First Formal School Room To Teach Enslaved People In The British West Indies

May 29, 1813 – The first formal schoolroom to teach enslaved people in the West Indies was opened in Bethesda, Antigua (source: Horsford J. A Voice from the West Indies, 1856).

The project was completed due in large measure to the involvement of Vigo Blake who was enslaved on the Blake Estate. “On a hill overlooking Willoughbay Bay, about half-way on their journey from English Harbour to Lyons, Mr. and Mrs Thwaites observed a delightful spot, a gentle rising ground, covered with smooth green grass, and here and there a forest of trees, opened to the sweet and gentle breezes of the Bay (Horsford 1856:201)…  Today we call the spot they identified (and used to erect the one room facility Chapel Hill).  Vigo Blake, the headman on Blakes Estate, knowing their desire to obtain the spot, told them that if they could obtain permission from the proprietor, he and his fellow slaves would build a schoolroom on that very spot. Permission was granted and shortly thereafter work started on the schoolroom.” Source: Lawrence Joy, Bethesda and Christian Hill our History & Culture 2008

Bethesda Methodist Church Ground, original site of the Bethesda School

On May 29 2021, the Bethesda School Heritage Foundation Inc held a brief, but significant ceremony on the original site and erected signage to mark the momentous occasion and recognise the invaluable contribution of Vigo Blake to the beginnings of formal education service in Antigua and the West Indies at that time.


Featured in photo individuals who attended Bethesda Government School while it was still at the original site

Among those present were several individuals who attended Bethesda Primary School while it was still housed at the original site where the ceremony was held.Members of the Organising Committee are also featured.



The Bethesda Heritage Foundation continues to lead in the annual commemoration of Vigo Blake Day with a honours ceremony at the original site, The Bethesda Moravian Church.  During the ceremony, tribute is made in Vigo Blake’s memory and outstanding community stalwarts are honoured.

Vigo Blake Day 2022 Award recipients from left to right:- Rev Lucier Baltimore, Ms Agatha Samuel, Bishop Elmond Joseph,  Representative of Harold Carter (his son) and John Archibald