Lott Cary was born a slave, about the year 1780, in Charles City County, Va., some thirty miles below Richmond. His father was an eminently pious member of a Baptist church; and his mother, though not a communicant, still gave evidence of being a true Christian. He was their only child, and, from the character of his parents, there is no reason to doubt that he was trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
In 1804, he was removed to Richmond, and employed as a common labourer in a tobacco warehouse. Here he became dissolute and profane, and for a considerable time every thing in respect to him betokened confirmed profligacy and utter ruin. But, after two or three years, he was reclaimed from his wayward course, and was brought penitently and thankfully to accept of offered mercy through Jesus Christ. He was baptized, in 1807, by Elder John Courtney, and united with the First Baptist Church
* Taylor's Memoir. — Missionary Heroes and Martyrs.
in Richmond. At this time, he was extremely ignorant, not knowing even the Alphabet. The circumstance which first awakened in him the desire to learn to read is worthy of record. He heard his Pastor, Elder Courtney, preach a sermon on the conversation between our Lord and Nicodemus, as recorded in the third chapter of John, that interested him so much that he determined to learn to read it for himself. He, accordingly, procured a copy of the New Testament, and commenced learning his letters in the copy referred to; nor did he relax at all in his diligence till his purpose was accomplished. Some young men in the warehouse assisted him, and in a short time he was able to read the chapter with comparative ease. Shortly after this he learned to write.
About this time, he began to hold meetings with the coloured people in Richmond, and he conducted them with so much propriety and success as to suggest to the church the expediency of licensing him to preach; and, accordingly, he was licensed, and rendered himself highly acceptable and useful as a preacher to the coloured people, not only in Richmond, but in the surrounding country. He now applied himself diligently to the culture of his mind; and, as an illustration of his rapid intellectual development, it is stated that a gentleman, on one occasion, taking up a book which he had laid down. for a few moments, found it to be "Smith's Wealth of Nations." But while, aided by some benevolent individuals, who had become deeply interested in his behalf, he was constantly growing in knowledge, he never faltered in his fidelity to his engagements in the warehouse; and no person, black or white, in similar circumstances, it is said, ever exceeded him in the promptness and correctness which he here evinced.
In 1813, he had, by rigid economy, accumulated so much property that, with the aid which he received from some of the merchants to whose interests he had been devoted, he was able to purchase his own freedom and that of his two children, — for which he paid eight hundred and fifty dollars. He had previously lost his first wife by death, and, a year or two after this, was married a second time. He now received a regular salary, which, from time to time, was increased, until it amounted to eight hundred dollars per annum. During this time, he made frequent purchases and shipments of tobacco on his own account.
About the year 1815, he became deeply interested in the subject of Missions to Africa, and was instrumental in awakening a similar interest among many of his coloured brethren in Richmond. The consequence of this was the formation of the Richmond African Missionary Society, which contributed, annually, from a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars to the funds of the Baptist General Convention. But no efforts for the good of Africa, which he could make in this country, seemed to satisfy him: his bosom glowed with an intense desire to go personally with the Gospel to that benighted Continent. There was indeed much that was fitted to deter him from such a purpose — on the one hand, he was pleasantly settled in his native State, was the possessor of a small farm, and had the prospect of an adequate support, and withal was eminently useful in his sphere, and greatly respected and beloved by the community in which he lived; and, on the other hand, in going to Africa, he would find his facilities for labour
greatly diminished, would have to encounter many hardships, foreseen and unforeseen, and would not improbably soon fall a victim to the sickly climate. But neither the attractions of a pleasant settlement at home, nor the forbidding circumstances which must attend his residence abroad, could prevail over his conviction that he was called of God to his degraded kinsmen according to the flesh in their own land. When interrogated, perhaps expostulated with, by a minister on the subject, his reply was to this effect: — "I am an African, and in this country, however meritorious my conduct and respectable my character, I cannot receive the credit due to either. I wish to go to a country where I shall be estimated by my merits, not by my complexion; and I feel bound to labour for my suffering race." His employers, when they ascertained that he was contemplating a removal, proposed a liberal addition to his salary; but his purpose was formed on grounds that neutralized the influence of all worldly considerations.
Early in 1819, the Journal of Messrs. Mills and Burgess, Agents of the American Colonization Society for exploring the coast of Africa, was published; and this brought Mr. Cary to a determination to remove thither, with as little delay as possible. He was accepted, by the Society as one of their first emigrants, and, with Colin Teague, another coloured man who had been accustomed to speak in public, was appointed to a Mission in Africa by the Board of the Baptist General Convention. Having spent the greater part of the year 1820 in study, Messrs. Cary and Teague were ordained to the ministry and to the missionary work, in January. 1821. Mr. Cary's Farewell Sermon, delivered in the meeting-house of the First Baptist Church in Bichmond, was an uncommonly felicitous effort, and wrought powerfully on an immense congregation.
The company sailed on the 23d of January, and reached their destination, — Sierra Leone, after a passage of forty-four days. But Mr. Cary, on his arrival, found his prospects much less promising than he had expected. No territory having yet been purchased by the Colonization Society, its agents would not consent to receive him and his fellow-labourer, Teague, in the capacity in which they had been sent out, and they were therefore obliged, for the time being, to work as mechanics. The next year, however, the Colony at Liberia was commenced. The intervening time, which he spent at Sierra Leone, was a period of severe trial, partly from his not having adequate means of support, and partly on account of the sickness and death of his second wife, who left him with a family of young children.
In 1822, when a purchase of territory had been made at Cape Montserado, he removed thither with his family, and was appointed Health Officer and Government Inspector. Here a new scene of trial opened upon him. He found the Colony in a most exposed condition, surrounded by hostile and savage tribes, who were watching their opportunity to exterminate the settlers. It was even proposed to give up the settlement and return to Sierra Leone; but this Mr. Cary earnestly opposed, and his courage and perseverance begat the same spirit in others. During the war with the native tribes, in November and December, 1822, he co-operated most wisely and bravely with Mr. Ashmun for the defence of the Colony. When
fifteen hundred of the exasperated natives were rushing on to exterminate the settlement, he lent the most efficient aid in rallying the broken forces, inspiring them with fresh courage, and leading them on to victory. In one of his letters he compares the little exposed company on Cape Montserado, at that time, to the Jews who, in rebuilding their city, grasped a weapon in one hand, while they laboured with the other, but adds "there has never been an hour, or a minute, no, not even when the balls were flying around my head, when I could wish myself again in America."
At this early period of the Colony, the emigrants suffered much for the lack of suitable medical attendance. Mr. Cary was led, in consequence of this, to pay special attention to the diseases of the country, thus rendering himself a valuable medical adviser. He also contributed liberally from his own limited means, and gave almost his whole time to the poor, the sick, and the afflicted.
Shortly after this, Mr. Cary was involved in some movements adverse to the authority of the Government, and originating in some misunderstanding between the Colonization Society and the settlers. The latter thought that injustice had been done them, and Mr. Cary seems to have been of the same opinion, and to have at least justified proceedings which the Society condemned. But, while acting, in some manner, as a mediator between the exasperated colonists, on the one hand, and Mr. Ashmun, the Governor, on the other, he gave his influence to restore the full authority of the laws. Mr. Ashmun, in giving an account of this disturbance to the Board, says, — "The services rendered by Lott Cary in the Colony, who has, with very few, and those recent, exceptions, done honour to the selection of the Baptist Missionary Society, under whose auspices he was sent out to Africa, entitle his agency in this affair to the most indulgent construction it will bear. The hand which records the lawless transaction, would long since have been cold in the grave, had it not been for the unwearied and painful attentions of this individual, rendered at all hours, of every description, and continued for several months."
But, notwithstanding Mr. Cary was so much occupied with the general concerns of the Colony, he never lost sight of the great object which led him to seek his abode in Africa. The church which he had originally formed at Richmond, and which was then established at Monrovia, he watched over and ministered to with all fidelity; and he also spent much time in instructing the Africans who had been rescued from the slave ships, and placed under the protection of the Colony. He had the pleasure to receive a considerable number to the fellowship of the church, and among them two or three converts from heathenism. He established a school at Monrovia, and attempted to establish another at Grand Cape Mount, about seventy miles distant, but in the latter case was not immediately successful. In 1824, he was appointed Physician to the Colony. The attention which he had previously given to diseases, especially those of the country, in connection with the suggestions of several medical men who had visited Liberia, rendered him quite competent to the new duties which were thus devolved upon him.
In January, 1825, Mr. Cary writes thus of his ministerial and missionary labours: — "The Lord has in mercy visited the settlement, and I have
had the happiness to baptize nine hopeful converts; besides, a number have joined the Methodists. The natives are more and more friendly; their confidence begins to awaken. They see that it is our wish to do them good, and hostilities have ceased with them. I have daily applications to receive their children, and have ventured to take three small boys. Our Sunday School still goes on with some hopes that the Lord will ultimately bless it to the good of numbers of the untutored tribes. The natives attend our Lord's Day worship regularly." In April, he writes to the Corresponding Secretary of the Missionary Society at Richmond, which he had helped to form. — "Tell the Board to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, for the work is going on here, and prospers in his hands; that the Sunday School promises a great and everlasting blessing to Africa, and on the next Lord's day there will be a discourse on the subject of Missions, with a view to get on foot, if possible, a regular school for the instruction of native children." And in June he writes, — "I know that it will be a source of much gratification to you to hear that, on the 18th of April, 1825, we established a missionary school for native children. We began with twenty-one, and have increased since up to the number of thirty-two."
In the autumn of this year, Mr. Cary was invited by the Board of the Colonization Society to visit the United States, and he was not only disposed, on various accounts, to accept the invitation, but had made all his arrangements in reference to it, — expecting to sail in April following, when he was prevented from carrying out his purpose by the prevalence of sickness in the Colony to such an extent that it was thought that his medical attentions could not be dispensed with. The intended visit was at first postponed, and afterwards abandoned.
Mr. Cary's faithful and successful efforts in behalf of the Colony commanded great and universal respect, and in September, 1826, he was appointed to the responsible office of Vice-agent. The event proved that he was eminently qualified for the place; and when, in 1828, in consequence of the return of Mr. Ashmun to this country, the whole executive responsibility passed into his hands, the utmost confidence was felt that no emergency could arise to which he would not show himself equal.
In November, 1827, Mr. Cary had the pleasure of seeing his long cherished design of establishing a school at Grand Cape Mount carried into effect. But, though his interest in this school and other objects connected with his mission was not at all abated by the additional burden of care and labour devolved upon him by the departure of Mr. Ashmun, his new duties left him with comparatively little time for direct missionary labour. Still, his energies seemed to increase in proportion to the severity with which they were tasked; and all the interests of the Colony, during the brief period in which they were under his superintendence, were wisely and vigilantly cared for. But an infinitely wise Providence had ordained that he should be cut down in the midst of his usefulness. In the autumn of 1828, a factory at Digby, a few miles from Monrovia, belonging to the Colony, had been robbed by the natives, and shortly after was occupied by a slave dealer. Mr. Cary addressed a letter of remonstrance to him, but it was interrupted and destroyed by the natives. In this state, he felt called upon
to assist the rights and defend the property of the Colony; and he, therefore, called out the military of the settlements, with a view to compel the natives to cease from their unprovoked aggressions. On the evening of the 8th of November, while he was, with several others, engaged, in the old agency house, in making cartridges, the accidental upsetting of a candle was the means of communicating fire to some loose powder on the floor, and this caused the entire ammunition in the building to explode, resulting in the death of eight persons. Mr. Cary lingered until the 10th, and then died, leaving many both in Africa and in America to mourn his loss.
In 1850, the late Rev. Eli Ball of Virginia, visited all the Liberian Baptist Missionary Stations, as agent of the Southern Baptist Missionary Convention, and, with considerable difficulty, ascertained the spot where Lett Gary was buried. The next year, a small marble monument was sent out, and placed over the grave, with the following inscription: —
On the front of the monument was —
Born a slave in Virginia,
Removed from Richmond to Africa, as a
Missionary and Colonist,
Was Pastor of the First Baptist Church,
and an original settler and defender
of the Colony at Monrovia.
Died Acting Governor of Liberia
Nov. 10th, 1828.
His life was the progressive development of an
able intellect and firm benevolent heart,
under the influences of
Freedom and an enlightened Christianity;
and affords the amplest evidence of the capacity of his race
to fill with dignity and usefulness the highest
ecclesiastical and political stations.
" Of a truth God is no respecter of persons,
But hath made of one blood all nations of men."
On the reverse —
Lott Cary's self-denying, self-sacrifleing labours,
as a self-taught Pbysician, as a Missionary, and
Pastor of a Church, und finally as
Governor of the Colony,
have inscribed his name indelibly
on the page of history, not only as one of
but as an eminent Philanthropist
and Missionary of Jesus Christ.
"Aye, call it holy ground
" The place where first they trod;
" They sought what here they found,
"Freedom to worship God."
FROM WILLIAM CRANE, ESQ.
Baltimore, June 23, 1858.
My dear Sir: In 1812, I engaged in business in Richmond, Va., and united with the Baptist church, then in charge of the venerable Elder John Courtney, comprising about one hundred white, and from a thousand to twelve hundred coloured, members: about a dozen of the number had the appointment of Deacons, and perhaps half of this number had a special license from the church to preach and exhort, as opportunity might be given them. At a
weekly night meeting of the church for devotional exercises, as well as to give a special oversight to cases of discipline among the crowd of coloured members, I soon became acquainted with those who were the most prominent; and of these I found that Lott Cary and Colin Teague possessed the largest share of intelligence and influence.
About the year 1815, I engaged to meet a number of these leading ones, three nights in a week, for their mental improvement. This gratuitous school, with some little help from others, and with some opposition and interruptions, was continued for several succeeding years; but Lott Cary gave far more of life and interest to it than any other individual — my own efforts would have failed, if his had not been united with them.
In November, 1813, the Richmond Baptist Foreign Missionary Society was formed, preparatory to a connection with the Baptist Triennial Convention, originated in Philadelphia, in the spring of 1814. These coloured people seemed to catch some of the missionary fire; and, in the spring of 1815, the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society was constituted, with the sole object of collecting funds to send the Gospel to Africa; and in this movement Lott Cary was the master spirit. He, as Secretary, made the first rough entries in the Record Book, still existing in Richmond. They made me their Corresponding Secretary, and their Board of Managers usually met at my counting-room, as the most central and convenient place.
The funds of this Society were increased at their annual missionary meetings on Easter Monday, as well as on other occasions, for four years; while, as yet, they had selected no missionary, or any particular place in Africa, as the field of their benevolent operations.
In February, 1819, I obtained from Mr. Burgess the Report of his and Mr. Mills' exploring tour on the coast of Africa for the American Colonization Society; and at our night school I informed Cary and the rest all about it. All listened with deep interest; and when I asked Cary what he thought of the matter, he replied, in his usual deliberate and decided tone, — "I have been determined for a long time to go to Africa, and at least see the country for myself:" and Teague immediately intimated his purpose to do the same. I was surprised but gratified at the cool decision which they evinced, and soon afterwards communicated the circumstances of the case to my friend, the Rev. O. B. Brown, of Washington City, which resulted in the appointment of Cary and Teague as Colonists by the American Colonization Society, and as Missionaries of the Baptist Triennial Convention. They both relinquished their secular employments, expecting to sail in the Elizabeth from New York, in January, 1820, with the Rev. Samuel Bacon; but, failing in this, their time was mostly devoted to study until January, 1821, when they sailed from Norfolk in the Nautilus. The Richmond African Missionary Society appropriated all their funds — some seven or eight hundred dollars — for their benefit. No coloured men in Virginia, I think, have been ordained to administer ordinances, or to the Pastorate of churches; but Cary and Teague were fully set apart and ordained in Richmond as Missionaries to Africa, a few days before they departed. A very brief Church Covenant was prepared by my excellent friend, David Roper, — the first Pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, and my most zealous coadjutor in promoting the interests of the African race, — which, on the 11th of January, 1821, was signed by seven individuals, — namely, Cary and his wife, Teague and his wife and son, — then a youth of fifteen, and Joseph Lankford and his wife. Cary retained this Covenant; and, though Teague and his family continued several years at Sierra Leone, it still remains with the church of which Cary was Pastor, at Monrovia, and from which some fourteen other churches have originated, as well as the Liberia Baptist Association.
A few nights before they left, Cary, by regular appointment, preached his Farewell Sermon in the old meeting-house. The weather was unfavourable, but the Pastor and a considerable congregation, both white and coloured, were present. The Rev. John Bryce, Assistant Pastor, accompanied Cary into the pulpit. Long and intimately as I had known him, I had never yet heard him preach a regular sermon; for the public services of these coloured men were generally among their own people in the country. But Teague had repeatedly said to me,—" I can tell you I don't hear any of your white ministers that can preach like Lott Cary." I attributed this, however, in a great degree, to the partiality of friendship, though I confess it stirred my curiosity to hear him.
His opening exercises were simple but appropriate, though they have left no deep impression on my memory. But, with the announcement of his text, (Romans viii. 32. He that spared not his own Son, &c.,) a deeper interest seemed to be awakened, which evidently increased in intensity till the close of his discourse. There seemed to be no thought of a graceful manner or polished periods, — none of the vain repetition or rant so common with illiterate preachers. His utterance was louder than was necessary, — a common habit among the uneducated, — but the discourse was full of strong evangelical thought, much of it clothed in Bible language, flowing spontaneously from the heart, and it was fitted altogether to make a powerful impression. There might have been grammatical errors, as he spoke entirely extempore, but, if so, my attention was not drawn to them. Though I cannot now, after the lapse of thirty-seven years, recall any points in the body of the discourse, yet I have a most vivid recollection of his appearance in the pulpit, and especially of the manner in which, towards the close, he dwelt upon the word "freely." "God not only gave us his Son, and with Him all things, but," with thrilling emphasis he exclaimed over and over, "He gave them freely." He ran a succession of perhaps a dozen changes upon the word, in a manner that would not have dishonoured a Whitefield. His closing, farewell remarks were deeply impressive. I can recall but little of his language, but it was in substance as follows: — "I am about to leave you, probably to see your faces no more. I am going to Africa, a land of heathenish darkness and degradation, to spread the light of salvation there. Jesus Christ commands me to go, and I must obey Him. I know not what may befall me, nor am I anxious about it. I may find my grave in the ocean, or among the savage men or beasts in the wilds of Africa. I long to preach the Gospel there to those who have never heard it. And I fear there may be thousands in this country who preach the Gospel, or profess obedience to Jesus Christ, who are not half awake to the magnitude of his requirements;" and, adverting most forcibly to the scenes of the last Great Day, when every one of us must give account of himself to God, he exclaimed, — "Jesus Christ will tell you, — 'I commanded you to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature — have you obeyed me?' He will then inquire, — 'Where have you been?'" — and, looking earnestly round on all sides of the congregation, he repeated this question, with fiery emphasis, I think to the fourth time, — "'Where have you been? Have you fulfilled the task I gave you, or have you sought your own ease and gratification, regardless of my commands?'" My friend Bryce, who had sat evidently well-nigh entranced during the service, afterwards remarked, without any qualification, that he had never been so deeply interested in a sermon before. It took us all by surprise, though doubtless it derived some of its interest from the fact that we saw that we were listening to a plain, uneducated, or rather self-taught, coloured man. But it was all the evidence we needed that Jesus Christ had commissioned him to preach the Gospel.
My last interview with him left upon my mind an impression that can never be effaced. James River happened, at that time, to be frozen, and the Norfolk steamer could come up no farther than City Point; and I was obliged to engage two large country wagons to convey the emigrants some twenty-five miles by land. It was soon found that some of their more cumbrous effects must be left behind — some altercation ensued; and one of the leading men, in consequence of my rebuking some of his obstreperous conduct, declined exchanging with me a parting farewell. Cary, however, never appeared more benignant and cheerful than then. The manliness and dignity with which he expressed his gratitude for all I had done for him, and his confident hope that we should meet again in a happier world, seemed not only to fully compensate me, but inspired me with a deeper regard for him than I had ever felt before.
As respects Mr. Cary's person, his colour and hair were quite decidedly African. His height was about six feet, with a strong body, erect frame, square features, a keen penetrating eye, and a grave, deeply meditative expression of countenance. His gait, his manner, and his words seemed to be all rigidly measured. There was nothing hasty or frivolous about him. He was naturally reserved, sometimes to a fault, especially towards white persons who might assume superiority over him, and such, without really knowing him, may have regarded him as shy, or even surly, while he never failed to command the unfeigned regard of those best acquainted with him. His employers had reason to regard him highly from the fact that, among a score or two of labourers, he was always foremost, inspiring all the rest by his example. No one could handle a hogshead of tobacco with more vigour or adroitness than he. The merchants esteemed him for the unequalled services he rendered them, and all his associates loved him for his unwearied kindness to them, as umpire in their disputes, treasurer of their finances, and friend and counsellor in all their straits and difficulties. His personal affairs were always suitably attended to, his obligations sacredly fulfilled, and, under favouring circumstances, he might have become an eminent merchant. I remember his telling me one evening that he had that day bought twenty-four hogsheads of tobacco, and shipped it to New York, on his own account, with one of the most respectable merchants as endorser for him.
I may mention a fact or two that now occur to me, as illustrative of Cary's character. Among the numerous taxes imposed by our Government during the War of 1812, a special one was levied on auction sales. This interfered with a long established custom among the planters and factors in Richmond, of employing a crier daily, at the inspection warehouses, to offer the tobacco at public sale, and thus simply to obtain for them the highest bidder, and for which a small fee on each hogshead was paid. It was urged that the law was not intended to cover such an irregular auction as this; but the agents of the Government decided otherwise. In this dilemma, it was proposed that Lott Cary, who, being still legally a slave, was beyond the reach of the law, should take the place of crier; and, for a considerable period, he occupied this position at the Shockoe warehouse, — the oldest and largest one in the city, for the benefit of the most intelligent and respectable portion of the merchants of Richmond.
I have heard the late James Gray, who was, for many years, one of the most extensive tobacco merchants in Richmond, as well as a most devoted Presbyterian Elder, remark that when he was an irreligious young man, serving as a merchant's clerk, his regard for Lott Cary was so great that he would have knocked any man down who had dared to insult him, just as soon as if the insult had been offered to his own father. Another most respectable merchant, still living in Richmond, who has the highest estimate of his character, says that he gave more order and system to the complicated labour
performed at the tobacco warehouse than any other man, before or since, has ever done.
I know of no important project in Cary's life in which he failed. He seemed fully qualified for every position to which he was called. His unaffected piety and enlarged benevolence, his integrity, energy, perseverance, were not only remarkable in him as distinct qualities, but they were as happily blended in his character as in that of any man I have ever known. He seemed formed for an elevated station; and his incessant, self-denying toils among the sick, from the time of his arrival in Africa, in addition to the municipal and missionary labours pressing on him, evince a noble, philanthropic spirit, which is only paralleled in the characters of such men as John Howard.
I am yours very truly, WILLIAM CRANE.
[From William Buell Sprague, editor, Annals of the American Pulpit: Baptist, 1860, pp. 578-586. Document from Google Books. — Jim Duvall]
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