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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 IX. Arrival at Abbeokuta--Commencement of Work there--Mr. Crowther's Re-union with his Mother and Sisters

"Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass."--Psalm xxxvii. 5.

Seventeen months had now passed since our missionaries landed at Badagry, in the full persuasion that in not more than as many days they should be on their road to Abbeokuta. But days, and weeks, and months, had come and gone, and still they could not move. They had from time to time received very friendly messages from the chiefs there, expressing their unchanged desire to see them, but still assuring them that it was not yet safe to venture; and "hope deferred" was beginning to sadden the hearts of our friends, when it pleased God to open a way for them through a very unlikely channel, and to make the slave-trade itself the means of introducing the Gospel to the interior.

Domingo, the great slave-dealer at Porto Novo, found that the continued warfare between the Abbeokutans and the people of Adu injured his trade, by making the conveyance of slaves to the coast [104/105] more difficult and insecure than formerly, and he set about to effect a reconciliation. By means of some of his agents at Badagry, he succeeded in accomplishing this; peace was once more restored between Abbeokuta, Adu, and Badagry, and the load was again open.

The missionaries had taken advantage of the final embassy from Badagry to send with it one of their own people, charged with a message to the Abbeokutan chiefs, stating their unabated wish to settle among them, and their readiness to set out without delay.

Domingo, well aware that the introduction of Christianity and civilisation would interfere with his traffic, would gladly have prevented this message from being sent, but not being able to do this, he instructed his Badagrian friends to give so evil a report of the missionaries, as would, he hoped, effectually prevent their being invited to Abbeokuta. But his scheme turned to his own discomfiture; the chiefs had too much discernment to be so easily deceived, and their reply must have grated harshly on the ears of the Badagrian messengers. "We can ourselves," said they, "tell who are our best friends--those who rescue our children from captivity and send them freely to us again, or those who bring goods to purchase them for perpetual slavery and misery. The English are our friends; and you, people of Badagry, take care; for if any wrong is [105/106] done to them in your town, you must answer to us for it." After this spirited reply, they summoned the missionaries' messenger, told him what had passed, and sent by him a cordial invitation that the missionaries themselves would come as soon as they could.

It was the middle of the rainy season, when travelling is scarcely possible in that African wilderness; yet they feared to delay, lest some fresh intrigue of Domingo or Kosoko should again impede their progress, and they started late in the day on July 27th, 1846. That night they passed at Mo, a small town eight miles from Badagry, where they received a kind and hearty welcome from the chief Mewu, their unvarying friend, and whence they set out the next morning in good earnest upon their journey: Mr. and Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Crowther on ponies, Mrs. Crowther in a kind of litter borne by men, and the children on the backs of some of the attendants. [Some of the principal towns in this part of Africa hare established a sort of out-stations on the most frequented roads, to serve as rendezvous for the departing, and halting-places for the approaching caravans; and every traveller is expected to wait here till he has sent notice of his arrival. They are generally eight or ten miles from the town itself. Mo is in this way an out-station to Badagry. Abbeokuta has Awvoyade on the Badagry road, and Atada on that to Ibudan for the same purpose.]

At first their spirits flagged; the rain fell fast, the road was a pool of water up to the horses' knees, so [106/107] slippery that both men and horses could hardly keep their footing, and so narrow as to be scarcely passable on horseback. First one foot and then the other was entangled in a briar; then the bough of a tree caught the head or sometimes the neck of the rider; their clothes were torn, and themselves were bruised. We may suppose how glad they were to reach the halting-place for the night, to pitch their tent, though on the cold wet ground, and light a fire and dry their dripping clothes; for the path had been too narrow for an umbrella to be carried, and they were wet to the skin. Mrs. Townsend had with difficulty kept her seat, as her horse stumbled over roots and trunks of trees, or sunk deep into a swamp. But Mrs. Crowther fared still worse--there was no firm treading for her bearers, and she was obliged to walk nearly all the way.

But far beyond these outward discouragements, the solemn feeling weighed upon their minds of the importance and yet the danger of their present undertaking. They were journeying farther and farther from all civilized society, from all European influence; they were going to settle in a land of strangers, friendly indeed at present, but of whose constancy they had had no proof; their very purpose was to assault the dominions of the prince of darkness, who had, through unnumbered ages, exercised undisputed sovereignty over this people. Would he [107/108] tamely yield to their aggressions? would he not stir up the native chiefs against them? and if so, where could they look for help?

Thoughts such as these hung upon their minds, and we do not wonder at the depression we are told they felt at first. Soon, however, their faith and courage rose again; they believed and felt that their covenant God was guiding them; and, confiding in his loving-kindness and tender mercies, their spirits revived, and they set out again with hope and alacrity.

They had spent the night on the bank of the Mojuba, generally a little stream, forded without difficulty, but now so swollen with the rains as to have been impassable, but for the kind forethought of Mr. Gollmer, who had provided them with a large tub to serve as a boat, and in which they safely crossed. [The circumstances that attended the conveyance of this tub, gave them a specimen of the difficulty they would hereafter find in procuring supplies of any kind from Badagry. Mr. Gollmer had had some difficulty in finding carriers for their goods, but at last supposed he had succeeded; just as they were starting, the men who were to have carried the tub, changed their minds, and would not stir, and the tub was left behind. Their indefatigable friend would not, however, be so easily daunted; with much trouble he procured other carriers, sent them by another road, and to the agreeable surprise of the travellers, they found their newly-invented boat ready for them.]

They knew that they should meet with no human [108/109] habitation for three days, and that probably they would not see a human face; but to their great delight, soon after crossing the Mojuba, they saw a friendly party approaching, and found it was Andrew Wilhelm, and some messengers from the Abbeokutan chiefs to welcome them. [Two busy and thriving towns through which Mr. Townsend passed in 1842, were now in ruins; in one of them, which only affords shelter to a solitary hunter, he had then spent the Sabbath, and had preached a crucified Saviour to two hundred attentive hearers. May it not have been a word of life to some among them?]

The rain still fell fast, and the road grew worse and worse, but they cheerfully went on; again they halted in the bush, and again proceeded on their journey, till on the third night after their leaving Mo, they reached a farm, where they were hospitably received, and on the Saturday, fatigued and exhausted, arrived at Awoyade, about eight miles from Abbeokuta. Here they passed their Sunday, and on the next day were ferried across the Ogun, which the rain had swollen into a deep and rapid stream, navigable for large canoes. At the river they were met by a number of Sierra Leone emigrants, well mounted and dressed in English clothes, and we can imagine how hearty were the mutual greetings, and how numerous the mutual inquiries. Thus attended, they entered Abbeokuta; and though it was raining heavily, they found they must yield [109/110] to the desire of the people, and be led about the town before they visited the chief. [Mrs. Townsend and her side-saddle were the chief objects of attention, no white lady having been there before.] The warmth of their reception soon made them forget the toils and discouragements of the journey; the people had learnt to love the English; and the chiefs were especially proud of the honour of Abbeokuta being the first town in which white people intended to reside, and exclaimed that the news of their arrival "would fly from Lagos to Illorin, and excite the envy of all the chiefs." [We have been kindly favoured with a sketch of this man taken from the life, and are thus enabled to give our readers some idea of his wild yet not unpicturesque appearance. He is tall and large, and the peculiarity of his costume is increased by a head-dress of black monkey's skin, ornamented with metal rings and a coin. The cloths that are folded round him are of native manufacture, and striped with various colours: In one hand he holds his bell and the stick with which he strikes it, and in the other is a very suspicious-looking axe.] It appeared that the public crier f had been sent round the town to make proclamation that no one was to rob or insult the expected travellers, and they found too that the preceding day had been spent in warmly discussing who should have the honour of receiving them as guests. This was at last awarded to Sagbua, the senior chief, and who, though not possessed of the talents of Shodeke, has ever proved himself a constant [110/111] and true friend to the white man; and the missionaries were accordingly lodged in the house of Oso Ligregere, one of his relatives and his most confidential adviser. Sagbua, on this occasion, showed a degree of tact and good sense, and freedom from covetousness, very rare among these nations; for on being presented by the missionaries with a large mirror they had brought with them for the purpose, he made it over to the public council-room, to prevent any feeling of jealousy in the other chiefs at his possessing so great a treasure.

A public meeting of the chiefs was summoned, at which the missionaries entered into an explanation of their motives and intentions; and all present united in one common expression of satisfaction and delight. They promised to send their children to learn, and perhaps would come themselves; they would throw no hindrance in the way of their preaching to the people; and would assist them in building their houses. When the missionaries withdrew, the expressions of approbation and gratitude were repeated among themselves; "arid no wonder," adds Mr. Crowther, "some of the chiefs had liberated relatives of their own sitting by them at the very time!"

A piece of land, about three acres in extent, was, without delay, presented to them on which to build; and to prevent dissatisfaction, the town of Aké had [111/112] been fixed upon, as being the "royal town," i.e., that in which Shodeke had resided, and in which, as we have said, the general councils are still held.

The missionaries lost no time in beginning their operations. The walls of their houses were to be, like all the rest in Abbeokuta, of clay, and they expected they should have to seek for labourers. But no sooner was their wish known, than the women came forward to fetch the material from the pit. The first day there were thirty of these willing people, to whom they gave at the rate of three pence each; but finding, towards evening, that they were likely to have more hands than they should need, they lowered the future pay to two pence. Instead, however, of losing any of their labourers, the number on the second day increased to between 300 and 400. Again they reduced their wages to a penny, but in vain, for on the third day, to their dismay, no less than 670 presented themselves for employment! They then tried to lessen the number, by sending away any that loitered at their work, but all was of no avail, the number still increased, and they were at last obliged to apply to the chiefs to disperse them. They complied, but full of astonishment at the unwonted industry and diligence of the women, exclaimed, "God is great, white men have sense!"--probably thinking that they had exercised some magical power over their minds. The water to mix [112/113] the clay was procured by the same ready hands, and the house progressed as fast as could be expected.

Chiefs and people would spend hours in looking on;--the walls were mud like their own, the roofs too were thatched like theirs, with grass, but the doors, seven feet high, and the glass windows, were strange sights in Abbeokuta. The boards were from the neighbouring woods, sawn by Sierra Leone men; the nails were of native iron, smelted in the town; and the people could but feel that the inferiority of their own dwellings arose solely from their own want of skill. The pickaxes in particular delighted them, and they wondered they had not themselves thought of inventing such things, often crying out, "Ah! white men foresee something."

Nor did the missionaries lose any time in entering upon the special work that had brought them to Abbeokuta. They found that many of the Christian emigrants, who had so earnestly desired that missionaries might be sent there, and who had received them with such unfeigned delight, had, notwithstanding, more or less fallen from their stedfastness. Some had yielded to the solicitations of their friends, in adding the worship of idols to that of the true God; while others, following the evil custom of the country, had a plurality of wives. Some, however, had stood firm and faithful, and these were greatly strengthened by the example and exhortations [113/114] of Andrew Wilhelm, who, as it will be remembered had arrived here in 1843, and had throughout maintained an upright and consistent conduct, which had won for him the esteem and respect of all. He held Divine service regularly on the Sundays, and on week-days took every opportunity of drawing sinners from the evil of their ways. He had had much to contend with, and met with many discouragements, but he persevered. A few gathered round him, like-minded with himself, and to others he was made the means of awakening their consciences and preparing them for further progress.

Two of those who had remained firm and faithful to their God, notwithstanding the opposition and ill-treatment of their relations, were called to their rest soon after the arrival of the missionaries; and it almost seems as if their departure had been delayed that they might have the comfort of their ministry on their dying beds. They died, declaring their entire dependence on the blood of Christ, and their peace in the prospect of approaching death.

Mr. Townsend and Mr. Crowther began their public ministry immediately on their arrival. The only available place for their regular Sunday service was a rude piazza; but here the people assembled, some under shelter, and some in the open air, and listened attentively while Mr. Crowther spoke to them in their native tongue, or while Mr. Townsend [114/115] preached, and Andrew Wilhelm translated to them the words of eternal life. The number of hearers increased every Sabbath-day; and the chief's Ogubonna and Shumoi were among the listeners. On the afternoons of Sunday, and on week-days, the missionaries often addressed the people in the streets, or in the markets, and sometimes in the houses of the chiefs, and were everywhere received with interest and attention. On one occasion, Ogubonna having given them permission to preach in his district of Ikija, not only attended himself, but collected together all the principal men of the neighbourhood, who, with the rest of the people, made up a congregation of between four and five hundred.

And here we shall interrupt our recital of missionary proceedings, and give our readers, somewhat in detail, an account of one of those affecting re-unions, which were continually occurring in Abbeokuta, but of so few of which we know anything more than the bare facts.

As we have already said, Mr. Crowther (or Adjai, as was then his name,) was kidnapped in 1821 together with his mother and two sisters. Though sold to different masters, they had for some months occasional opportunities of intercourse, till, early in 1822, Adjai was again sold, and sent down to the coast, and put on board the slaver. From that time he heard nothing of his family; but we need not [115/116] attempt to describe the yearnings of his heart towards them. How often, when a captured slave-vessel was brought into Sierra Leone, he had hurried down to the landing-place, in the hope that among the rescued ones, he might see some well-remembered face, or catch the sound of some familiar voice, or might at least hear tidings of those he loved. [This was very frequently the case; and parents and children, brothers and sisters, were thus unexpectedly restored to each other.] But it had been in vain, and for twenty-five years no rumour of them had reached his ears, till he had given them up as lost. [In a letter written sometime afterwards, he says, "When I was a boy at Sierra Leone, the history of Joseph was my favourite reading. I had no thoughts of ever returning to my native land, nor of seeing my relations, but it led me to lie passive in God's hands, and to follow the leadings of Providence as my safest guide.'] We are not told what his feelings were when appointed to be a missionary in his native land, but doubtless hope again revived, though mixed with fear and misgiving; and his detention on the coast must have been additionally trying to him on this account.

But, even while at Badagry, God was ordering events to his future happiness. One day, a Sierra Leone man came to Mr. Gollmer, to tell him that some slaves had just been brought from the interior, in order to be sold to Domingo, among whom there was one who said he was a relation of Mr. Crowther's. [116/117] Mr. Gollmer requested the man might be brought to him, in order to ascertain the truth of the statement; But the poor captive, who had never before seen white men, and had only known of them by the barbarities of the slave-traders, was so alarmed, that it was difficult to obtain any coherent account of him self. By degrees, however, it appeared certain that he was an uncle of Mr. Crowther's, of the name of Shano, and that having escaped from the destruction of Oshog_n, he had fled far into the interior, where he had resided till now. By some means he had heard of his nephew's return to the country, and, in company with six others, had set off in search of him; but when within two days of reaching Abbeokuta, a band of men-stealers rushed out upon them, and, after a severe struggle, succeeded in securing them all. He was again sold and resold several times, and at last had been brought hither. Forty-one heads of cowries (or £10, 5s.) were demanded for his ransom; and the liberality of the emigrants left not more than one-third of this sum to be paid by Mr. Crowther and his brother missionaries. What joy for the uncle and nephew thus to recognise each other, and to the latter, to hear that his mother and sisters had been alive, and in freedom, five years before! Twenty years were thus in a moment swept away from the long interval of dreary darkness; and though five still remained of doubt and [117/118] uncertainty, yet oh! how short they seemed, compared with the whole amount! His uncle would have had later intelligence to give him, but the country had been so unsettled, he had not ventured to go so far from home.

As soon as Mr. Crowther arrived at Abbeokuta, he followed up the cine his uncle had given him, and soon found that his mother and sisters were residing in the neighbouring town of Abaka. He sent to tell them of his arrival, but the news seemed impossible, and they could not believe the messengers. [Gen. xlv. 26.] The mother's heart, however, could not rest, and in company with a half-brother of Mr. Crowther's, she set out at once for Abbeokuta. The account of the visit we shall give in Mr. Crowther's own words:--

"Aug. 21. The text for to-day in the Christian almanac is, 'Thou art the helper of the fatherless.' 1 have never felt the force of this text more than I did this day, as I have to relate that my mother, from whom I was torn away about five-and-twenty years ago, came, with my brother, in quest of me. When she saw me she trembled. She could not believe her own eyes. We grasped one another, looking at each other in silence and great astonishment, while the big tears rolled down her emaciated cheeks. She trembled as she held me by the hand, [118/ 119] and called me by the familiar names, which I well remembered I used to be called by my grandmother, who has since died in slavery. We could not say much, but sat still, casting many an affectionate look towards each other; a look which violence and oppression had long checked; an affection which twenty-five years had not extinguished. My two sisters who were captured with me, and their children, are all residing with my mother. I cannot describe my feelings; I had given up all hope; and now, after a separation of twenty-five years, without any plan or device of mine, we are brought together again!"

It appears, that some time after Mr. Crowther was taken down to the coast, his mother and sisters regained their liberty by the exertions of the above-mentioned half-brother, who was very kind to them, and brought them to Abaka to reside with him. A fruitless search was made in every direction for the missing Adjai, and after two or three years the hope of finding him was given up. The sisters married, [119/120] and all lived for some years in peace and comfort. But one day, as the mother and elder sister were going to a market in the neighbourhood, they were kidnapped and again separated. The sister was soon discovered and ransomed by her husband; but the poor mother was taken about from place to place, exposed for sale in the market, and as, on account of her advancing age, no purchaser was found for her, she was made a domestic slave. Her mistress having sent her on some business to Abbeokuta, she was, for the third time, captured on the road, and brought into the town. Here she was in hard bondage for several years, till her daughters at last, hearing of her fate, collected together all the cowries they possessed, and purchased her for 18 heads, or about £4, 10s. of our money. "Thus," adds Mr. Crowther, "has my poor mother been suffering since I left the country; and this is only one case among thousands of similar ones. Could the friends of the Africans witness the happy meetings of those who have by their means been restored to each other; could they hear, at this moment, how many thanks are given to them by parents, whose declining years are now cheered by the return of their children from Sierra Leone, they would thank God, and take courage to go on in that work which God has so signally blessed, and the effect of which is being felt far in the interior."

[121] The sisters with their children soon paid Mr. Crowther a visit, and returned to Abaka; but his mother, unable to tear herself from the son who had thus been lost and was found again, consented to take up her residence with him. [Mr. Marsh, a liberated African, now at Badagry, had, during a visit to Abbeokuta some months before, also found his mother; and now these two happy parents were seen "sitting together, talking over past sorrows and captivities, and present joys," As yet, however, they knew not to whom, they owed these joys. "May God open their eyes!'" exclaims Mr. Crowther, "but they must be led like little children."]

In the course of a few weeks, Mr. Crowther's anxiety for the safety of his sisters was again awakened. Suffering and danger had indeed united the people of Abbeokuta among4 themselves, but they had not yet learnt sympathy or consideration for others. Mohammedan slave-dealers had gained great influence over some of the principal men; the slave-trade was carried on by individuals among them, and too often some of the chiefs were instigated by the love of gain to join them, and to take advantage of a real or imagined offence to make war on one or other of the neighbouring towns.

Abàkà was now their object; a strong party suddenly attacked it, hoping to find it an easy prey, but the inhabitants were prepared for resistance, and repulsed the enemy. Provoked by their disappointment, the Abbeokutans, assisted by Porto Novians, [121/122] surrounded the town so as to prevent the possibility of escape; and, after bravely defending themselves for four months, famine and the poisoned arrows of the enemies obliged the people of AbiYkii to surrender themselves. They were all brought as prisoners to Abbeokuta, and how did the hearts of our missionaries mourn over this melancholy proof of the misery of slave-wars! Mr. Townsend writes, "Another town is swept off from the face of the earth! it was full of life and activity; now all is silent and desolate. And wherefore? That a few Brazilian meichants may more quickly fill their coffers; that the luxuries of civilized nations may be a little cheaper, and that war-chiefs with their rabble train may gratify their love of display and applause. This whole country is filled with the sighs and groans of the helpless, and the soil is moistened with the blood of the slain." We may imagine the anxiety of Mr. Crowther; he sent persons to watch the trains of captives as they were led into the town; and to his great joy found his brother, his two sisters, and their children among the number, all of whom he gladly ransomed at the expense of 150 dollars. They were all nearly starved, and his brother was wounded and very ill, but covered all over with some charmed mixture that was to preserve him against musket balls or poisoned arrows!s

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