Crowther, Samuel Ajayi

(c. 18 0 7-1891 )
   first African Anglican bishop
   Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther was born into a Yoruba family around 1807 in present-day Nigeria. In 1820, his hometown was raided by Muslim people who lived to the north of the Yoruba. He was captured and sold into slavery and eventually fell into the hands of Portuguese merchantmen. The ship that was to take him to the Americas was intercepted by the British in 1822, and he was taken to Sierra Leone and freed. Like most other freedmen, Crowther knew of no way to return home; instead he adapted to his new life.
   Three years later, Crowther became a Christian. At his baptismal ceremony (conducted by a member of the Church Missionary Society [CMS]) he took the name of a prominent British clergyman, Samuel Crowther. He later attended Fourah Bay College, the first Western institution of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa. While learning English, he nurtured knowledge of his own tongue and learned Temne, a local language.
   Crowther's impressive abilities led to an 1841 invitation to England to study for the Anglican priesthood. He was ordained there in 1843, there being no bishop who could ordain priests in Africa. Upon his return to Africa, he was recruited for a new mission among the Yoruba people at Abeokuta, an agricultural colony created to keep the area out of the slave economy. Crowther also had an emotional reunion with his family, who became Christians. In 1851, he went to England on behalf of the mission and impressed all he met. Back in Africa, he worked on the Yoruban translation of the Bible.
   In 1854, Crowther joined an expedition up the Niger River to establish a string of mission stations, during which he added languages to his repertoire. He emerged as a champion of using Africans as primary missionaries, then a relatively new idea. He found an ally in Henry Venn (1796-1873), who headed the CMS in London and had been among those impressed with Crowther in 1851. Although the majority of the British missionaries did not believe Africans capable of self-governance, Venn was able to secure the consecration of Crowther as a bishop in 1864. His designated diocese was "the countries of Western Africa beyond the limits of the Queen's dominions."
   His territory was in essence a mission, designed to be self-supporting with little financial support from the CMS. The "Niger mission" grew spectacularly, but after Venn's death there was no champion in England to advocate the consecration of a bishop successor. in his last years, Crowther had to watch as white missionaries took over his diocese. He was succeeded by a white bishop, though Crowther's son, Archdeacon Dandeson Crowther (1844-1938), was able to remain head of one relatively autonomous structure within the diocese, the Niger Delta pastorate Church. it would be some time before another African bishop was named and before the example of his work would be followed elsewhere.
   Further reading:
   ■ J. F A. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria: 1841-1891 (London: Longmans, 1965)
   ■ Samuel A. Crowther, Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers (1855; rpt., London: Frank Cass, 1970)
   ■ --- and John Christopher Taylor, The Gospel on the Banks of the Niger: Journals and Notices of the Native Missionaries Accompanying the Niger Expedition of 1857-1859 (London: Dawsons, 1968)
   ■ Jesse Page, The African Bishop (London: Hod-der & Stoughton, 1908)
   ■ J. B. Webster, The African Churches among the Yoruba (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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