Evangelist George S. Brown – Liberia; served 1836 – 1843

George S Brown

George Brown was born July 25, 1801 on Newport Island in Rhode Island. In 1828 he came to know the Lord and become a part of the Methodist Episcopal faith – and ordained as both an elder and a deacon (diaconal minister) and commissioned to preach around the USA. In 1831 – he was licensed as a minister of the gospel.

In 1836, he arrived in Monrovia, Liberia. George Brown established the Heddington mission station in Liberia. He is recorded as preaching to the Goloo, Pessah, Queer, Day, Bussah, Vie, Mumboo, and Mandmgo people. He and his team endured threats and attacks by the natives of that country – some of whom were cannibals. He is responsible also for establishing churches among the people to whom he preached.The first church was established in 1840 among the Pessah people after Brown lead their king to Christ.

Brown had a beautiful connection to the people of Liberia. Though dealing with issues that grew from the jealousy of other missionaries, the impact Brown had in Liberia cannot be ignored or erased. Brown’s journals record him as praying:

“Christ, let me drink in this people till I die; these poor souls for whom Jesus died. Lord, let me die for them too! O, why has high heaven granted me this; to see the Liberians set under my poor ministry, and bow at the majesty of the God of the vast universe? Lord, let me live to see one of them converted from heathenism to Christianity, and then let me depart in peace. Bless the Lord, O my soul”

George S Brown

He passed away in 1886.

William Henry Sheppard – Congo; served 1890 – 1910

William Henry Sheppard was born in Virginia; 1865. In 1880, at the age of 15, he enrolled at the Hampton Institute – Virginia; graduated in 1883. After Hampton Institute Sheppard attended the Tuscaloosa Theological Institute, now Stillman College. He completed his studies at Tuscaloosa Theological Institute in 1886, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister two years later. In 1894 he married Lucy Gantt, she gave birth to four children.

Sheppard assumed the pastorate at Zion Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, but immediately found himself restless and made several applications to be sent to Africa as a missionary. In 1990 Sheppard’s chance to go to Africa finally came when another minister of the Presbyterian Church that volunteered to go to Congo, wanted to take Sheppard as his partner. He was in Congo for 20 years.

Though much of Sheppard’s story is based upon his sincere love of African Art and his collection of such items; his work among Congolese was effective because he viewed the people in a vastly different way than white missionaries that had served in the same places. The Congolese people grew to love Sheppard and gave him the name ‘mundele ndom‘, which has been translated as ‘black white man‘. His missionary passion was often labeled as social work – distinct care for the wellness and education of nationals. While in Africa, two of his children died.

Sheppard was known to have exposed the loot that Belgian King Leopold II had taken from Congo because in 1904, he returned home on furlough and spoke out against the savagery taking place in the Congo. President Theodore Roosevelt received Sheppard at the White House on January 14, 1905, to hear the case against Leopold.

Sheppard finished his work in Congo in 1910 and returned to the USA. He settled in Louisville, Kentucky. He served as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church. One of his most known ministries while pastor of this church was the development of a settlement house for Louisville’s black population. He died on November 27, 1927.

Stillman College dedicated its library in Sheppard’s honor in 1959 in Alabama.

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.

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.