John Marrant – Nova Scotia, Massachusetts and London; served from 1769 to 1791

John Marrant, was born June 15, 1755 in New York City. He converted to Christianity at 13 and his family did not agree with his new religion, so he left home – wandering to find a place and was rescued by a Native American hunter. The tribe sentenced him to die, but his prayers and sermons reached their hearts and they spared his life. He lived among the Native Americans many converted. He was only 14 years old when he began this ministry.

In 1782 Marrant started training as a Methodist minister, and was ordained in 1785. He was sent to Nova Scotia to minister to African-Americans who fled to the north. Marrant started a church in the free black town of Birch Town (which Native Americans also attended) with the purpose of igniting a fire among Blacks to walk in their divine destiny and authority. Marrant preached this message consistently during his three years in Nova Scotia.  When Marrant left Nova Scotia he moved to Boston and became chaplain of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons (African Masonic Lodge), one of the first institutions in Massachusetts to call for the abolition of slavery. Due to this group’s work, Boston abolished the slave trade in 1788.

In 1789 while in Boston, Marrant preached one of his few sermons that has been preserved on the equality of all men before God. His stay in Boston and his preaching on the dignity of all men infuriated some people and Marrant lived amidst death threats and mobs.  He travel to London in 1790 and died in 1791 at the age of only thirty-six.

Marrant authored three books. They were often transcribed by white writers and resold with no financial benefit to Marrant.

  1. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black, 1785. (a popular biographical memoir that printed 17 editions)
  2. A Sermon Preached on the 24th Day of June 1789…at the Request of the Right Worshipful the Grand Master Prince Hall, and the Rest of the Brethren of the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in Boston, 1789. (noting the equality of men before God)
  3. A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, from August the 18th, 1785, to the 16th of March, 1790.

He died April 15, 1791 in London.

“So we see here the greatest enemies of Christ’s church frequently make a great profession, and have a name or an office in the church, when at the same time are destitute of the vital power of true godliness; they live by a name themselves, and they want a great many names to be set down in their society books to make a fair shew; but they care nothing about real religion; from such religion as this, good Lord deliver us.” John Marrant

Betsey Stockton – Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Canada; served 1822 – 1865

Born into slavery in 1798, Betsey Stockton was an African-American educator and missionary. A servant to Robert Stockton, president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Betsey was formally freed in 1817.  She remained in the service of the the family as paid household help and was able to take advantage of their extensive library, as well as benefit from their willingness to teach her in their home.

Betsey was commissioned by the American Board of Foreign Missions as a Missionary and became the first single American woman sent overseas. Her contract stated that she was sent “neither as an equal nor as a servant, but a humble Christian friend.”  Betsey traveled in company with 13 white missionaries, on board a ship rounding the southern tip of South America. The missionaries were on their way to the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii). Upon arrival, the missionaries settled in Lahaina, Maui, where Betsey was the teacher of the first mission school at Lahainaluna School for commoners, learning the Hawaiian language while working on the Islands, the first woman to do so. She trained native Hawaiian Teachers who eventually took over her teachings once the missionaries departed.

Though her contract stated she was not to be a servant, the circumstances of people of color in that day determined that she was a servant at least part time to one of the families that she traveled with.  In 1825, the matriarch of the family that she was helping became ill and she return to the USA where she stayed with them for about five years.

Betsey taught briefly at an infant school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, established a school for Native Americans at Grape Island, Canada, and then returned to Princeton in 1835 and taught in its school for blacks.  In 1840, she helped found Princeton’s First Presbyterian Church of Color which in 1848 was renamed the Witherspoon Street Church. Betsey passed away on October 24, 1865 and was buried in Cooperstown, New York. Like many early missionaries, she kept a diary of her travels – versions of which were published in the Christian Advocate in 1824 and 1825.

Althea Brown Edmiston. Congo. Served 1902 – 1937

Althea was born in 1874 in Alabama. Her parents were emancipated from slavery, and she was raised on her father’s farm in Mississippi.

She attended Fisk University, graduated in 1901. Althea was commissioned as a missionary in 1901 by the Southern Presbyterian Church. She sailed for the Congo in 1902 and worked at a mission station run by William Henry Sheppard – another Black American Missionary.

In 1905 she married Alonzo Edmiston and they had two sons, both born in the Congo Region. Her husband was also a Black Missionary.

Altheas’s work was as a nurse and also in the area of linguistics. Her work was amazing because she did the linguistics work without any prior training. In the local Bushong language, she ensured that a a grammar and dictionary resource was published. Liturgical and educational materials were translated by Althea so that there was a small library printed for her students to read in their own language.

She passed away in 1937.

The book pictured is a great story of her life.

George Leile – Jamaica; served 1782 to 1828

George Leile was born a slave in Virginia around 1750. He was led to Christ in 1774 in the church where his master, Mr. Sharpe, was a deacon. In 1778, Liele went to Savannah Georgia where he became the founding pastor of the First African Baptist Church – the very first permanent church building in America “built by blacks, for blacks.”.

In 1782 George Leile left with his wife and four children for Jamaica mainly to avoid being enslaved again – he left as an indentured servant, but began preaching the gospel as soon as he reached Jamaica. After two years – he had paid off his indenture and dedicated his life full time to the gospel. His venue; a race track in Kingston. He was soon able to gather a congregation, purchase a piece of land and build a church. By 1791 the new church, comprised of mostly blacks and a few whites grew to over 350 members. One year later the First African Baptist Church of Kingston grew to over 500 baptized converts. Three other congregations grew out of this body as well as a school for black children – both slave and free. As his influence and church grew, so did the persecution. In 1805 Jamaica enacted a law forbidding preaching to slaves. Because of the influence of George Liele, the Englishmen William Knibb and Thomas Burchell returned to England to campaign to end slavery in Jamaica. Liele would not live to see the resolution because he died in 1828 – 10 years before slavery was eradicated in Jamaica. (some historical writings say he died 1820)

One of the remarkable aspects of Leile’s ministry is that he did not wait for the Emancipation Proclamation before taking the gospel to the world. George Leile is believed to be the very first black American foreign missionary, the first black person in the US to be ordained a Baptist pastor, likely the first black Baptist pastor in the world and he is also believed to be the first American foreign missionary to contextualize the gospel.

Montrose & Anna White. Liberia and Sierra Leone. Served 31 years

Montrose Waite and his wife Anna were Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) missionaries to Liberia and Sierra Leone.  He was born in Jamaica in 1893, but became a naturalized American citizen.  He graduated from Nyack College in 1917 and three years later sailed for Sierra Leone.  He married Anna and they had seven children — all C&MA children were required to attend school at The Alliance school at Mamou, Guinea — however, Waite’s children were victims of racism there and were forced to leave the school.

Subsequently, C&MA left their ministry in Sierra Leone citing ‘over-extension’ — Anna Waite, however held to the stance that C&MA left their ministry in Sierra Leone to distance themselves from Black missionaries and the particular issues that they presented to the mission.  No African American missionaries were again appointed by the alliance until 1976 – some 50 years later. Montrose and Anna, along with their children, returned on furlough to the United States in 1937 and were unable to return to Africa with the C&MA because of opposition of many C&MA clergy and missionaries to black missionaries.

Undaunted – Waite and his wife continued their work by helping to organize the Afro-American Missionary Crusade and raising his own support.  He returned to Africa in 1948 as the AAMC’s field director and first missionary settling in Liberia where he began a school.  In Africa, Mr. Waite discovered a great amount of wonder on the part of local people at the appearance of a black missionary from North America. He recalled the African who rubbed his skin to make sure he was not simply painted.

“Are there other black people in America?” the African wanted to know. “There are many of them,” Mr. Waite replied, adding optimistically, “and they’ll be coming.”

Waite was a leader in building support in the African American church for foreign missions and in finding channels through which black American missionaries could go to Africa.  He continued as a missionary in Africa until 1962 – but remained active in missions until his death in 1977.