The British called it their Mother Colony. The French disagreed and claimed it for themselves. They waged war over it, and then decided to share. The French took the middle part, the sections now known as Basseterre and Capisterre, and the English took the two ends, that is, the Palmetto Point-Sandy Point area on one side and the Cayon-Nicola Town area on the other side; and they agreed to share the south-eastern peninsula. But the truce did not last. They went to war again and fought until both sides were exhausted. Finally they decided to let the British keep the whole of it. That in brief is the early story of St. Christopher, or St. Kitts as it is generally called.
As was the custom at that time, the Church followed the flag – the colonists both of sections undertook to provide for the spiritual needs of their people. When Sir Thomas Warner colonized the Island in 1623 he was fortunate to obtain the services of a John Feathley, a member of a distinguished Oxford family and a Fellow of All Souls, who established the first Anglican Church in the Caribbean at Middle Island. By the middle of the century five parishes had been established. On the leeward side were Holy Trinity Palmetto Point, St. Thomas Middle Island, and St. Anne Sandy Point. On the windward side were St. Mary Cayon, and Christ Church Nicola Town.
In 1727 the capital of the Island was removed from Old Road to Basseterre, and in 1734 the former French lands were divided up into civil and ecclesiastical parishes. In Basseterre Quarter two parishes were created, namely, St. Georges and St. Peter. St. George’s Parish included the town of Basseterre, the plantations immediately surrendering it and most of the Salt Pond Peninsula, while the St. Peter’s Parish embraced the rural parts to the north of the town. In the Capisterre Quarter two parishes were also created, that is, St. Paul and St. John.
On Sir Thomas Warner’s first visit to the Island he landed at a place, which came to be known as Old Road. The Church, which was built in this area, was dedicated to St. Thomas, and the Parish was styled ‘St. Thomas in the Middle Division’. Later it came to be known as “St. Thomas Middle Island”. When Sir Thomas died in 1648 he was buried in this Church, but when the old building was pulled down the present building, which replaced it was erected higher up the hill, so that the tomb now stands in the Churchyard.
The French built fine Church buildings in their area, but were at first less fortunate than the British in attracting suitable priests minister in them. As a consequence they appealed to the Religious Orders in France to come to the rescue. The first to answer this appeal were Capuchins, and soon there were Capuchin Friars both Basseterre and in Capisterre. Shortly after the Carmelites established a House on the lower slopes of Monkey Hill to the North of the town of Basseterre, and Brothers of Charity opened the first hospital in the Island in what is now known as Church Street.
In 1646 Philippe de Poincy, Governor-General of the French Antilles, came to reside in St. Kitts and expelled the Capuchins from the Island. He replaced them in Basseterre with the Jesuits, Who immediately began their notable ministry in Basseterre; and so begins the story of the Church of St. Georges, Basseterre.
There is no record of the actual building of a Church in St. Kitts in St. Peter’s Parish, but authorities are of the opinion that the building now used as a Church is almost certainly of 17 th century construction and most probably were one of the buildings of the Carmelite Friars, perhaps the Chapel or Refectory.
The English had been much slower in the construction of Churches. As late as the last years of the 17 th century Frances de Jau, the priest in charge of the English Parishes on the windward side, complained in a letter to the Bishop of London the he possesses only “ one old wooden building and two small buildings of wild cane and thatch’d, while the French have two stately stone Churches.”
The records of the Island show that in St. Kitts as in Nevis there were planters who encouraged their slaves to accept baptism, during the rectorship of the Revd. John Julius Kerie (1812 – 1825) the St. George’s Church Registers record large numbers of slave baptisms on the plantations, particularly on Buckleys, the estate of Abednego Matthew, situated close to town. Mr. Matthew was at the time one of the richest of the Basseterre planters and a devout Churchman. He may possibly have carried the example of Mr. Cottle in Nevis, for it is said that one of the fields of the estate was called, Negro Church field, and may still be so called.
For more information on St. Kitts, visit the official website of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority