Baptist History Homepage

First Efforts at Mission Work in Western Africa - Lott Carey
By William Gammell
Professor in Brown University, 1854

      No one of the missions planted by the Managers of the General Convention has had so serious obstacles to encounter, or has been so often paralysed by their influence, as that on the western coast of Africa. Its history conducts us to a portion of the earth pervaded by a pestilential climate and perpetually ravaged by the cupidity of civilized man, - to a race degraded by the barbarism and wrongs of ages, and, by common consent, long doomed to slavery and oppression among almost every people of Christendom. No relics of a departed civilization, no scenes of storied events, attract attention to this gloomy region. No hoary superstitions blending with the rude traditions of an elder age lend a philosophic interest to the people who inhabit it. It presents only a blank and dreary waste of barbarism, occupied by the lowest and most abject forms of humanity. Yet Christian Philanthropy, to her honor be it spoken, has not passed by even this desolate land in utter neglect. She has braved the pestilence that perpetually haunts its coasts, and has encountered
[p. 244]
the ferocity of its degraded and brutalized inhabitants; and, finding arguments for her support in the very degradation of their condition and in the wrongs they have suffered, she has endeavored to communicate to them the truths of the gospel and secure for them the blessings of Christian civilization. It is true that these endeavors have been attended with the most imperfect success; and the scenes in which they were put forth are now marked by the graves of many of the heroic men who made them. Yet they well illustrate the spirit of that comprehensive philanthropy which the religion of Christ alone is able to inspire.

      The mission of the American Baptists has been principally confined to that portion of the western coast of Africa known as Liberia, and has been planted only among the Bassa tribe of its inhabitants, - a numerous people occupying a strip of the coast ninety miles in length, lying between Junk river and the river Sesters, and extending back nearly seventy miles in the interior. They are supposed to be about one hundred and twenty-five thousand in number.

     The earliest missionaries sent by the Board were Lott Carey and Collin Teage, two colored men, who were ordained at Richmond, Virginia, in January, 1821, and soon afterwards sailed for Africa as emigrants of the American Colonization Society. The Society had not at this period established a colony upon the coast, and Messrs. Carey and Teage went to Freetown, in the English colony of Sierra Leone. Their residence here however was brief, in consequence of the unfriendliness of the climate, and in February, 1822, they removed to Monrovia, a settlement which had been planted by colonists from America. Here they commenced their labors as missionaries and founded a church. Six persons were baptized during the year 1823, and in the year following nine more were added to their number, and a commodious place of worship was erected for their use. Of this church Lott Carey became the pastor, his associate in the mean time having returned to Sierra Leone. In the performance of his duties as a missionary Mr. Carey evinced

[pp. 245-246 - a map and blank page]

[p. 247]
remarkable energy and faithfulness. He was born a slave in Virginia, but many years before leaving Richmond he had purchased his freedom and that of his two children, and had acquired the rudiments of a superior education, and proved himself worthy of the highest trusts in the business with which he was charged. On the pestilential shores of Africa he soon found occasion for all the knowledge he had acquired, both among his fellow emigrants and the rude barbarians from the interior with whom they became associated. By his acquaintance with medicine, he healed their maladies; by his sagacity in civil affairs, he settled their disputes and aided in the organization of their infant society; and by his earnestness and power as a preacher, he commended the gospel to their hearts and consciences with unusual success.

     Early in 1825 Rev. Calvin Holton was accepted as a missionary by the Board, and sailed for the American colonies in Liberia. Almost immediately after his arrival, however, Mr. Holton was seized with the fever which in that climate usually attacks Europeans who come from other latitudes, and died in July of the same year.

     The mission contiiued to be sustained by Mr. Carey, with the aid of two or three pious assistants from among the emigrants. The resources by which it was kept alive were supplied almost entnely by his own efforts, as the funds which were furnished by the Board were of necessity at this time exceedingly limited. The labors of the mission were bestowed upon the emigrate colonists, and also, as far as possible, upon the natives of the country who had either been rescued from slave-ships and settled upon the coast, or had voluntarily come in from the neighboring wilderness to join the colonies of their more civilized brethren. Mr. Carey in this manner preached and maintained schools at Monrovia and also at Cape Grand Mount, - at the latter place among a people known as the Veys, one of the most powerful and intelligent of the tribes on the coast. At these and other settlements he was the life and soul of nearly all the religious efforts and operations that were

[p. 248]
carried on. He preached several times every week, superintended schools both for religious and for secular instruction, - in some of which he taught himself, - travelled from one settlement to another, and watched with constant vigilance and unremitting care over all the spiritual and the social interests of the colonists.

     In September, 1826, he was unanimously elected vice-agent of the colony, and on the return of Mr. Ashmun to the United States in 1828, he was appointed to discharge the duties of governor in the interim - a task which he performed during the brief remnant of his life with wisdom, and with credit to himself. His death took place in November, 1828, in a manner that was fearfully sudden and extraordinary. The natives of the country had committed depredations upon the property of the colony, and were threatening general hostilities. Mr. Carey, in his capacity as acting governor, immediately called out the military forces of the colony, and commenced vigorous measures for repelling the assault and protecting the settlements. He was at the magazine, engaged in superintending the making of cartridges, when, by the oversetting of a lamp, a large mass of powder became ignited, and produced an explosion which resulted in the death of Mr. Carey and several others who were engaged with him. In this sudden and awful manner perished an extraordinary man, - one who in a higher sphere might have developed many of the noblest energies of character, and who, even in the humble capacity of a missionary among his own benighted brethren, deserves a prominent place in the list of those who have shed lustre upon the African race.

     At the period of Mr. Carey's death, the church of which he was pastor contained a hundred members, and was in highly flourishing condition. It was committed to the charge ot Collin Teage, who now returned from Sierra Leone, and of Mr. Waring, one of its members, who had lately been ordained a minister. The influences which had commenced with the indefatigable founder of the mission continued to be felt long after he had ceased to live. The church at Monrovia was increased to two

[p. 249]
hundred members, and the power of the gospel was manifested in other settlements of the Colonization Society, and even among the rude natives of the coast, of whom nearly a hundred were converted to Christianity and united with the several churches in the colony.

[William Gammell, A History of American Baptist Missions in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, 1854 pp. 243-249. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Missions / Missionaries Articles
Baptist History Homepage