African-American Missions

a chronological history

18th Century

1770sJohn Marrant, a free black from New York City, was already ministering cross-culturally, preaching to Indians.  By 1775 he had carried the Gospel to the Cherokee, Creek, Catawar, and Housaw Indians.


1782. George Liele, a former pastor of First African Baptist Church Savannah, Georgia, upon hearing that the British were declaring peace with the colonies, indentured himself to a British officer in order not to be re-enslaved by his former master’s heirs.  He and his family moved  to Kingston, Jamaica.  After two years he had paid back his indenture and was able to devote all of his energy to preaching.  With four other former American slaves, he formed the First African Baptist Church of Kingston.  In ten years the church grew to over 500 members.  George Liele is considered to be the first American missionary.

David George, of the Silver Bluff, South Carolina Baptist Church was the first black Baptist church in America.  David traveled to Nova Scotia and ministered to blacks in exile there.

Brother Amos, a member of the Savannah, Georgia church sailed for the Bahamas and planted a church in New Providence that grew to 850 members by 1812.

1783. Moses Baker and George Gibbons, are both former slaves, who left America to become missionaries in the West Indies.

1790.  Prince Williams, a freed slave from South Carolina, went to Nassau, Bahamas where he started the Bethel Meeting House. 

1792.  David George, also traveled  with 12,000 black settlers to Sierra Leone, West Africa.

19th Century

1801.  Prince Williams and other blacks organized the Society of Anabaptists.  Subsequently, 164 Baptist churches were planted in the Bahamas.

1815. Lott Carey, was born a slave in Virginia and was America’s first missionary to Africa.  He became the pastor of the 800 member African Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia and let in the formation of the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society.  Carey and his wife, teamed up with Colin Teague and his wife and son, sailed for Sierra Leone.  After establishing their mission among the Mandingoes, Carey moved to Liberia.  

1818.  John Stewart, a free-born black from Virginia was converted at a camp meeting.  He went to the Wyandot Indian reservation in Ohio, where he met Jonathan Pointer, a black who had been taken prisoner in his youth by the Wyandots.  Pointer knew the Indian language, so he became an interpreter for Stewart.  In 1818, Stewart’s ministry came to the attention of the Ohio Methodists, who licensed him to preach.  John Stewart’s ministry among American-Indians is considered to be the actual beginning of Methodist Missions in America.

1819.  Methodist Episcopal Church officially formed a missionary society among American Indians.   

1820 to 1860.  The primary sending group was the American Colonization Society, which returned American blacks to Liberia.

1821.  Daniel Coker went to West Africa with the first group sent out by the American Colonization Society.

1823. Betsy Stockton applied to the American Board of Missions and went to Hawaii.  She is recognized as the first single woman missionary in the history of modern missions.  She served as a domestic assistant and conducted a school.  Prior to going to Hawaii, she lived in the household of the president of Princeton College and while there had read extensively in his library.  She was well qualified to teach.

1826.  Lott Carey, had formed a missionary society in connection with his church in Monrovia.

1827.  Scipio Beanes sailed for Haiti.

1836.  The Providence Missionary Baptist District Association was formed, one of at least six national organizations among Negro Baptists who sole objective was African missions.

1849.  Robert Hill was sent to Liberia by the Southern Baptist Convention.

1860 to 1877.  General missionary activity increased after the Civil War, as the number of free blacks greatly increased from 68,000 to over 665,000.  The gains made in education, politics, and civil rights began to manifest themselves on the mission field.

1883.  William Colley and five others left Virginia for Liberia.

1886.  Twelve of the thirteen Presbyterian USA staff in Liberia were blacks.  Also blacks serving under the  Protestant Episcopal Church outnumbered Whites by 21 to 5 in 1876.

1890.  William Henry Shepard, traveled 900 miles inland in the Congo as he was liked by the Africans and became skilled in their language.  He also became a teacher and preacher who offered medical aid and he ransomed slaves.

1894.  Mary Tearing at the age of 56 left America for the Congo.  Because of her age, she was not accepted for support, so she sold her house, used her savings, and raised $100/month from local church women and traveled to the Congo.  She was instrumental in starting homes for girls and young women.  Her work was so exceptional that within two years she was receiving full support from her board.

20th Century

1900 to Present.  The Twentieth century saw a decline in black missionaries.  The Student Volunteer Movement, the chief recruiter of missionaries, worked primarily at colleges and universities where blacks were least likely to be found.  The development of quinine in the twentieth century to fight malaria reduced the fears of whites going to Africa.  This discovery reduced the needs on one of the primary fields that blacks were recruited to serve. The lack of money caused a drop in the ability of many black churches to support missions.  Paternalism of the blacks by the whites on the mission field caused less interest by blacks working under white missionaries.  Some African-Americans were not welcomed in some countries for political reasons.  Growing black materialism choked off concern for missions.  

1916.  The independent black churches grew from 30,000 to over 4 million members.  This contributed to the decline in black missionaries as African-Americans were cut-off from the mainline sending denominations.  More blacks interested in the ministry stayed at home to serve this growth.

Resources used and for further information:
Adapted from paper “The History of American Black Missionaries”, by Larry Filbert, Robert Mosely, Richard Smith, and Frans Van der Heever of Ken Mulholland, dean of Columbia (SC) Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions.
Walston, Vaughn J. & Stevens, Robert J., African- American Experience in World Mission:  A Call Beyond Community, William Carey Publishers, 2002. http://missionbooks.org/williamcareylibrary/product.php?productid=10&cat=0&page=1