10 Black Missionaries
Updated: Sep 6
Over the past few years, I have felt an increasing burden over the fact that there are so few black missionaries being sent from the United States. I can remember some reactions when I was first approved for my first missionary associate term. People were excited saying I was the "first" black missionary or others saying I was the "only" black missionary (I'm guessing out of North Carolina). True or not, in those days I didn't really grasp the significance of what they were saying. They hadn't seen anyone like me in missions. Back then I lived in North Carolina and was at Raleigh First Assembly of God, now Cross Assembly. I was in a multi-ethnic church that had a huge heart for missions. Diversity was normal in that church and so was missions. They continue to live and breathe missions and are part of the Assemblies of God Fellowship whose DNA is missions. It is no surprise to me that God was able to speak to me and call me into missions while at this church. I was provided many opportunities to go on short term missions trips and took advantage of them and it was on a short term missions trip to Venezuela that God called me into missions. I'm thankful that I was in an environment that God's call was not muted by where I was. Those who mentored me let missions be a common as prayer. It's just part of what God asks of his church. It has always been a responsibility of the whole church around the world. In the US currently, it is been a responsibility that is largely neglected by the black church.There are some valid reasons that caused this. It's troubling knowing that there was a heritage of black missionaries in the past that is mostly forgotten today. Where are they all now? That is something I will have to unpack another day but today, here are10 black missionaries and some details about them.
1. John Marrant (1755-1791)
John Marrant was born a free black from New York City. Around the time that he accepted Jesus as his saviour he had a falling out with his family. They felt that his behaviour was bizarre and began treating him like he was crazy. He decided to leave home and began wandering around the countryside. He met a native american man with whom he traveled and worked with for a while. Then he went to the native settlement and had the chance to meet and convert some members of the Cherokee community. He was respected in many Native American communities and lived with them for a while, spreading the Gospel and winning some converts. Some historians have suggested that this first missionary encounter created lasting bonds between the blacks and the Cherokee people. By 1775 he had carried the Gospel to the Cherokee, Creek, Catawar, and Housaw Native Americans. When war broke out he was pressed (kidnapped) into the Royal Navy as a musician. Marrant survived several battles and was eventually discharged in London. Marrant tracked down the preacher who had converted him and told his remarkable story. While in England he received a letter from his brother in Nova Scotia expressing the need for a preacher, so he decided to go there as a Methodist minister. He was ordained at Bath as a minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, and the Countess's friends arranged the publication of his story as A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. It was published in 17 different editions.
2. George Liele (1750-1820)
George Liele (sometimes written as Lisle) was the first known African American to be ordained (Baptist) and the first to go and serve as a missionary from the US. Born a slave in Virginia, Liele was taken to Georgia, where he was converted in 1773 in the church of his master, Henry Sharp. He soon became concerned about the spiritual condition of his fellow slaves and began preaching to them. In 1775 he was ordained as a missionary to work among the black population in the Savannah area. He was set free in 1778 and travelled to Jamaica in 1783 and began preaching to the slaves on the island. By the time William Carey, often mistakenly perceived to be the first Baptist missionary, sailed for India in 1793, Liele had worked as a missionary for a decade. By 1814 his efforts had produced, either directly or indirectly, some 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica.
3. David George (1742-1810)
David George was born a second-generation slave in Virginia in 1742, but around the age of nineteen, he fled south to Georgia after watching his mother being whipped and left to die. For the next decade, he lived a difficult life on the run in the wilderness of Georgia. He was captured and traded several times until finally settling on a plantation in Silver Bluff, South Carolina. Between 1773 and 1775, George, his wife, and six other slaves owned by George Galphin were converted to Christianity and baptized by Joshua Palmer, a white Baptist itinerant minister. Following Dunmore's proclamation, white ministers were prohibited from preaching to slaves "lest they should furnish...too much knowledge." Upon Palmer's recommendation, George took on responsibility for the Silver Bluff group. With help from Galphin's children, George learned to read and write by using the Bible. The Silver Bluff church grew under George's leadership, gradually increasing in number from eight to more than 30. George Liele occasionally preached to congregation. David became a disciple of George Liele. When the British evacuated over 5,000 blacks from the city in 1782, he left Savannah for the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia. George's ministry sparked many independent congregations in Nova Scotia (over the next thirty years making Baptists the majority among blacks); he himself established seven Baptist churches and trained a number of other black preachers. His work, along with that of other black religious leaders, created the first movement of black churches and benevolent organizations in North America. Eventually, after a decade of persecution in Canada, George left and became a founding father of Sierra Leone and of the first Baptist Church in West Africa.
4. Brother Amos
Not much is known of Brother Amos. He was mentioned in a letter by George Liele. He was a member of the Silver Bluff, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia church. He sailed for New Providence, Bahama Islands, British West Indies and planted a church in New Providence that grew from 300 in 1971 to 850 members by 1812.
5. Moses Baker (17??-18??)
The early life of Moses Baker is somewhat of a mystery. Given the lack of records there is not much information on his family or the circumstances and conditions of his early life, other than the fact that born free in New York City. He was educated at a young age by the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), the same organization that aided Andrew Bryan. Though Baker and his family were not enslaved, the coming Revolutionary War would force them migrate from the New York to Jamaica with the help of the British government and the SPG. Once Baker arrived in Jamaica he worked closely with George Liele to help develop and grow the Ethiopian Baptist Church in Jamaica. Baker’s involvement was very significant in accompanying Liele in the development of the Baptist tradition for Africans of Jamaica. The efforts of Baker and Liele cemented a lasting legacy in Jamaican religious history.
6. Prince Williams (17??-18??)
Rev. Prince Williams was the first African-American Baptist missionary to the Bahama Islands. He left Saint Augustine, FL, around 1790 and organized a Baptist church in Nassau. In 1801 he secured land and built a small house of worship, calling it the Bethel Baptist Mission. At age 70 Williams erected St. John’s Baptist Church and ministered there until his death at age 104.
7. Lott Cary (1780-1828)
Born into slavery in Charles City County, Virginia, Lott Cary was one of the first African American Baptist missionaries to preach and work in Africa. He became the pastor of the 800 member African Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. In 1815, Cary worked with several other men to organize the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society. Lott served as the society’s first secretary and prayerfully sought to know God’s will for himself—whether he ought to stay or go. Over time, Cary felt an increasing call to go to Africa. He believed he could serve God more effectively there because he would not face the same racism he did in the United States. Cary and his wife, teamed up with Colin Teague and his wife and son, sailed for Sierra Leone. After establishing their mission among the Mandingoes, Cary moved to Liberia. Lott only served in Liberia for approximately eight years before his death. His dream of seeing the gospel spread throughout Africa did not happen in his lifetime. But because of his efforts, Liberia is a free nation today
8. John Stewart (1786-1823)
John Stewart, a free-born black from Virginia was converted at a camp meeting. He went to the Wyandot Native American reservation in Ohio, where he met Jonathan Pointer, a black man who had been taken prisoner in his youth by the Wyandots. Pointer knew the Wyandot 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. Stewart’s ministry among Native Americans is considered to be the actual beginning of Methodist Missions in America.
9. Daniel Coker (1780-1846)
Daniel Coker (born Isaac Wright) was a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church who eventually emigrated from the United States to Sierra Leone as a missionary and colonist. Coker was born in Maryland to Susan Coker, a white indentured servant, and Edward Wright, a slave father. While still in school he fled to New York where he changed his name to Daniel Coker and was ordained a Methodist minister. He returned to Maryland and his friends helped him purchase his freedom. He began to boldly speak out against the institution of slavery. He began both teaching and preaching in the Baltimore area. Responding to racial discrimination in the Methodist Church, Coker called upon African American Methodists to withdraw from the white-dominated church and establish their own organization. Unable to recruit enough parishioners from the Sharp Street Church where he worked, Coker and others who advocated his separatist ideals broke from the congregation to form the African Bethel Church, which later became Bethel A.M.E Church.
Daniel Coker left the United States in 1820 with 84 other African Americans who would become settlers Liberia. Coker was one of four AME missionaries who intended to establish the denomination in Africa. When the other three missionaries died, Coker led the remaining colonists to the British colony of Sierra Leone. Coker eventually established a church in Freetown and remained its spiritual leader until his death in 1846.
10. Isaac S. Neeley (1865-1923) and Martha (Mattie) A. Board Neeley (1866-1940s?)
Isaac and Martha Neeley were married late in life (in 1905) and became the first African-Americans to serve as Assemblies of God missionaries. They went to Liberia in 1913 under the auspices of Howard A. Goss’s largely-white Pentecostal fellowship, the Church of God in Christ (which was distinct from Charles H. Mason’s group by the same name). They transferred their credentials to the Assemblies of God in 1920 when they were home on furlough and received missionary appointment to Liberia in 1923. Isaac died just before they were set to leave, and Martha proceeded alone to Cape Palmas, where she was in charge of Bethel Home.