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.

John Day – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa; served 1830 – 1856

John Day born in Virginia 1797. John Day was the first African American appointed by the Southern Baptist Conventions Foreign Missions Board (SBC).

He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1821 and had hopes of ministering in Haiti but could not garner enough support among Virginia Baptist . In 1830, he migrated to Liberia to minister and shortly thereafter was appointed by the Triennial Convention’s Baptist Board of Foreign Missions. In 1844, he resigned from the Triennial Convention post and was appointed by the SBC and given the lead of their ministry in Liberia. Day was a missionary to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa and is known as a founding father of Liberia because he signed its Declaration of Independence and also became the Republic’s chief justice.

Within one year of his family’s arrival in Liberia, his wife and all of his 5 children died. John Day spent 13 years in Africa and is estimated to have preached to more than 10,000 people during his ministry. In 1856 he founded Day’s Hope, a high school and seminary intended to train African boys as missionaries to their own people. John Day died on February 15, 1859 and on his deathbed, when asked how he was feeling, said these words –

“If I speak with regard to the union subsisting between me and Christ, I am well.”