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Executive Editor – special assignment—


AS the nation celebrates its heroes today, researcher Joy Douglas says she has unearthed information showing that both the great-grandfather and the great-great-grandfather of Gordon Butch Stewart had significantly influenced the character and thinking of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey during his childhood.

Gordon 'Butch' Stewart

Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

Douglas, the current chairperson of the National Library Service, notes that Stewart, founder and chairman of Sandals Resorts International, is the son of Jean Patricia Stewart (née) Townend; the grandson of Helen Eliza Townend (née Rerrie) and the great-grandson of Anthony Bayley Dougall Rerrie who was born in St Ann’s Bay April 7, 1864 to Alexander Rerrie, his great-great-grandfather.

Douglas is researching the early life of Malcus Mosiah Garvey, who later changed his name to Marcus and went on to become Jamaica’s first national hero, after a drama-filled life in which he inspired millions of African descendants under the banner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

According to Douglas, young Garvey was a neighbor of the Rerrie family at Winders Hill in St Ann’s Bay. Helen Eliza Townend, Stewart’s grandmother, was born in 1887, the same year as Malcus, and was one of his playmates. Some of Helen’s younger sisters and her younger brother Anthony Alexander Rerrie were also playmates of Garvey.

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

James Percival Rerrie, great-granduncle of the hotel mogul and brother of Anthony, was born May 15, 1871 in St Ann’s Bay and became a recorded supporter of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. He would, therefore, have known Garvey as a child and young man (Garvey lived in St Ann’s Bay until 1905, at which time he would have been 18 years old), Douglas suggests.

“My intention is to not only provide a picture of Garvey’s formative years in St Ann’s Bay, but demonstrate that he was nurtured and guided since that time by some of the most prominent individuals and families in the town. It could therefore be said that Garvey’s strong Christian values, including his sense of justice, were fostered by these individuals and families,” Douglas argues.

The researcher says she has found that Alexander Rerrie and Anthony Bayley Dougall Rerrie (Stewart’s great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather) were actively involved in the leadership of the St James Benefit Building Society and the St Ann Benefit Building Society, respectively.

“These movements were founded by leaders of the Christian churches with the primary objective of the development of the peasantry and the industrious poor after emancipation through the promotion of thrift and the acquisition and improvement of freehold property,” says Douglas.

Butch stewart and son Adam

Butch stewart and son Adam

“What is very interesting is that both these societies, along with the Brown’s Town Benefit Building Society in which Anthony also played a role, were merged with the Westmoreland Building Society in 1970 to form the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), which went on to not only cover the entire island, but has an international dimension through the membership of working-class Jamaicans, particularly in the United Kingdom.”

The JNBS, chaired by Oliver Clarke, is now JN Bank.

“This further confirms my view that many of the concepts advanced by Marcus Garvey were those he saw practiced by [Stewart’s] ancestors, particularly his great-grandfather Anthony Bayley Dougall Rerrie,” says Douglas.

She quotes Garvey as having written: “To me, at home in my early days, there was no difference between white and black. One of my father’s properties, the place where I lived most of the time, was adjoining that of a white man. He had three girls and two boys; the Wesleyan minister, another white man whose church my parents attended, also had property adjoining ours. He had three girls and one boy.


“All of us were playmates. We romped and were happy children playmates together. The little white girl whom I liked most knew no better than I did myself. We were two innocent fools who never dreamed of a race feeling and problem. As a child, I went to school with white boys and girls, like all other Negroes. We were not called Negroes then. I never heard the term Negro used once until I was about 14…

“White boys and I used to frolic together. We played cricket and baseball, ran races and rode bicycles together, took each other to the river and to the sea beach to learn to swim, and made boyish efforts while out in deep water to drown each other, making a sprint for shore crying out ‘shark, shark, shark…’

Douglas says that the “white man” to whom Garvey referred was Anthony Bayley Dougall Rerrie. In a further reference, he noted: “I was openly hated and persecuted by some of these colored men of the island who did not want to be classified as Negroes, but as white. They hated me worse than poison. They opposed me at every step, but I had a large number of white friends, who encouraged and helped me…”

In this regard, Douglas concludes, Garvey was also referring to the Rerrie family, namely Anthony’s brother James Percival Rerrie and his son Anthony Alexander Rerrie.

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