Project Canterbury

Samuel Crowther
The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop of the Niger

By Jesse Page

London: S. W. Partridge & Co., c. 1892.


THE name of Crowther is a household word in the record of missionary enterprise. The fact of his being the first native Bishop of Africa, the pathetic incidents of his early life, and the gracious success which has crowned his efforts on the hanks of the Niger, have all combined to make an impress upon the memory and heart of Christian people in England which will not grow slighter with the passage of the years. Many whose eyes look upon these pages will remember the striking effect of the black Bishop's first appearance on our platforms, and will recall the more frequent occasions when in the pulpits of our churches he has pleaded the cause of the work to which he has devoted his energies and life.

But like all men of real character, to understand and appreciate Crowther you must personally know him. Few men have a more interesting and impressive individuality.

[vi] I shall never forget the rush of feeling which I experienced when in his little room at Salisbury Square I had first the privilege of seeing the subject of this biography face to face. In our many subsequent interviews this sense of heartfelt veneration increased more and more, and I recall gratefully the hours of patient and invaluable attention which he gave to the proof sheets of this work, as, word for word, I read them to him. From time to time he would arrest the reading to correct a date or even the spelling of a native name, and oftener with emotion to linger on the old scenes and explain more fully the incidents of his career as they passed in review. One of the characteristics of Bishop Crowther is a strong disapprobation of "the praise of men," and he recognised with evident pleasure that these pages aimed rather to glorify God than to magnify man.

The work on the Niger, with which his name will bo for ever identified, is throughout a remarkable evidence of the advantage of employing native agency, if only to save a needless sacrifice of European lives, and at the same time exhibits what the Gospel can do, and is doing, when confronted with heathenism on the one hand and a debased form of Mohammedanism on the other. Of course the reader will not imagine that there have been no failures, no disappointments and breakdowns. In common with mission work everywhere, there have been discouragements on the Niger to try the faith and patience of the workers. But the pennon of the Cross borne aloft is still advancing, and [vi/vii] victory is sure to those who in His name endure to the end.

At a time like the present, when the horrors of slavery are being once more forced home upon the English conscience, it is earnestly hoped that these pages may do something to awaken sympathy for the sufferings of those in direst bondage. Crowther, let it be remembered, was once a slave, and he is keenly sensitive to the woes and wretchedness of his unhappy brethren in Africa. Had it fallen within the province of this book, much, very much more, might have been said about slavery,--it has been indeed difficult to repress a reference to the horrible tidings of deeds done in Africa which week after week shock even the most prosaic of us by their vileness. The knocks at the door of the English heart, once so lightly moved, are many to-day. Cardinal Lavigérie, Lieutenant Wissman, and others, speak of that which they have seen until our hearts are faint with the sickening recital, and last not least, Commander Cameron in a recent article says, "The time has now come when we can no longer plead ignorance; from missionaries of every branch of the Catholic Church of Christ we hear of the sufferings of the negro. Those who would raise the native races, and abolish slavery by the introduction of the arts of peace and the extension of legitimate commerce, have been attacked by the slave dealers, and a gentleman holding the position of British Consul has been stripped of his clothes, and flouted and jeered at by the traders in human [vii/vii] flesh." Then he closes with a declaration which does honour to his spirit, "I am ready to act up to what I write, and would freely give my life in the cause of freedom, and will gladly co-operate in any possible manner, either here or in Africa, with those who, I trust, will resolve that this disgrace to humanity shall no longer exist."

The observations of Bishop Crowther on that other curse of Africa, Mohammedanism, in these pages, will well repay the reader's consideration. Few men have had a closer experience of the real teaching and practice of Islam than he, and even his charitable mind cannot credit it with the philosophic sweetness and light with which it is the fashion in some quarters to invest the religion of the false prophet. It must not be forgotten that this religion is that of the slave driver and slave killer throughout the Dark Continent.

It only remains for me to acknowledge with thanks the great courtesy I have received from the Church Missionary Society, in having placed at my disposal the journals and other literary material out of which this work has been constructed. Without this invaluable assistance at Salisbury Square these pages could not have been written,


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