Alexander Bedward followed in the footsteps of the giants who walked before him – Sharpe and Bogle. However, he would make his own unique impact and contribution to Jamaica’s rich legacy of religion and rebellion. To briefly review, this series of essays has been centered on religious personalities and events that have defined/shaped American and Caribbean history. It is no accident that most of these dynamic religious personalities have also been at the center of paradigm shaping events throughout history. Furthermore, through this series, what has become clear is that particular religious beliefs have guided those who have shaped history, such as, the notion of freedom, what it means to be a human created in the image of God as well as a clear understanding of good and evil.
It is also no accident that most of the individuals discussed in these reviews are religious leaders who were themselves involved in rebellions and uprisings. When times were toughest and the overseers and enslavers were at the cruelest, it was the religious leaders that people looked to for guidance and support. As a matter of fact (or as a matter of pattern) throughout history when one is thrust into history’s light (via ambition or serendipity) that person usually has a strong standing in a religious community. They are the deacons, seers, prophets, preachers, bush doctors, witches, shamans and saints that are at the respective epicenters of their communities. As well, these are the individuals who make history, who bring the light when things are at their darkest, who inspire when things are at their most dire and who illuminate the way for the next generation.
Inspired by Paul Bogle’s stand at Monrant Bay is a man by the name of Alexander Bedward, revivalist and founder of Bedwardism. Bedward was born in Saint Andrew’s Parish in Northern Jamaica. As a youth Bedward worked on the sugar plantations of Jamaica, as well he was hired out to work in Colombia and Panama until well into his 20s. Religiously, he was baptized into the church when he came of age and quickly began to take on leadership roles within the church. When Bedward found his way back to his island home, he began developing a revivalist movement focused on the sovereignty of the Jamaican people. Bedward was a charismatic leader who was deeply involved in the community, not just as a religious leader but a faith healer as well. To elaborate, Bedward claimed he was divinely inspired to lead African Jamaicans on a path to spiritual renewal. Not only did he preach on the evils of white supremacy and hegemony, but he also advocated for fasting as a method of spiritual development. In addition, he frequently held baptisms, faith healing sessions and believed he was a conduit to the spirit world where he received messages from angels and spirits. He also taught meditation and sometimes put himself into a trance in order to converse with the spirits of the ether.
As a spiritual leader he displayed certain characteristics that made him extremely popular. For instance, he felt it was wrong to collect fees for his sermons and often spoke against this practice. He did not feel comfortable taking money from people who were already poor. While he was developing his ministry he continued to work as a migrant laborer, which meant he would not be a burden to the crowds he proselytized to, allowing him to reach as large population of Jamaicans. As well, preaching and touring helped him to have a clear understanding of the problems and frustrations his people were dealing with on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, he would often help to settle labor disputes and at times acted as arbiter to keep his followers employed. He was so successful with his ministry that he was able to develop congregations and followers throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
For all of Bedward’s work throughout the Caribbean basin, many people began to see him as the physical representation of God on Earth. Rupert Lewis, author of the article “Garvey’s Forerunners: Love and Bedward” states “Throbbing at the heart of Bedwardism was the restless frustration of the down-trodden and displaced peasant masses who looked to God for salvation, and saw in Bedward his representative in Jamaica.” Colonial authorities saw a large problem with Bedward’s gaining notoriety and power; and many of his followers saw him as a revival of Paul Bogle’s spirit. In 1895, in an attempt to thwart Bedward’s power before it grew beyond the control of the Island’s authorities, Jamaican police and the press attempted to frame him for inciting an insurrection. He was arrested on the charge of sedition and tried. His case was defended by a white lawyer named Phillip Stern who was able to have the charges dropped on reason of insanity. It is likely that Stern used the fact that Bedward claimed himself to be a prophet to get the insanity plea. Nevertheless, Bedward was committed to an asylum following this trial only to be released on a technicality shortly thereafter, enabling him to continue his ministry.
After being released from the asylum, Bedward continued his ministry throughout the Caribbean basin. Bedward ministry was, to be kind, rather eccentric. He taught that Black people needed to look toward Africa for inspiration and strength and often preached on the trials and tribulations of the Black Hebrews. However, he also made outrageous and erroneous claims which forced some to see him as nothing more than a snake-oil-pushing charlatan. For example, he would often make the claim that he was the reincarnation of Jesus and that upon his death he would ascend into heaven on a flaming chariot, must like Elijah. Much to his chagrin, he announced a date for this ascension to his followers who unfortunately took his word as literal truth and sold their all worldly goods in the hopes that they too would ascend. When he (or anyone else) did not ascend he attempted to walk his words back by claiming that the ascension he was referring to was a spiritual ascension, not a physical one.
In inspiring Jamaican resistance in the 20th century, Bedward, despite all of his flaws, is a major historical figure. That is to say, as a millenarian he directly influenced the work of Marcus Garvey and the Rastafarian movement in a variety of ways. First, Garvey like Bedward looked to Africa as a source of inspiration and strength, often relying on it as a symbol of heaven or a place where black people could be free of their white oppressors. Second, the Rastafarian movement, much like the Garvey movement, understood Black people as the literal descendants of the Biblical Hebrews. Both the Bible and Africa have been (and are) powerful symbols throughout the African experience in the New World that are consistently employed as representation of freedom. The Bible offers spiritual freedom while Africa embodies the physical freedom so many yearn for. These symbols are not to be taken lightly, particularly Africa. Meaning, as this research moves into the late 19th century and early 20th century, it will become more and more apparent that Africa incites something visceral and spiritual within Black men and women that has driven our freedom movement and moments.
 Martha W. Beckwith. Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life (1929). New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969. Barry Chevannes. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1994. Elkins, W. F. "Prophet Bedward." In Street Preachers, Faith Healers, and Herb Doctors in Jamaica, 1890–1925. New York: Revisionist Press, 1977. Robert Hill. "Leonard P. Howell and Millenarian Visions in Early Rastafari." Jamaica Journal 16 (1981): 24–39. Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's Forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race and Class 28 (1987): 29–39.
 "Bedwardites." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (Accessed December 8, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bedwardites.
 Vermont M. Satchell. "Early Stirrings of Black Nationalism in Colonial Jamaica: Alexander Bedward of the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church 1889-1921." The Journal of Caribbean History 38, no. 1 (2004): 75. Roscoe Mitchell Pierson. Alexander Bedward and the Jamaica Native Baptist Free Church. Lexington Theological Seminary, 1969. Randall K. Burkett and Richard Newman. Black apostles: Afro-American clergy confront the twentieth century. Hall Reference Books, 1978.
Alexander Bedward. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/alexander-bedward. (Accessed December 2018).
 Rupert Lewis. "Garvey's Forerunners: Love and Bedward." Race and Class 28 (1987), 36.
 Alexander Bedward. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/alexander-bedward. (Accessed December 2018).
 Colin Palmer. Freedom’s Children: The 1938 Labor rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).