my memory. Matthew Josephs was born at Rose Hill, October 1831, of slave parents, and was taught by his father to read the New Testament (in spite of the many difficulties inseparable from the system of slavery). Subsequently, he was sent to Woodford School, and thence to the Government School at Spanish Town, in 1848. He took charge of Woodford School in 1849, where he remained for seven years, and then went to Trinity Ville in 1856. Here he wrote "The Slave," published 1862, and "Time and Eternity," published 1864. He was for some time master of the Chapelton School in Clarendon. Encouraged by friends and well-wishers, he collected all his poetical writings into book form, and visited England for the purpose of arranging business with his publishers. The preface was written by the Rev. Robert Gordon, for some time master of the Wolmer's Grammar School, then residing in England.