We promised our readers that in this chapter we would give them some account of John Baptist, and we have the greater reason for making it a separate history, as we have more particulars to relate of him than we have been able to collect of the other converts.
His heathen name was Dasalu, and his heathen occupation was the purchase of slaves in the interior, and the sale of them again to the regular dealers at Lagos. But even the trader in his fellow-men is not beyond the reach of Divine grace; and before the regular establishment of the mission in 1846, this man's attention had been drawn to Christianity, either by Andrew Wilhelm, or by some of the other emigrants.
When the missionaries arrived at Abbeokuta in 1846, Dasalu was among the earliest of those who applied for instruction, and notwithstanding the reproaches and opposition of his family, he soon became a candidate for baptism.
 God and Belial could not reign together in his heart, but he was not long in deciding which he would serve. His former trade was now hateful in his sight, and he determined to substitute the sale of provisions at Lagos market for that of his fellow-men. This decision involved a considerable pecuniary sacrifice; for slaves were at that time fetching a high price upon the coast, while in order to keep up the supply, the Lagos merchants had agreed among themselves to allow no one to purchase tobacco (the chief article of trade in the interior) till all the slave-dealers had taken as much as they wished. As this was generally the whole quantity in the market, Dasalu seldom could procure any, and was obliged to content himself with less profitable merchandise. But he had learned that "godliness with contentment is great gain," and with a heart at ease, could listen to the taunts of his travelling companions with a smile; and, when they deridingly asked him where were his slaves, would point to his sheep and goats, and thankfully rejoice in the exchange he had been enabled to make.
But, after a time, the tide most unexpectedly turned; in consequence of the vigilance of our cruisers, the demand for slaves rapidly decreased, and the Abbeokutan dealers being unable to dispose of those they carried to Lagos, were equally unable [221/222] to purchase tobacco as heretofore. Basalu had now in great measure the command of the market, and the merchants were glad to dispose of their tobacco to him upon fair and reasonable terms.
It was in vain that the angry slave-dealers remonstrated with them on this point, the only answer they gave was, "We cannot buy your slaves, for we cannot sell them again; but food we must have, and we are glad now to give tobacco for it." Dasalu began to prosper more than in proportion to his former losses,--the slave-dealers of Abbeokuta, particularly the Mohammedans, were increasingly exasperated against him, and by bribes and threats and misrepresentations, they, after some time, prevailed on the chiefs to close the markets in their respective towns to any who would not worship Ifa. It was one of the first public trials of the new converts, but they were enabled to stand firm, though some of them, who were only beginners in the school of Christ, would have resented this act of injustice, had not Mr. Crowther's Christian arguments and persuasion brought them to a better mind. By degrees the chiefs relented, and the Christians were allowed to take their places in the markets as usual.
At the end of two years from his becoming a candidate, Dasalu was baptised, and it was by his own request that he received the name of John Baptist. He had great admiration for the character of the [222/223] Baptist, and probably his choice of the name was connected with some undefined feeling that similarity of name produces similarity of disposition. [See page 35. It was on this account that one of the first baptised objected to the name of "Thomas," lest he should partake of the incredulity of the apostle.] His wife, who had followed in her husband's footsteps, received the name of Martha.
About this time his father, who was a chief, died, and John, fearful lest his conscience should be entangled, declined succeeding him in his office. His enemies, who continued to watch his every step, took advantage of his refusal, and when the persecution broke out in the autumn of 1849 they summoned him before the council on a charge of contempt for his father and ancestors. He was heavily fined, and forced to become a member of the Ogboni or secret council, but they seem to have been afraid of taking any stronger measures, and he was spared the sufferings which so many endured. He made good use of his liberty and of the prosperity with which God had blessed him, and spent a considerable sum in the succour of those who were "hungry" and "in prison." He would not set at nought the orders of the local authorities, and, until they were rescinded, refrained from attending public worship; but he was one of that small band [223/224] who privately visited the Igbein mission-house, and the tearful nights he passed there in conversation with Mr. Crowther were times of refreshment and support. As soon as the public edict was withdrawn, at the instance of the Obbashorun, he determined to brave all the unauthorised attempts against himself and his fellow-believers; and he was the first to force his way to Igbein church on that Christmas day when Mr. Crowther's flock began to re-assemble.
When the Dahomians appeared before the town, in March, 1851, John Baptist was summoned to assist in its defence. He was seen to fight bravely, but was among the missing ones when the fight was over. Mr. Crowther, who was greatly attached to him, went out into the battle-field to search for him among the slain, but without success. His brother, however, thought he recognised his body among those headless ones left by the Dahomians in the bush, and he was mourned for as dead.
In the following May, when Mr. Crowther was at Badagry, in his way to England, he met with some of the Abbeokutans who had been taken prisoners by the Dahomians, but who, having been redeemed, were on their way home. To his surprise and joy he found from them that John was still alive, though shut up with eighty or ninety others as a captive at Abomey. Mr. Crowther made all the inquiry he [224/225] could about him, and rejoiced in the voluntary testimony borne by these heathen, that had it not been for John's Christian example and exhortation, speaking to them of God, and begging them to put their trust in Him, they would all have sunk into utter despair. This is not the first time that the Gospel has been preached within the walls of a prison!
Poor Martha was all this time in great distress; she had not only, as she believed, lost her husband, but was unkindly treated by his family. The eldest brother went so far as, after possessing himself of all John's property, to give Martha notice to leave the premises, as he did not wish to have any "book-people" there. Her own family were equally opposed, and the missionaries were endeavouring to arrange some plan for her, when the joyful tidings of her husband's being yet alive reached her, and she hurried to Badagry, in the hope of being able to facilitate his release. She went directly to Mr. Gollmer, who, knowing that a woman of some importance named Tinuba (a sister of Akitoye's), then residing in the town, was likely to have influence with the king of Dahomey, requested her to use any means that lay in her power to procure John's redemption. She promised to do so, and it would appear that she kept this promise; for, some time after, an English gentleman unexpectedly met John at Whydah, and heard from him that he had been [225/226] liberated by Gezo, because of some supposed connection with Tinuba; that he had been sent down to Whydah, with the assurance of his being perfectly-free; but that he could not leave the place till a canoe was sent for him. One was accordingly sent the next day, at the hour and to the spot appointed by John himself; but, when it arrived, he was nowhere to be seen, and the search for him by the canoe-men was fruitless.
Since that time Mr. Gollmer has made repeated application to the proper authorities, and has used every means in his power to discover where he is, but hitherto without success. The only intelligence that has since been received of him has been a symbolical letter, sent to his poor wife, who still lingers at Badagry, consisting of a stone, a piece of charcoal, a pepper-pod, a grain of parched corn, and a piece of rag. All were tied up in a small piece of cloth, and were interpreted by the messenger as follows: That he was as strong as a stone, but his prospects were dark as charcoal, that he was so feverish with anxiety that his skin was as hot as pepper, and corn might be parched upon it, and that his clothing was nothing but a rag. The only other information that Martha seems to have been able to gain from the messenger was, that he certainly was still at Whydah; but whether, though nominally free, the poor man is detained there in the hope of a large ransom, or [226/227] whether his enemies are administering to him some slow poison gradually to destroy the powers of mind and body, we know not. We do know, however, that God's servants, whether at Lagos or Badagry, will not leave him uncared for and unsought for; and we know that while his enemies may be saying that "surely darkness shall cover "him, He to whom "the darkness and light are both alike," can by His blessed presence, make "the night to be light about" His afflicted servant.
We shall end this chapter by a short notice of a young woman of Igbore, who was almost drawn aside again into heathenism by that same closing of the market to Christians of which we have just spoken. She seems to have been the only one of her family who had been awakened to any religious concern, and she herself was but a young disciple, for at the time the order was issued, it was only three weeks since she had made up her mind to renounce idolatry, and had cleared her house of all the imagined deities. Akigbogun or Pharaoh, as he was called by the converts, the great slave-dealer of Igbore, who was also the "master of the market," hoped to find her an easy prey, and went to talk with her oil the subject. He reminded her of the loss of livelihood which would, as he said, inevitably follow from her persisting in her present course, and, [227/228] insidiously representing to her that she could still worship the God of the Christians in her heart, urged her to set up the idols in her house, and to offer pigeons to them as an outward service. The poor young woman fell into the snare, and thought she could compromise the matter with her own conscience by borrowing a god for the occasion. She went to her sister, who was still a heathen, and, without telling her her purpose, procured from her one of the sacred calabashes, carried it home, and set it up in her house. But God had mercy on His weak and backsliding servant: the sister, suspecting that all was not right, went to Akigbogun, and told him what had occurred. Akigbogun immediately proceeded to the young woman's house, and, telling her that he had discovered that the idol was not her own, insisted on her purchasing some for herself, and On her expiating her offence by offering a sheep instead of the pigeons. But the tormentor had miscalculated the effects of this severity. The young woman recalled to mind what some of her friends had said of the danger of the first downward step, and He who looked on the backsliding Peter melted her heart also into penitence, and gave her courage to retrace her wandering steps. Afraid of remaining in her own house, she placed the few articles of property she possessed in the hands of Christian friends, and herself took refuge with an uncle, who, though still [228/229] a heathen, always treated her with kindness. Here Akigbogun again visited her, and tried to bring her over, but the only answer he' received was, in the figurative language of the Egbas, "Pharaoh, if you try to make me go where your father went, I shall leave your town." She did so, settled in another district, put herself under regular instruction, and, growing in grace and strengthened in spirit, is now among the candidates for baptism. [This woman seems to have considered the Red Sea as an emblem of eternal punishment.]