The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) was founded in 1701. This exhibition explores a range of items from the first twenty years of the Society’s existence. The primary focus is on letters, as they were essential to the exchange of ideas, instructions, news, emotional sustenance, and financial transactions across the Atlantic, between Britain, North America, and the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century. But there are also wills, minutes, accounts, charters, and seals, as these objects help to narrate the complex entanglements that the Society’s concurrent engagement in transatlantic conversion and commerce generated.
Each collection offers a different way into these complex histories of relationship, encounter, mission, and burgeoning imperial ambitions: ecumenical Protestant missionary and educational endeavour; the role of women; the structure of an incorporated company; the horrendous human cost of the Codrington bequest for enslaved people; and the fraught engagements between settler societies, missionaries, and the Indigenous People Groups of the Americas.
SPG missionaries encountered enslaved people in the colonies and the Caribbean, and from 1711, the Society itself became a slave-owning organisation following the bequest of a plantation in the will of Christopher Codrington. The historical records featured in this exhibition, which appear as digital images and transcribed texts, include offensive language and references to the mistreatment of enslaved people.