Ronald Webster.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Phillips from “The Eulogy for James Ronald Webster,” a copy in Philips’ possession.

Webster, James Ronald (1926–2016)

By Glenn O. Phillips

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Glenn O. Phillips, Ph.D. (Howard University, Washington, D.C.), although retired, is actively writing, researching, lecturing, and publishing. He was a professor at Morgan State University, Howard University, and the University of the Southern Caribbean. He has authored and published numerous articles, book reviews, and books, including “The African Diaspora Experience,” “Singing in a Strange Land: The History of the Hanson Place Church,” “African American Leaders of Maryland,” and “The Caribbean Basin Initiative.”

First Published: October 26, 2022

James Ronald Webster was a pioneering Seventh-day Adventist Caribbean political activist. He is affectionately known as the father of his Northern Caribbean country, Anguilla—a British Overseas Territory. He is its only National Hero and was the first Seventh-day Adventist in the Caribbean region to become their country’s political leader, serving two terms, 1976-1977 and 1980-1984. He first came to the attention of the rest of the world, when he almost single-handedly led “the Anguillan Revolution of 1967.”1 Though criticized by many fellow Adventists, and explicitly forbidden by the Church’s regional leadership to be involved in politics, Webster remained convinced that his duty was to serve for the betterment of his country.

Early Life and Family

Born on March 2, 1926, in Island Harbor, Anguilla, British West Indies, to Robert Livington and Mary Octavia Smith Webster, James was one of sixteen children, eight of whom died in early infancy.2 His parents and many of his relatives were among the small group of Seventh-day Adventists on the island. His father operated a fishing business, and his mother was a seamstress. At a very early age, Webster demonstrated that he was adventurous, resolute, and cared deeply for others. For his formal education he attended the East End School, the island’s only public school at the time. Just after his tenth birthday, he left his homeland with one older sibling to work on a dairy-farm on the neighboring Dutch island of Saint Marteen to financially assist his large family. He faithfully worked there for over twenty years, helping the owners develop a very successful business.

In return the owners treated him as a son, and in their old age deeded the property to him in 1958 when it was valued at around US $1.5 million.3 Within two years, he closed the business and returned permanently to his homeland in 1960. He immediately became the richest Anguillan, but quickly concluded that his beloved country’s infrastructure had been grossly neglected: the entire colony was without electricity, telephones, and paved roads. Webster understood that the main reasons for this state of affairs were determined by far away political leaders who ruled from Basseterre, St. Kitts (Christopher), seat of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Government. Webster was convinced that they had deliberately ignored Anguilla’s basic needs for decades, as well as infrastructural priorities required for the development of Anguilla’s economy.4

Once permanently settled back in Anguilla, Webster opened a hardware business in 1960. His new business venture thrived, and he used his own resources to fund the necessities of many Anguillans. But he realized that radical steps had to be taken to change the decades-long government neglect.5

Equally important to Webster was his family. He and his first wife, Ursula, had five children: Christian, Anthony, Charles, Parloma, and Frankie. His second wife was Cleopatra, and there were also nine stepchildren from both relationships: Joshua, Charmaine, Yvonne, Vernon, Debra, Valerie, Harriet, Ivor, and Lloyd.

Social Activism

Webster began to speak out against existing inequities and voiced to the local government authorities that meaningful change was needed. In this he received wide support from his fellow Anguillans.6 However, the leaders of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Government strongly disagreed and continued to ignore years-worth of requests to change the socio-economic and political relationship with the people of Anguilla.

On May 30, 1967, Webster led his countrymen in the expulsion of the resident St. Kitts Government authorities and declared his island colony independent of the former three-colony arrangement. This act came to be known as the “Anguillan Revolution,” and brought Anguilla worldwide attention. When negotiations failed, the British Government sent 300 armed London Metropolitan Police in March of 1969 to force the Anguillans to return to the previous political relationship.7

However, this attempt at resuming control failed to reverse the Anguillans’ decision. Webster and other leaders refused to be intimidated by the British Colonial Office, established their new Anguillan government, and chose Webster as Chief Minister and head of the People’s Progressive Party in 1976. In 1980, Anguilla officially became a separate British colony, with Webster remaining in the forefront of those desiring to have their small country control its own destiny.8 Subsequently, Webster was elected Premier of Anguilla and served until 1984.

During two stints as leader of the Anguillan colonial government, Webster consistently exhibited a visionary, courageous, and honest leadership style. After losing the election to be the Leader of the National Anguillan Alliance in 1989, he remained involved in politics until his retirement, and continued to be highly respected by his countrymen for the manner in which he carried himself and represented his country for so many years. In 2010, the Anguillan Government declared his birthday—March 2nd—a national holiday.9

Demise

After his passing on December 9, 2016, there was a great outpouring of appreciation for what he had done for his country. On Friday, January 13, 2017, Webster was given a state funeral where his body lay in the country’s House of Assembly for public viewing. Many leaders of neighboring countries attended the service at the Saint Mary’s Parish Church, and Anguillan school children lined the streets along the way to his burial site where he was laid to rest in a mausoleum.

Sources

Berg, Trent. “Tribute from the Seventh-day Adventist Community.” The Anguillan, December 19, 2016.

Roberts, Sam. “Ronald Webster, Leader who Plotted Anguillan Revolution, dies at 90.” The New York Times, January 22, 2017.

“The Eulogy for James Ronald Webster.” At the Service of Thanksgiving for The Honorable James Ronald Webster, 1926-2016, on January 13, 2017, at the St. Mary’s Parish Church, The Valley, Anguilla, British West Indies.

Walicek, Don E. “James Ronald Webster: A Revolutionary for the People.” Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society, April 2014. https://www.aahsanguillla.com/-anguilla-people-heroes-revolution.html.

Walicek, Don E. The Anguilla Revolution and Operation Sheepskin. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Webster, Ronald. Scrapbook on the Anguilla Revolution. The Valley, Anguilla: Seabrakers, Ltd., 1987.

Westlake, Donald. Under the English Heaven: The Remarkable True Story of the 1969 British Invasion of Anguilla. London: Silver Tail Books, 1972.

Notes

  1. Sam Roberts, “Ronald Webster, Leader who Plotted Anguillan Revolution, dies at 90,” The New York Times, January 22, 2017, p. B6.

  2. “The Eulogy for James Ronald Webster,” at the Service of Thanksgiving for The Honorable James Ronald Webster, 1926-2016, on January 13, 2017, at the St. Mary’s Parish Church, The Valley, Anguilla, British West Indies.

  3. Don E. Walicek, The Anguilla Revolution and Operation Sheepskin (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 150.

  4. Ronald Webster, Scrapbook on the Anguilla Revolution (The Valley, Anguilla: Seabrakers, Ltd., 1987), 2.

  5. Donald Westlake, Under the English Heaven: The Remarkable True Story of the 1969 British Invasion of Anguilla (London: Silver Tail Books, 1972), 127.

  6. Webster, 2.

  7. Trent Berg, “Tribute from the Seventh-day Adventist Community,” The Anguillan, December 19, 2016, 6.

  8. Don E. Walicek, “James Ronald Webster: A Revolutionary for the People,” Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society, April 2014, https://www.aahsanguillla.com/-anguilla-people-heroes-revolution.html.

  9. “The Eulogy for James Ronald Webster.”

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Phillips, Glenn O. "Webster, James Ronald (1926–2016)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 26, 2022. Accessed April 16, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5C7A.

Phillips, Glenn O. "Webster, James Ronald (1926–2016)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 26, 2022. Date of access April 16, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5C7A.

Phillips, Glenn O. (2022, October 26). Webster, James Ronald (1926–2016). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 16, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=5C7A.