Freeman, Thomas Birch
- (180 9-1890)pioneer Methodist missionary in AfricaAn African who became a pioneer Methodist missionary in West Africa, Thomas Birch Freeman was born at Twyford, Hampshire, England, in 1809, the son of an English mother and a freed African slave, Thomas Freeman. As a young man, he joined theMethodists while working as a gardener. In the mid-1830s, he lost his job because of his religion, and he applied to the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to become a missionary in West Africa. He sailed for the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1837, arriving early the next year. Several English missionaries had preceded him there, but their work had failed to bear fruit.Freeman built a church at Cape Coast, which served as a base from which he moved up and down the coastal plain. He became acquainted with William deGraft, a Fanti, whom he recruited as a colleague in the ministry. Freeman's real breakthrough came from a visit inland to Kusami, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom, where he developed friendships with the head of the nation and a number of chiefs. At the end of the decade, he returned to England for a visit with de Graft. In 1841, he published his journals, which, along with his lectures, made him a celebrity. He was able to increase his support and returned to the Gold Coast with several missionary recruits.Upon his return to Africa, he again visited Kusami. He next went to Sierra Leone, where some Yorubans had requested assistance from the Wes-leyans. He expanded the older Wesleyan work at Freetown to the Yoruban territory. He later opened work in Dahomey (now Benin) and in the heart of Yoruba territory in Nigeria (Lagos and Abeokuta). His ability to work was constantly hampered by British attempts to colonize the African coast, and by the limited financial resources available from the Wesleyans in England.His far-flung missionary endeavor came to end in 1857. While Freeman was a most capable diplomat, he spent money far beyond his budget. He was accused of financial mismanagement and forced out as superintendent. To repay the mission, he took a government job in Accra. Beginning in 1860, he lived in the Gold Coast as a farmer, and preached as he was able. In 1873, he and the Wesleyan Missionary Society reconciled, and he assumed duties as a missionary at Anam-abu (Nigeria), where he served for six years. For the last six years of his working life he preached in Accra, where he died in 1890.Freeman led in the spread of Protestantism in general and Methodism in particular throughout West Africa. He is now given credit for establishing their presence throughout West Africa.See also Africa, sub-Saharan.Further reading:■ Allen Birtwhistle, Thomas Birch Freeman (London: Cargate Press, 1950)■ Thomas Birch Freeman, Journal of Various Visits to the King- doms of Ashanti, Aku and Dahomi in West Africa (London: John Mason, 1843)■ ----, Missionary Enterprise No Fiction (1871)■ FF Deaville Walker, Thomas Birch Freeman: The Son of an African (London: Student Christian Movement, 1929).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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