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Abbeokuta; or Sunrise within the Tropics
An Outline of the Origin and Progress of the Yoruba Mission

By Sarah Tucker

New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1854.

Chapter VII. Rev. H. Townsend's Visit to Abbeokuta

"Get you up, and see the land what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein--and be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land."--Num. xiii. 17-20.

"Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it."--Ibid. xiii. 30.

The return of Mr. Schön, Mr. Crowther, and their companions from their expedition up the Niger, was hailed with delight at Sierra Leone; and the report they brought of the friendly disposition of the people they had met with, and their anxiety for intercourse with the English, quickened the intense desire already felt by the Christian Negroes of various tribes that missionaries should be sent to their own different countries.

This, however, was impossible, and the Church Missionary Society was obliged to refuse even the pressing intreaties of the Nufi people, who, though few in number in the colony, had been so distressed at the account their brethren gave of the misery and degradation of their country, that they held meetings among themselves, subscribed to the amount of [84/85] £10, and sent the money with an urgent appeal to the Society that they would not delay to send a missionary to Rabbah, which, though then in the hands of the Fellatahs, they still considered the capital of their own land.

But the more the Committee heard of the Yoruba country, the more encouraged they were as to the practicability and desirableness of establishing a mission within its limits; and as the circumstances we have mentioned seemed to point out Abbeokuta as the most eligible spot, it was decided that Mr. Townsend, one of the Society's catechists at Sierra Leone, should immediately proceed thither to obtain the necessary information. We may conceive the joy with which the Christian Yorubans heard of this decision. It seemed to them now beyond a doubt that a mission would be formed; they knew the delight it would give to their brethren already returned thither, and they anticipated the time when all spiritual hindrances being removed, they might (hem-selves return to their fatherland without risk to their own souls.

It had been arranged that Andrew Wilhelm and John M'Cormack, both of them of the Egba tribe [85/86] of Yorubans, and both valuable members of Mr. Graf's congregation at Hastings, should accompany Mr. Townsend, and many hearts and hands were at work to provide some little article of use or comfort for the travellers. [An interesting circumstance is related of M'Cormack. When taken captive he had been torn from a wife and two children, and of course never expected to see either of them again. He had been many years in Sierra Leone, when, walking one day with a friend from Hastings to Waterloo, they met a young woman of whom the friend happened to remark, "She is from your country." M'Cormack doubted it, and merely to satisfy his friend, went after her, and began to ask her some questions, when to his inexpressible delight and astonishment, he found she was one of his own daughters, who had, like himself, been captured and recaptured and brought to Sierra Leone some years later than her father. She had embraced Christianity and had married, and was actually living close to her father without their having recognised each other.]

A free passage to Badagry was given by three native young men who had lately purchased a small slaver, and were about to make their first trading voyage, and who thus, as it were, consecrated the first fruits of their labour to the good of their country. Often, as Mr. Townsend passed along the streets, he saw the people pointing him out as--"There is the white man going to our country;" and when he and his party embarked on November 14, 1842, it was amidst many a hearty "God bless you, Massa, and go with you!"

They landed at Badagry on December 19, and found that they had already been preceded by other messengers of peace. The earliest emigrants from Sierra Leone to Badagry, in 1839-40, had been so [86/87] kindly received by Wawu, chief of part of the town called the English Town, that some of them determined to remain there instead of going on into the interior. A few of these were Christians belonging to the Wesleyan congregation at Sierra Leone, and their intreaties for spiritual help had led to a visit from the Rev. T. B. Freeman, so well known as the active Wesleyan missionary among the Ashantees.

When Mr. Townsend arrived at Badagry, Mr. Freeman had just returned from a visit to Abbeokuta, and the account he gave of his reception was of the most encouraging description. Wonderfully, indeed, had God disposed the hearts of Shodeke and his people towards the English, and as Mr. Freeman drew near to Abbeokuta, he received a very unexpected proof of respect by the appearance of a party of horsemen sent to escort him into the town. Some of these were Sierra Leone Christians, and "I shall never," writes Mr. Freeman, "forget the joy that beamed in their countenances as they seized me by the hand and bade me welcome. 'Ah!' said they, 'we told our king that the English people loved us, and that missionaries would be sure to follow us to Abbeokuta; but he would hardly believe that any one would come so vlry far to do us good. Now what we told our king is really come to pass! O Massa, you are welcome, welcome, welcome!'"

[88] His entrance into the town was as gratifying as his welcome from these Christians had been. This was the first time an European had ever been seen there; the narrow streets were lined with crowds of natives, shouting out "Aku, Aku!" as he passed along, recognising in him the representative of a nation and of a religion, to which they owed so many of their long-lost relatives. [A native salutation, meaning, "How do you do? How do you do?"]

Shodeke's reception of him was as cordial as that of his people; he seemed overjoyed at his arrival, showed him every attention; and on one occasion, as they were walking together, clasped him in his arms in a transport of delight.

Mr. Townsend visited Abbeokuta very soon after Mr. Freeman's return to Badagry, and his welcome was as hearty and as warm as that of his predecessor had been. The same friendly escort came to meet him, there were the same eager salutations from the crowded streets, only that some among the mass had taught their tongues to give him an English greeting, and shouted aloud as he passed along, "How do you do, white man? how do you do, you that are coming?"

Mr. Townsend found Shodeke a man of an evidently superior mind, and able to appreciate in no ordinary degree the benefits of civilisation and Christianity. He warmly expressed his sense of gratitude to the British Government for all it had [88/89] done for his people, declared his determination to suppress slave-dealing in his own dominions, and to use his influence with surrounding tribes, and spoke of the earnest desire he had for English missionaries and merchants to settle at Abbeokuta. He even offered to give Mr. Townsend any site that he thought most eligible for future mission-premises, but this offer Mr. Townsend did not feel himself at that time at liberty to accept.

Several touching instances of the re-union of relations occurred during Mr. Townsend's short stay here. Andrew Wilhelm discovered several members of his own family, although it was twenty years since he had been enslaved. John M'Cormack one day went into the market to make some purchases, and fancying he could recognise the features of the woman who was serving him, ventured to address her by the name of a sister from whom he had been so long separated. She replied to it, wondering to hear the sound from the lips of a stranger, when an explanation took place, and she proved to be indeed the beloved one from whom he had been torn. She introduced him to many others of his family; he talked to them of Christ and of his Gospel, and they promised to attend the instruction of the missionary should one be sent to them. [Another of Mr. Townsend's companions came to him one day in great delight, bringing with him a woman who he introduced with the exclamation, "I done find my wife!"]

[90] One visitor gave Mr. Townsend great pain, it was an aged woman, who had heard a rumour of her son being among the rescued ones at Sierra Leone, and who came to inquire about him. But she knew only his country heathen name, and neither Mr. Townsend nor any one with him could trace him out by that. Day after day did she thus come, with what she hoped might prove some fresh clue, and every day was she obliged to return unsatisfied.

The report of Mr. Townsend, after his return to Sierra Leone, was so favourable, that the Parent Committee of the Church Missionary Society determined to establish a mission at Abbeokuta with as little delay as possible. Mr. Townsend was invited home to be presented for ordination, and it was arranged that he should afterwards proceed to his destination in company with the Rev. C. A. Gollmer, and Mr. Crowther, who had already been to England for the same purpose, and had been, what the people called, "crowned a minister," in June of this same year, 1843.

During Mr. Townsend's absence, the tide of emigration continued to flow towards Abbeokuta, and, in the prospect of a mission being soon established there, Mr. Graf was again induced to part with Andrew Wilhelm, that he might act as catechist till a regular ministry could be established.

The letters of the Sierra Leone missionaries, about [90/91] this time, contain some very pleasing instances of the gratitude felt by some of those emigrants towards the Church Missionary Society; but the only one we shall mention, was the following, as related by one of them:--"This morning, one of my school-boys, an interesting little fellow, called to see me. On my asking him what he wanted, he replied, that he only came to take leave of me, as he was going with his father to the Yoruba country. I asked him if he was glad to go. He answered, 'I should have been more glad if you were going too, for there are plenty of people who would be too much glad to see you there.' I said, 'the people do not know me, and how is it that they would be glad to see me?' To which he answered, 'Sir, you know the plenty of people who have left for that country, and they all prayed much before they went, that white missionary may come and teach them God's Book.' I told him that I believed God would very soon send black and white ministers, who would teach them the way of salvation. The little fellow was very pleased to hear this, and when I asked him what he intended to do till they should arrive there, answered, 'I will teach the children to read and to sew, and will do all I can to make them good.' I desired him never to forget the lessons he had himself learnt in the school and in church, which he promised not to do, and on taking leave he said, 'Sir, will you please to take this for [91/92] the Church Missionary Society? it is all I have got,' holding out to me a penny, while the large tears were rolling down his jet black cheeks."

While waiting for Mr. Townsend's return from England, Mr. Crowther was engaged in ministering to his own countrymen in Free Town; it is interesting to see what were his feelings of joy and thankfulness, and deep self-abasement, when in January 1844, he stood forth the first ordained native minister of Western Africa, to proclaim the Gospel of salvation, in their own tongue, to the hundreds around him, rescued like himself from slavery of body and soul, and invited them to enter into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Yorubans, Iboes and Calabars, were among his congregation; often had they listened to the glad tidings in the language of their deliverers, and the English tongue was dear to them from many associations; but hitherto the Gospel had never been declared to them in the beloved accents of their own Yoruba, and we do not wonder at the emotions of which Mr. Crowther speaks. [The neighbouring countries generally can speak Yoruba, though it is not their native language.] "Although," he says, "the language was my own native one, with which I am well acquainted, yet on this occasion, it appeared as if I were a babe just learning to utter my mother-tongue. The work in which I was engaged, the [92/93] place where I stood, and the congregation before me, were altogether so new and strange, the whole seemed to me like a dream. But the Lord helped me."

Some of the prayers were rot yet translated, and those he read in English; the rest of the service, and the sermon, which was from Luke i. 35, were in Yoruba, and after the blessing, the whole church rang with "Ke oh sheh, Ke oh sheh!" So let it be, so let it be!

Mr. Townsend arrived at Sierra Leone in December 1844, and now the day arrived, so long looked for and prayed for by the Christian Yorubans, when missionaries should be sent to their beloved country. On the 18th of the same month the party sailed, consisting of Mr. Gollmer, Mr. Townsend, and Mr. Crowther, with their wives and children; William Marsh and Edward Philips, native catechists; Mark Willoughby, interpreter; and several carpenters and labourers. Crowds were assembled on the beach to take leave of them, and the farewells on both sides were very affecting. The emigrants scarcely, when the moment came, knew how to tear themselves from their long-tried friends and their adopted country, and they were at last hurried into the boats amidst the benedictions and the prayers of thousands.

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