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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 X. Progress of the Work--Baptism of first Converts

"The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,"--Acts ii. 47.

It was with no small satisfaction that the missionaries took possession of their own dwellings in December of tin's same year (1816); for the hospitable Oso Ligregere had it not in his power to afford them much accommodation; and a single room, 13 feet by 6, for each of the two families, was all they had for every purpose. This new home was soon made good use of. Divine service was regularly held there, an adult Sunday school was opened, and weekly meeting was established for prayer and reading the Scriptures with the Sierra Leone people. [The kind-hearted Sagbua was much distressed at their removing into their new premises before the accustomed ceremonies had been performed, as he was persuaded some harm would happen to them. According to the notions of the country, the demon of the soil ought to have been propitiated by a sacrifice; and two slaves ought to have previously slept on the ground, lest any hurtful charm should have been buried there by an enemy.

[124] In the mean time, the interest excited by the intention of Mr. Townsend and Mr. Crowther to take up their abode at Abbeokuta, had spread beyond its immediate neighbourhood. Messengers arrived from Ketu, a large town, three days' journey to the west, and on the confines of Dahomey, to inquire about them; and the chiefs of Ijaye [Another large town two days north of Abbeokuta.] and Aggo-Oja [The residence of the king, three days to the north-east.] had sent privately to one of the Abbeokuta chiefs, for they had heard an extraordinary report, through some Sierra Leone emigrants. This was no other than that a white man and his wife had come to live at Abbeokuta! but this seemed so incredible, that the messenger was charged to see them with his own eyes, that, if true, it might be placed beyond the possibility of doubt.

The year 1847 was one of quiet steady progress in the Abbeokuta mission. On March 21st, a church was opened for Divine service in the Aké district, near the mission compound, and humble and unpretending as it was in its material frame, with its walls, its floor, and its seats of mud, and its roof of thatch, yet within it were gathered together, from week to week, from 150 to 200 immortal souls, to whom the word of life was regularly preached, and to some of whom it gradually became the savour of life unto life. Inferior also as it was to our simplest [124/125] English churches, it excited the admiration of the people around, who frequently visited it, though, as they knew it was intended for the worship of God, they were extremely surprised at finding no idol or symbol to which adoration was to be paid. The Sierra Leone people were delighted, "Who," they exclaimed, "would ever have expected to see a church-house in our own land!"

Application was soon after made to different chiefs for permission to erect some kind of building in their respective districts, that would afford the missionaries and their hearers shelter during the heavy rains that so often fall; and would secure more regular services, and, as it was hoped, a more regular attendance. The request was readily complied with, and before Christmas-day 1847, four of these sheds had been erected, and thus, in addition to the church at Aké, the banner of the cross was unfurled on Sundays, and on week-days, in the districts of Igbein in the south, of Owu in the southwestern quarter, of Itoku near the centre, and of Ikija in the north-west. Ogubonna, the chief of the last-mentioned town, was particularly kind and friendly; the spot fixed upon was in front of his own house, of which he offered to pull down a part if more space was required for the chapel. He with his own hands assisted in measuring the ground, and upon being reminded, while so employed, that a [125/126] fetish-house had formerly stood there, he angrily reproved the man who spoke, saying, that if any wished to rebuild the fetish-house, they must do so somewhere else. The 12th of August was appointed for opening it, and though much perplexed just at the time with some political affairs, he did not forget either the day or hour; he was the first to enter, bringing with him two little boys, one of them his own child, and the other a little captive from Abàkà, both dressed in new cotton cloths in honour of the occasion.

Ogubonna showed also a great desire for the general improvement of his people, and proposed to the missionaries to send a young relation of his own, Madarikan, to Sierra Leone, to learn English car pentering. His proposal was accepted, and the young man soon after sailed for the colony, accompanied by a youth from Mr. Gollmer's school at Badagry. The confidence thus reposed by Ogubonna in his English friends was shared by most of the chiefs; "and if," says Mr. Townsend, "a suspicion of our good intentions, suggested by the designing agents of Domingo, at any time arises in their minds, the very sight of a Sierra Leone emigrant suffices to remove it, and their conduct towards us is marked by kindness and confidence." [A very interesting circumstance occurred to Madarikan after his arrival at Sierra Leone. He had made his passage in a native trading vessel, manned by liberated Africans. Many months after his arrival one of the crew came to him, and told him that he was persuaded that among some boys lately captured, and now at the barracks, enlisted for soldiers, was a brother of his. Madarikan, who had been placed in the grammar school at Freetown, seized the first opportunity that presented itself, of going to the barracks at the time of parade, and, anxiously watching the recruits, was not long in recognising his brother, though in so different a costume. We may imagine the overflowing of mutual joy on the occasion. It appeared that some months after Madarikan had quitted Abbeokuta, this lad had been sent by his father to pay his respects to the chief Aji, a neighbouring town, who, in revenge for some injury he had received from some other Abbeokutan, detained him and sold him as a slave. He was, as usual, sold and resold, and shipped on board a Brazilian slaver, then happily captured by a British cruiser and brought to Sierra Leone. It was feared that as he was regularly listed there would be some difficulty in procuring his discharge, but as soon as the circumstances were known at home, Major Straith (the lay secretary of the Church Missionary Society) wrote an official letter to the adjutant-general of the army, requesting him to submit the case to the Commander-in-chief, the Duke of Wellington; he did so, and the Duke immediately gave authority for the discharge of the young man from the regiment.]

Another very hopeful sign of the influence that Divine truth was silently gaining among the people was, that their former idolatry was evidently losing its hold upon their minds. Many were convinced of its folly and vanity, and would have thrown away their "Ifas," had it not been from fear of their own families. One striking instance of this insensible influence is [127/128] mentioned by Mr. Crowther, in his journal of Nov. 17, 1847. It seems that on the preceding night a large party had gone as usual into the bush to make Oro, as it is called, that is, to call up some of their deceased relatives from the world of spirits. When all was ready, the men looked at each other to see who would begin the incantation. There was no response, all seemed conscience-stricken, when one of the party broke silence by referring to a lecture of Mr. Crowther's a few Sundays before at Itoku chapel, at which many of the party had been present. The subject had been Judges vi. 25-27: they remembered how the preacher had spoken of the conduct of Gideon, how he had appealed to their own consciousness of truth and error; and the thought pressed upon their minds, "Will not these words rise up in judgment against us?" They could no longer remain in what they had hitherto considered the sacred grove; but, though it was midnight, went to the house of a lay helper in the mission, called him up, opened their minds to him, and talked with him till break of day. "May the Sun of Righteousness, indeed," Mr. Crowther adds, "rise upon their souls!"

The chiefs were not slow to acknowledge the influence the missionaries had over them. One day Mr. Townsend was talking to Sagbua about the chief of Ijaye, who had lately kidnapped some Sierra [128/129] Leone men. Sagbua made excuses for him: "Ikumi has not heard from white man the words we have; we did so in Abbeokuta before we knew better, but now we dare not. Softly, softly," added he, "when Ikumi hears, he too will forsake these ways." Ogubonna afterwards used nearly the same expressions. And it was an encouraging proof of the truth of this assertion, that as early as April 1847, a public meeting was held, at which above a thousand persons were present, when a law was passed against kidnapping under pain of death from Oro. [The supreme authority of the town seems to be vested in this mysterious and undefined power. When any public business is to be considered, a meeting is convened in the name of "Oro;" and sentences against criminals are pronounced under the same sanction. He is often supposed to perambulate the town for hours or even days together, and during his visits no woman is suffered to appear in the streets, or to be seen at the door of a house. Upon the present occasion Oro had convened the meeting for Sunday, but at Mr. Townsend's request the day was changed to Saturday, that the women of the congregation might not be prevented from attending public worship. The same tiling occurred some time afterwards; Oro was again put off, nor has he been called out since, on a Sunday.]

The adult Sunday school had fifty-two scholars, all making more or less progress in the art of reading, though the want of an elementary book in their own language added greatly to their difficulties. They were taught in an English primer, and had thus to acquire a new language as well as a new art.

[130] The average attendance at each of the four new places of worship was about one hundred and fifty on Sunday, and from forty to fifty on the week-day; and often would the people wait after the service to ask the missionaries questions on the truths that had been brought before them. A new centre of light and influence was also formed by the removal of Mr. Crowther and his family to the Igbein district, in November of this same year, and it was pleasant to hear the regret expressed by Shomolu, a man of influence in Aké, at thus losing him from his town, and his fears lest Mr. Townsend should also leave him. Sagbua and himself, he said, had narrowly watched them for the last twelve months, and now that they were beginning to feel entire confidence in them, they were going to leave them. Mr. Townsend, however, soon reassured him as to any intentions of his own to remove.

The close of the year found the missionaries with thirty-two communicants from among the Sierra Leone people, so greatly had God blessed their labours among this portion of their flock. The congregations continued to increase, not only at the church but at the chapels, where Andrew Wilhelm and William Goodwill assisted by taking the services in turn, and the missionaries thanked God who had given them such devoted and efficient helpers. [130/131] A schoolmaster, Charles Philips, had arrived from Sierra Leone, and the desire for instruction seemed increasing. [The arrival of Charles Philips gave Ogubonna a fresh opportunity of showing his kindness and anxiety to promote the happiness of others. Mr. Townsend bad taken Philips with him on the week-day evening to Ikija chapel. Ogubonna saw him there, sent for him, and inquired carefully of him as to the connections he had left behind when taken captive. He set his people to work in all directions, and in a few days found an aged woman who might, he thought, be his mother. He sent her to the mission-house, the conjecture proved to be right, and mother and son were restored to each other after a hopeless absence of twenty-one years.] There were no less than forty candidates for baptism, of whom six or seven were Sierra Leone people, and the rest were natives. [The missionaries often use the word "native" in contradistinction to the emigrants from Sierra Leone, to denote those who had never left the country.]

Could the individual history of these candidates be laid open before us, what cause should we find to adore the God of all grace in the means he had used for their conversion! We know, however, but little of them, but we will not withhold that little from our readers. One of the first applicants was a woman of the name of Ije, formerly a priestess, but now having received the message of God into her heart, she had thrown away her country gods and sought for salvation through Christ alone. Mr. Crowther's attention had first been drawn towards her in November, 1846, [131/132] when he accidentally overheard part of a conversation between her and a man who was at work on the Aké church. The poor woman was telling the man of her troubles, her poverty, her ill-health, her want of children, of the number of sacrifices she had made, and of the inefficiency of them all, adding, that she had heard of this new religion, and wondered if it would do her any good. Her companion answered her that he was very much in the same case himself; he was dissatisfied with the old religion, and knew very little of the new: but he was determined to learn it, and advised her to do the same. He then urged her to attend regularly the Sunday services, where she would "hear wonderful things such as their forefathers had never known," and exhorted her on no account to be unstable, or to go back to her former ways, but to go straight on till she found the right path. She followed his advice, and was soon observed as one of the most regular and attentive listeners to the word of God.

After this she had two serious illnesses, from one of which she was not expected to recover; and her friends, concluding that she was suffering from the displeasure of the deity she had forsaken, pressed her, with the greatest earnestness, to return to her "country fashion." Her faith, though of such recent date, was firm and unwavering; no superstitious fears hung upon her mind, and she steadfastly refused [132/133] to comply, resolved, if it should be the will of God, that she would die in Christ, if she were not permitted to live for him.

She recovered, and soon after joined the class of candidates, employing herself more strenuously than ever in bringing others to the truth she had herself embraced.

But the most interesting of the early candidates for baptism was Afala, the aged mother of Mr. Crowther. When she was first restored to him his heart had been deeply, though not unexpectedly, pained by her ascribing his return to the influence of his deceased father in the unseen world; but by degrees her mind became enlightened, and she also joined Mr. Townsend's class of candidates. Soon after this she was very ill, but instead of returning to her old customs, she quietly told her son, "Had I been left alone I should have attributed my sickness to this or that deity, and should have made sacrifices accordingly, but now I have seen the folly of so doing; all my hopes are in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom now I serve."

We may easily suppose with what joyful anxiety Mr. Crowther watched the progress of divine I rut a in his mother's heart, and with what overflowing thankfulness he witnessed her baptism by Mr. Townsend on February 5, 1848, after above a yeari's instruction.

[134] The ceremony was a deeply affecting one. [The baptismal service had been translated into the Yoruban language expressly for this occasion.] Two other women and two men had been selected as the most advanced among the candidates; and as these, the first fruits of the mission, surrounded by their heathen friends and relations, boldly confessed their faith in Christ crucified, and received the sign and seal of their adoption, must not the feeling of every Christian heart then present have been, "What hath God wrought!"

One of these newly baptised was Ije, whose little history we have just given, and who now received the Christian name of Susan; and the other woman, now Sarah Ibikotan, was the wife of Oso Ligregere, under whose hospitable roof the missionaries had been sheltered for the first five months of their residence in Abbeokuta. Ibikotan was a woman of an eager and inquiring mind; and the words of Divine truth from the lips of her husband's guests fell upon her heart as good seed sown in good soil. When Mr. Crowther's mother came to reside with him, her affections were strongly drawn out towards her; and often might she be seen sitting with her aged friend, talking of the new world which was beginning to open before them both.

One of the men was Bankole, who had been awakened to a concern for his soul by a relation [134/135] of his, one of the earliest emigrants from Siena Leone, and who had, before the arrival of the missionaries, been under the instruction of Andrew Wilhelm. He was, probably, the very first inquirer among the native population.

The other was Aina, who had suffered much from domestic persecution. His wife and his mother-in-law were bigotted idolaters; they had long tried in vain to withdraw him from attending the public services, but when, in addition to this, he threw away his Ifa, their anger knew no bounds; and they summoned him before the elders of his town to answer for his conduct in forsaking the gods of his fathers. The man stood firm, and quietly but manfully asserted his right to worship according to his own convictions. The elders acknowledged the justice of his claim, and his wife, finding that neither entreaties nor reproaches had any effect, left him, taking with her their only child. He often visited the missionaries for comfort and advice. "Commit thy way unto the Lord," was the counsel they gave him; and so it was, that before long his wife, doubtless influenced by the gentleness and patience he had invariably exhibited, returned, bringing the child with her. She afterwards attended the services at the church, but we are not aware whether any further accounts of her have been received. The two men, thus the first baptised in Abbeokuta, [135/136] received the names of Thomas and Edward, in remembrance of two of Africa's most faithful friends, Sir Thomas Acland, and Sir Edward Buxton.

When the adult baptisms were ended, Mr. Crowther had the pleasure of baptizing his own four nieces, the children of his two sisters, who, though not yet themselves prepared to take this decided step, desired that their little ones should be admitted into Christ's fold; and it must have been very touching to see Hannah, the aged grandmother, and the almost infant grandchildren, thus at the same time made members of the visible church.

A few weeks after this interesting event, Mr. and Mrs. Townsend were obliged to leave Abbeokuta and return to England, on account of the failure of Mrs. Townsend's health. Happily the Rev. J. C. Müller had just arrived, and Mr. Townsend rejoiced in being able to place the district of Aké in his hands.

Sagbua and the other chiefs greatly lamented the departure of our missionaries, but they took advantage of it to send a letter to the Queen of England, accompanied by a present of country cloth. A meeting was held for the purpose, which Mr. Townsend attended, accompanied by Philips and Morgan, schoolmaster and catechist from Sierra Leone. Sagbua dictated the letter, which Mr. Townsend wrote down in Yoruban, and read over to the party [136/137] for correction and approval. The letter, when translated, is as follows:--"The words which Sagbua and other chiefs of Abbeokuta send to the Queen of England. May God preserve the Queen in life for ever! Shodeke, who communicated with the Queen before, is no more. It will be four or five years before another takes his office. We have seen your servants, the missionaries, whom you have sent to us in this country. What they have done is agreeable to us. They have built a house of God. They have taught the people the Word of God, and our children besides. We begin to understand them. There is a matter of great importance that troubles us, what shall we do that it may be removed? We do not understand the doings of the people of Lagos and other people on the coast. They are not pleased that you should deliver our country people from slavery. They wish that the road may be closed, that we may never have any intercourse with you. What shall we do that the road may be opened, that we may navigate the river Ogun to the river Ossa? The laws that you have in your country we wish to follow--the slave-trade, that it may be abolished. We wish it to be so. The Lagos people will not permit; they are supporting the slave-traders. We wish for lawful traders to trade with us. We want also those who will teach our children mechanical arts, agriculture, and how things are prepared, as [137/138] tobacco, rum, and sugar. If such a teacher should come to us, do not let it be known, for the Lagos people, and the people on the coast, are not pleased at the friendship you show us. We thank the Queen of England for the good she has done in delivering our people from slavery. Respecting the road that it should not be closed, there remains yet much to speak with each other."

It was very gratifying to Mr. Townsend to have this unsought-for testimony of the good feelings of the chiefs towards himself and his fellow-labourers, and not less so to have this fresh assurance of the anxious desire of the principal people in Abbeokuta for the entire abolition of the slave-trade.

He was also very much pleased with a farewell address to himself from thirty-nine Sierra Leone communicants, acknowledging their obligations to the Church Missionary Society for sending missionaries to Abbeokuta, and expressing their personal gratitude to Mr. Townsend, through whose ministry they had been rescued or preserved from falling into the evil practices around them.

Mr. and Mrs. Townsend left Abbeokuta on March 24, 1848.

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