Tension between historicism and presentism in this work is released in a sudden historiographical shoot-out after seven pedestrian chapters which assemble evidence for it. Chapter 8, on education, contradicts most historical writing on Belize (British Honduras) since 1970. It asserts that the Baymen of Belize and their government showed substantial interest in and support for popular education in terms of their own era, the early nineteenth century. Evangelical Anglicans, Baptists, and Methodists—both establishment and missionary, clerical and lay—were prominent in this effort.

Using information from archival manuscripts in England and Belize, Johnson reveals church activities in British Honduras from the first chaplain in 1776 through the final abolition of slavery in 1838. He ties this to the larger story of international missionary activities, particularly in the West Indies. This illuminates a facet of Belizean history previously unrevealed. Johnson attacks the position of Narda Dobson, Nigel Bolland, C. H. Grant, and all other historical authorities who hold that the Belize settlement was stingy and uncooperative in developing popular schools. He compares the experience in Belize with that of England and of the West Indies. His key illustration comes from British Guiana, which some credit with a better record for school support in those years. Johnson shows from statistics and other public records that on a per capita basis, from an early date, British Honduras contributed probably 20 times more aid for education than did British Guiana.

The author presents accurate, though fragmentary, group biographies of missionaries, clergy, and laymen who came to Belize as evangelicals. Ecclesiastical documentation is balanced by a good general bibliography and by research in the Belizean and Jamaican national archives, as well as in British Colonial Office record (in the Public Records Office). The portraits of Lt. Col. George Arthur (Superintendent, 1814-22), and of the Rev. Alexander Henderson (Baptist missionary, 1834-44?) are outstanding. Unfortunately, more than half of the missionaries who came to Belize in those years soon sickened and died or were forced to leave due to illness.

Johnson suggests that “things fail in Belize” because of a cultural clash or failure of communication between Euro-Christian and Afro-pagan ideologies which had become a fixed pattern by 1838 (pp. xv, xvi). Occasionally, he attempts to develop this thesis, particularly on pages 215, 233, 240, and 249-250. This work clearly depicts Christian contributions to the formation of Belizean society.