Rev. George Cosens, 1805 - 1881, is the "first reported West Indian minister to hold a pastorate in Britain." He originated from Jamaica, and lived most of his life in Britain having moved to London to study and joining the Primitive Methodists in his late teens. After working as a Primitive Methodist preacher, he joined the Baptists and from 1837 served as a minister in various Baptist churches. He died in working retirement in 1881. George Cosens married twice, Mary Burnet, 1830, and being widowed, Betsy Dancer in 1841. He is buried in the cemetery of Brierly Hill Baptist Church.
Primitive Methodist work
His first church activity was with the Primitive Methodists from 1824. Sailing on 7 May 1832, he was sent by the Sunderland Circuit to the Norman Isles (Jersey and Gurnsey), where he worked to the point of exhaustion in church work and ministry to cholera victims. But it is reported that he had to be recalled after being fined for tactless comments about young people in his audience. During mission work in 1835 to 1836 with the more experienced John Nelson to pioneer new work around Weymouth and Dorchester, he left the Primitive Methodists after a disagreement, and joined the Baptists. Other than the issue of baptism, the beliefs of the Baptists and Primitive Methodists were similar.
Cosens was probably baptised in a Baptist church in Weymouth in 1836 or 37, which would mark his joining the Baptists. His first appointment with the Baptists was as an assistant pastor at the New Connexion General Baptist Church at Aylesbury in 1837. His first pastorate at Cradley Heath began in November 1837.
Cradley Heath Baptist Church is notable for having had the first Afro-Caribbean Minister in the Black Country, said to be the first known in Britain. In 1837, Rev. George Cosens was called to be minister. He was very popular, and served in various other churches in the area. His first time there was from 1837 to 1839. But he later served at Cradley Heath Baptist Church from 1869 to 1879. His second term was very successful at first, but later the health problems of old age were such that he was to be asked to resign. A meeting of the Deacons of the Church held on June 2, 1879 accepted his resignation. He moved to a less onerous pastorate at Brierley Hill.
Little is known of George Cosens' Jamaican family. Idris Williams says they disowned him on his conversion to Christianity. He married twice. Firstly, Mary Burnet (18/12/1797 - 27/07/1831), on 24 June 1830, in St John's Church, Newcastle upon Tyne. They had a daughter, born 17 July 1831, who died a month after Mary. In March 1841 he married Betsy Dancer (b. 13 January 1813), a member of the Brierley Hill church where he was then Minister.
Cosens died on 16 August 1881, and was buried in the cemetery of Brierley Hill Baptist Church (DY5 2RR) where he was then the Minister. The life of George Cosens is becoming celebrated in Britain's black community.
The variant spelling George Cousens is found in the 1933 Centenary Souvenir history by Rev. Idris Williams. The spelling Cosens is found in the minutes in the Secretary's Book from 1876 to 1889 and on the inscription on the 1876 photograph.
- Baptist union of Great Britain, BUGB Magazine, September October 2006
- 1881 Census
- Rev. Idris Williams, A History of the Four Ways Baptist Church, Cradley Heath, Staffs. Centenary Souvenir, 1933.
- W. Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990, p. 50
- Primitive Methodist Magagazine, 1833, p312
- P. M. Mag 1833, pp 15 - 17 and 90 - 93, extracts from George Cosens' Journal for July and September, and p 17 J Houghton's Journal for September 1832
- H B Kendall, The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church, 1906, Volume 2, p 209
- Kendall, op cit, p. 210
- D Watts, Black Pearls
- David Watts, story of George Cosens on Pearls
- Baptist Union of Great Britain Baptist History page (accessed 03/02/2009)
- Baptist Historical Society, Newsletter November 2006, p.3 (follow link from this page) (accessed 03/02/2009)
- Minutes recorded in "The Secretary's Book" of Cradley Heath Baptist Church for 1877 to 1889.
- Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1832, pp 451 - 455
- P. M. Mag. 1832, p. 454 footnote
- Idris Williams, op. cit., p. 35.
- Lecture notice in Dudley for Black History Month, October 2008 (accessed 03/02/2009)