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Re: Anyone has info on Bedward's 'flight to heaven

from August town online..a slightly different twist!

The name Bedward has a prominent place in the history and folklore of August Town and Jamaica. The name is associated with several stories of a preacher who attempted to fly but either died or was seriously injured in that attempt.

Bedward made a name for himself as a result of several confrontations he had with the police, courts and the Gleaner which had a sustained campaign against him for more than twenty years. Additionally, he formed a powerful religious movement constituted of mainly peasants and labourers which numbered in the thousands and had branches all across Jamaica.

Alexander Bedward was born in 1859 near the Mona Estate in St. Andrew where he later worked as an adult. He was also a baptized member of the providence Methodist Church. Throughout his early life he was afflicted with an early sickness until 1883, when he migrated to Panama in order to seek better employment. While in Panama, he enjoyed sound health for two years until he returned to Jamaica where he again fell ill upon arrival.

In 1885, he left his wife and children and returned to Panama, vowing he would never return to them or Jamaica. During his second visit to Panama, he received two visions which instructed him to return to August Town to minister to the people and heal the sick by using the water from the Hope River, which became known as the "Healing Stream". Bedward dutifully returned to Jamaica and in December 1921, formally launched his ministry at the Hope River (which borders August Town).

Bedward organized his growing congregation and called it "The Native Baptist Free Church" and built a structure to have meetings in 1894. This structure was made from stone taken from the Hope river and was built on land in August Town now called "Church Yard". Branches of the church were established islandwide but its headquarters was in August Town and was called Union Camp.

The Hope River played an important role in Bedward's ministry. It was used for baptisms and healing. The water was bottled and blessed by Bedward to be sold to individuals who needed healing. Eventually, the river became known as the "healing Stream".

Bedwards ministry soon got the attention of medical doctors who were losing their patients to Bedward. Additionally , other denominations were losing hundreds of their members to Bedward's church.

As early as 1895, Bedward ran into problems with the colonial government when he preached a sermon in which he indicated that blacks (majority) were suffering under the hands of the white minority. It was also reported that he called the Governor and all whites "rogues", "scoundrels" and "vagabonds". For these comments he was arrested and tried but later acquitted shortly after. From this point, Bedward and his activities got increased attention from the police and and the Gleaner until 1921.

In 1920, Bedward made an announcement that all members of his churches islandwide should journey to Union Camp for a grand rally. They were instructed to sell their sins (that is to repent) but many instead sold their things (that is their earthly possessions) and brought their money to August Town for the Grand Rally.

Bedward proclaimed that he would have a march to Kingston with his followers. This was originally planned for December of 1920, but was eventually scheduled to take place in April of 1921. On the evening before the march, Bedward was warned not to proceed but he maintained he was doing the will of God.

On the morning of the march in April 1921, Bedward and his followers formed a procession and began to make their way from August Town to Kingston. Everyone was dressed in white (including hats and shoes) and were carrying palm leaves or swords or crosses made from wood and singing while marching.

On reaching the Mona area, they were ambushed by the police. Bedward and his ministers were arrested under two charges, which were;

-- Assaulting an officer- this was in relation to a previous incident which broke out with a police officer and Bedward's followers
-- Threatening to commit a breach of the peace of Kingston and inciting others to do so.

Bedward was taken by car to the Half-Way-Tree court house while the followers were forced to walk all the way. Many of his followers were jailed but others were warned and sent home.

During the trial, Bedward refused to plead. He was eventually found not guilty but as he made his way from the the court house he was re-arrested on the charge of lunacy. This was based on statements Bedward is reported to have made saying he was Jesus and Mary his mother. This time, he was not given the opportunity to speak and was sentenced to an asylum.

The asylum became Bedward's home until he died on November 8, 1930 of chronic bronchitis. Bedward's doctors and nurses attested to the fact that he was not a lunatic and that he remained cheerful till the very end. He was buried on land given to his church at Bryce Hill Lane (Duppy Lane) where there is a cemetary named after him.

Many of Bedward's followers who had come to August Town by 1920-21, having sold their earthly possessions had no where to go and stayed at Union Camp in August Town. Others settled in other lands in August Town.

With the death of Bedward, came the slow death of the church. This was because there was no leader who had the healing abilities of Bedward and even though his grandsons tried to hold the church together, they were unable to prevent many of the old members from leaving the church. Those who stayed were unable to convince their children to stay as well and not enough new members joined. Eventually, the members died and by the early 1990's, it was estimated that not more than thirty (30) would meet for services. By the mid 1990's, services ceased and all that remains are the ruins of Bedward's church as well as the fading memory of a once mighty movement.

Since the death of Bedward, he has gained attention with regards to "flying'. Many versions of the stories of Bedward's attempt to fly exist today. The basic theme which runs throughout all of them is that he told his people that he would fly away to Africa or heaven and attempted to do so but fell and died or sustained serious bodily harm.

These stories have become very popular and represent all that most people know of Bedward. It may be suggested that the stories of his attempt to fly have no factual bases in reality as they only emerged after his death. Given Bedward's antagonistic relationship with the Gleaner, one would expect that the Gleaner would have publicised the whole matter to further humiliate Bedwards. The fact that the Gleaner did not print it or made any reference to it in Bedward's lifetime is a considerable body of evidence that the stories are erroneous.

Prepared by Duane O'neil Harris
If you have any comment and/ or inquiries, you may contact Mr. Harris at;

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