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date: 31 March 2023

Samuel Ajayi Crowther: African and Yoruba Missionary Bishopfree

Samuel Ajayi Crowther: African and Yoruba Missionary Bishopfree

  • Andrew BarnesAndrew BarnesSchool of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University


Samuel Ajayi Crowther was a Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary bishop charged with evangelizing the territories that became modern Nigeria. Over the last decades of the 19th century Crowther was the best-known Christian of African descent in the British empire. Pious offerings from British Christians allowed him to build a network of mission stations and schools in the Niger bishopric, as his territories were called. Crowther’s career ended in tragedy with a group of English CMS missionaries that traveled to his bishopric to dismiss as either corrupt or immoral most of the African missionary agents Crowther had recruited over the decades. Crowther resigned his office in protest against what he felt was the usurpation of his authority. Crowther died a short time later. Most of the historical scholarship since Crowther’s death (1891) has been concerned with assessments of two things: Crowther’s missionary strategies and the circumstances behind the events at the end of his career. The events at the end of his life have drawn the greatest amount of attention, but as argued in this article, Crowther is better appreciated for the revolutionary ways in which he rethought the missiological ideas of Henry Venn, his patron and mentor, and applied these ideas to the evangelization of his territories. The schools established under Crowther’s direction offered students a combination of skills aimed at making those students competitive in the society created by the expansion of British overrule in the lands that became Nigeria. The appeal of his schools drew many Africans toward the Anglican Church. By the end of his life, however, Crowther’s schools were coming under increasing criticism from Europeans for making Africans too competitive with Europeans.


  • Colonial Conquest and Rule
  • Religious History
  • West Africa

Bishop of the Niger

Samuel Ajayi (Adjai) Crowther, the “bishop of the Niger,” was the first and only African elevated to the rank of bishop in the Church of England during the 19th century. Over the course of an extraordinary career that began in the 1820s and continued through the 1880s, Crowther served as a Christian school master, missionary, priest, and bishop, the majority of this service taking place in the region of West Africa that was to become the modern state of Nigeria. Crowther’s career ended in an eruption of racial controversy and dissension prompted by Crowther’s decision to resign his position rather than acquiesce in the initiative of a group of young English missionaries to dissolve the network of African native agents he had put in place over the decades. Crowther’s decline in health and death a short time afterward seemed to validate the perception, held among many African Christians, that Crowther’s ultimate fate had been to serve as a Christian martyr on the altar of European racism. But Crowther is better remembered as a Christian apostle who taught other Africans that through Christianity they could possess the virtues they associated with European civilization.

Crowther and his achievements represented different things to Europeans and Africans. As illustrated in Jesse Page’s biography, The Black Bishop: Samuel Adjai Crowther, Christian Europeans celebrated Crowder as the living embodiment of two related ideas: first, that the Christian god elects certain human individuals for eternal salvation, who he then guides through trials and tribulations to earthly glory; second, that for the Christian god’s elect, things like race and social status were at most obstacles to overcome. Crowther, pictured in Figure 1 in the portrait regularly reprinted in Church Missionary Society publications next to his articles, was a liberated slave who rose to become a bishop, a powerful demonstration of Divine Providence, but also proof that in European civilization, there was room for anyone who possessed talent and commitment to climb to the top.1

Figure 1. Portrait of Samuel Ajayi Crowther. The Church Missionary Quaterly Paper, July 1882.

For Africans, Crowther was more of a Promethean figure. Crafting a persona that many later African Christian leaders emulated, Crowther endeavored to facilitate, through Christian evangelization, the ethnogenesis of his people, the Yoruba. To use J. D. Y. Peel’s phrase, Crowther was the “proto-Yoruba,” meaning that he was the first individual to think through his Yoruba ethnicity in the universalizing language of Christianity.2 As Andrew F. Walls noted, Crowther was perhaps the first African to publish a study of his native language in a European tongue, and probably also the first African to take the lead in the translation of the Christian gospels from a European language into an indigenous tongue.3 Behind his efforts was a determination to provide the Yoruba with the social and cultural tools they needed to survive, as a people, interaction with the predatory civilization brought to Africa’s shores by Europeans. Crowther did not reserve his efforts for the Yoruba, but enlisted evangelists from other ethnic groups to pursue translations of the Bible into their indigenous tongues as well.4

The historical literature on Crowther as a missionary agent is very confused, primarily because of the conflation of answers to two separate, though related, lines of questions about Crowther as a missionary. One line of questions is about the strategies Crowther pursued in proselytizing Christianity in the Niger bishopric, and the outcomes of these strategies.5 As of 2005, there were approximately eighteen million Anglicans in Nigeria, so the question to be answered is what role to grant Crowther in this success.6 A second line of questions has been concerned with the events at the end of his life and the story behind these events. The gist of the indictment of Crowther by the men sent to West Africa by the Anglican Church to serve as the “Finance Committee” in charge of accounts for the Niger bishopric was that Crowther’s strategies for evangelizing his territories had failed. There has been an unresolved debate about why the Finance Committee reached this assessment. Obviously these two lines of questions begin from conflicting premises, hence the confusion in any treatment of Crowther that attempts to offer answers to both lines of inquiry. The tragedy at the end of Crowther’s life has drawn the most historical interest and because of this the most scholarly attention. Appreciation of Crowther’s positive contributions to the Christian evangelization of West Africa has been left comparatively in the shadows. For this reason, some perspective on the second line of questioning needs to be established before it is possible to consider the first.

The Niger Question

During his lifetime, Crowther served as a living icon. Even during his lifetime, however, the issue was an icon of what? There was never any consensus among Africans, among Europeans, among Africans and Europeans in conversation, over what exactly Crowther had been commissioned to do. As Lamin Sanneh observed, the Anglican Church granted Crowther “influence without power,” meaning that it gave him the honor of the office of bishop, but no authority upon which to base his performance of the office. This proved a recipe for debacle.7 The issue of the nature of Crowther’s bishopric, and what it represented, illustrates the underlying problem. At the heart of the “Niger Question,” as the discussion of Crowther’s bishopric was headlined in the West African newspaper, The Sierra Leone Weekly News in the years following his resignation, were two questions.8 First was the question of the nature of the charge Crowther had been asked to take up. Second was the question of whether as the first African being offered such a charge, Crowther had or had not validated the capacity of Africans to take leadership positions in the Christian evangelization of Africa. The problem was that there existed no metric for the assessment of an affirmative answer for either question, so individuals could and did read what they wanted to read into the nature and outcomes of Crowther’s efforts.

To be fair, there was some awareness among decision makers in the Church of England, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS), the missionary arm of the Anglican Church, that in declaring Crowther, among others, a “missionary” bishop, they were attempting to graft something new onto an ecclesiastical polity far more concerned with ensuring continuity with the past than connecting with the future. The endeavor to innovate, though, was rationalized as demanded by the need of the Anglican Church to keep up with Britain’s expanding empire. As explained in an article in 1884 in The Church Missionary Gleaner, a journal of the CMS, the Anglican Church was then appointing, “at least four or five [different] kinds of Colonial and Missionary Bishops.”9 The various types of “colonial” bishops, of which, for purposes of comparison that of Sierra Leone may be considered as a pertinent example, were appointed by the Queen or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and had full “episcopal” authority over the “dioceses” or ecclesiastical jurisdictions, over which they had been promoted. “Missionary” bishoprics, on the other hand, were established by missionary organizations, in Crowther’s case the CMS, and were connected to the Church of England through that missionary body. As the article in The Church Missionary Gleaner made clear, citing Crowther and the Niger bishopric as an example, missionary bishops possessed “no dioceses in a legal sense.” They exercised ecclesiastical authority, per se, only over the “native churches” they themselves created.10

In the ecclesiastical organization of European Christianity, the episcopacy (office of bishop) maintains the highest-ranking form of the pastorate, or oversight over the spiritual welfare of others. Bishops have final organizational authority in their dioceses, which means among other things that they supervise and regulate smaller territorial units known as parishes, which are permanent communities of worshipers under the pastoral supervision of parish priests or curates, this latter term standing for the idea that priests have the “cure of souls,” or responsibility for guiding parishioners in the latter’s quest for spiritual salvation. Once freed from slavery, Crowther was repatriated to Sierra Leone, where for 22 years he lived, studied, and became a teacher and missionary. Sierra Leone was the British colony for Africans set free from the Atlantic slave trade. Over the time Crowther lived there, the number of repatriated Africans grew, and most of these individuals embraced some form of Christianity, with the majority seeking to worship in the churches established by the CMS mission. The growth of Anglican Christianity in Sierra Leone reached a critical threshold during Crowther’s time, and he observed and to a real extent participated as the CMS worked with the colonial government to build first a set of parishes, and then in 1852 to erect those parishes into the new Anglican diocese of Sierra Leone, with a new bishop, in those days always a European. Crowther saw firsthand how a diocesanal church for African Christians could come into existence, with parishes for communal worship, and extra parochial social welfare institutions such as Fourah Bay College for educational needs.11 The assumption has to be that Crowther hoped to replicate the process he observed in the bishopric granted to him. Crowther, however, was made bishop over a jurisdiction with very few Christian souls to cure. There were no parishes in his diocese, no permanent communities of worshipers. The only Christians in his territories at the time of his appointment were a few Saro, or Sierra Leonean repatriates, who in search of a livelihood as traders had moved on from Sierra Leone. Before he could think about creating an African Christian diocese, Crowther was tasked with creating a Christian world “ex nihilo,” out of nothing.

Crowther’s missionary jurisdiction was declared to be the “countries of Western Africa beyond the Queen's dominions.” The boundaries of this territory were never defined. As late as 1888, the Sierra Leone Weekly News characterized them as extending from Morocco to the Gambia down to the “very heart of the Yoruba country.”12 In practice, though, the Niger bishopric covered the territories that became the southern and central portions of modern Nigeria. The qualification “beyond the Queen’s dominions,” however, remained important. Several of the white Anglican missionaries working in West Africa at the time when Crowther’s elevation was being discussed refused on principle to serve under an African churchman, so the Church of England adopted the expedient of granting Crowther authority over a region where there were no mission stations occupied by white missionaries. Since the CMS retained very few black missionaries, even before Crowther could begin to create a Christian world out of nothing, he needed to recruit and train a coterie of African Christian teacher-evangelists or “native agents” as they were called.13

It bears repeating that the enormity of what Jacob A. F. Ade. Ajayi called Crowther’s “ambiguous mandate” was not lost on “Salisbury Square,” the location in London of the headquarters of the CMS.14 Crowther and the commission that Crowther was granted both were acknowledged in the organization and in the larger Anglican Church as leaps of faith. One of the difficult questions still to be resolved about the tragic end to Crowther’s career is why there was such widespread consensus within the CMS that Crowther had indeed failed to live up to the faith that had been placed in him. Thus, what that faith involved, and why he was perceived as not living up to it needed to be better understood.

Crowther and Anglican Daydreams

Samuel Ajayi Crowther as a missionary bishop was given a blank page and commanded to fill it in with a network of Christian communities that the Anglican Church could recognize as its own. To describe what the sketched in picture of Anglican Church life was supposed to look like, many scholars have gone back to consider the ideas of Henry Venn, secretary of the CMS, and mentor and promotor of Crowther. Venn’s missiology does provide one angle toward understanding what Crowther aspired to achieve. But there is another angle perhaps more helpful for understanding why Anglicans became so disenchanted with the church Crowther founded. In his history of the Church Missionary Society, Eugene Stock spent a chapter seeking to place Crowther and the events of his last years in a framework that would allow early 20th-century Anglicans to feel that justice had been served. Emblematic of the challenge, Stock spent half of the chapter’s sixteen printed pages providing background to the story of Crowther’s elevation, half a paragraph explaining the story of his demise.15 Writing about the church conference in England where Crowther’s appointment was proposed and approved, Stock quoted the words of Hugh Stowell, a mid-19th-century Anglican curate present at the conference, who, speaking just after Crowther had spoken to the group, rhapsodized:

It was the day-dream of my childhood . . . that we should have in these latter days something like the primitive times when the African Cyprian presided over his conclave of fourscore swarthy bishops. We then, indeed, are sustaining the apostolical succession. We are going back to primitive usage, and I believe that the simplicity with which the Episcopate on the banks of the Niger is to be instituted, is beautifully primitive also. I cannot but rejoice that our black brother is not going to be encumbered with the trappings, or to be burdened with the adornings, that seem to be necessary in our more civilized land for the Episcopate that is established amongst us. I say not one word to deprecate or disparage proper forms, orders or dignities at home . . . But I do most thoroughly rejoice that the Bishop of the Niger is to be no Lord Bishop, that he is to be [instead] simply a Missionary Bishop over his own countrymen.16

Stowell was perhaps the earliest Anglican advocate for the elevation of an African to the episcopacy, so his ideas may be read as reflective of the mid-19th-century Anglican Christian sensibilities that supported Crowther’s consecration by the Archbishop a few days later at the cathedral at Canterbury.17 “Primitive” as used by Stowell should be understood as signifying ancient and historical. The predisposition to see in the Christian churches sprouting in sub-Saharan Africa a second iteration of the process through which Christianity took root in Eurasia is not a new one. It was present in the minds of the men who decided to empower Crowther as a representative of Anglican Christianity. Neither is the romanticism new that takes as the measure of the process of Christianization the capacity to dress African Christians as avatars of past Christian heroes.18 To Stowell’s mind, Crowther was best appreciated as a reincarnation of a Roman African bishop who held office two centuries after the death of Christ. Stowell’s comments and Stock’s quoting of them give a sense of the continuity that 19th-century Anglicans wanted to see between the Christians they perceived themselves to be and their imagined past. Crowther’s elevation was proof that the apostolic succession, the historic growth and expansion of the Christian church, was being sustained through them. Anglicans hoped Crowther would reinforce this self-conception. They wanted to see validation of an imagined past in him and in the flock of “primitive” African Christians he created. Crowther, however, remained resolutely committed to the formation of African Christians who could survive in contemporary circumstances. His focus was on the creation of a future African Christian church, even though, as it turned out, the African Christians he helped form invoked in the minds of many English Anglicans a future they dreaded.

To this layer of disappointment was added another, shared mostly within the upper echelons of the Anglican Church. In American professional baseball, there has been a movement to honor the legacy of the African American baseball player Jackie Robinson, who on April 15, 1947, broke the unwritten code of racial segregation in major league baseball. Robinson’s jersey number, “42,” has been retired from usage by all major league teams, except on April 15, when all players, on all teams, wear the number in recognition of Robinson and his willingness to lead the charge to end sanctioned racism in what was called then “America’s national pastime.” In some very concrete ways Crowther’s commission was the same as that of Robinson. Both men were asked to suffer hatred, opprobrium, physical insult, and injury to justify black inclusion in a world previously reserved only for whites. Crowther had to contend with these things from Europeans, African traditionalists and African Muslims, a far more diverse group of antagonists than Robinson. Then again, Crowther did not have to daily summon up the courage and capacity for pain Robinson needed each time he prepared for the spikes waiting for him when he slid into second base. Both men were asked to not just perform, but to excel, to do things beyond the things that could have been reasonably expected of the white male who would have gotten the position if they had not. Finally, both men were under pressure to vindicate the white men who gave them their chance. The color line had to be broken for a good reason. With Jackie Robinson in the lineup, the Brooklyn Dodgers went to the World Series six times, winning the championship for the first time in franchise history in 1955. For Robinson, this metric has been accepted as both a measure of his athletic ability and achievement and of the prescience of the white men who broke social taboos to give him an opportunity. Here in the early 21st century, a century and a half after Crowther’s elevation, it is possible to appreciate that the territories he was appointed to evangelize contain the densest concentrations of practicing Anglicans on the globe.19 In historical retrospect, it is possible to see that Anglican success in the region was very much a product of Crowther’s missiology, and to appreciate, if the mixed metaphor be permitted, that Crowther was among the greatest missionaries to ever play the game. For Crowther at the time, however, unfortunately such a measure did not exist. So there was a conviction, shared across the various circles of Britons with some interests in Africa, that Crowther’s investiture had been the start of a mistake that had gone horribly wrong in such a fashion as to cast doubt on the question whether Africans could ever truly embrace Christian civilization.

There is another perspective that can be taken on why Britons interested in Africa declared Crowther’s missiology as flawed. But the perspective that Anglicans took in particular should now be discernible. Simply put, Anglicans saw Crowther as introducing Africans to European civilization, but not the Christian spirit that animated that civilization. Africans were learning to live as Europeans, but not as Christians. As one missionary complained—not specifically about Crowther, but the Saro in general, “These men have the idea that civilization is a thing by itself and able to stand without Christ.”20 Initially Crowther was viewed as an exception to this rule, but gradually over time the criticisms of his missionary detractors added up and Anglicans came to fear that Crowther was allowing Africans to slip away from Christ, perhaps toward Mammon. Expressed in the more convoluted rhetoric used by the missionaries on the Finance Committee to rationalize the treatment of Crowther, the latter was indicted for lacking the capacity to control the instincts toward secular pursuits of his native agents, and by extension the Africans evangelized by these native agents. Under the aegis of the CMS, under the aegis of the Church of England, Crowther was training Africans to compete for wealth and power in this world, something that had to be stopped.21

The Niger Mission

Not to challenge the right of 19th-century Anglicans to daydream about the past and future of their church, but Crowther was not being sent out to Roman Africa to a place and time where the Pax Romana still held sway, but to the West African coast, to a place and time where European states had been sowing war for centuries and were then in the act of territorial conquest. Far from the bucolic imperial hinterland in which Stowell pictured Cyprian as laboring, the 19th-century West African coast where Crowther was enjoined to proselytize was a war zone where the losers in the endemic internecine conflict ended up being shipped across the ocean into chattel slavery. And unlike Cyprian, whose greatest challenge as bishop was to guide his flock back toward doctrinal orthodoxy, Crowther as bishop was tasked not only with an obligation to nurture a flock into existence, but to keep that flock safe from the wolves eager to prey upon it.22

If Crowther had been obsessed with living up to European expectations, then it could be suggested that he had been set up to fail. But it can be argued that Crowther was not handcuffed by European expectations. Rather, he used such expectations as a platform upon which to implement his schemes for African social development. To draw upon the emerging scholarship on the role of African intermediaries in shaping colonial discourse, it can be proposed that Crowther was among the first and most successful of such individuals.23 Along with Tiyo Soga of South Africa, he in fact might be considered as a progenitor of the Christian version of the cultural persona.24 Crowther, perhaps more than any other contemporary African, knew how to play to European sensibilities. And it was Crowther’s capacity to frame his actions as fulfilling European conceptions of Christianization that facilitated the developmental agenda he implemented in the Niger Mission.

In 1872, the CMS published in London, Niger Mission, a thrilling first person account by Crowther of a tour of his territories from Lokoja to Bida and then back to Lagos. Worth noticing are the three attached appendices. The first appendix highlighted the authority Crowther exercised in his territories not as a churchman, but as an emissary of the British Crown. The appendix listed the “acts of liberality,” for Crowther and his entourage, provided over the previous nine years by the emir of Nupe to “British subjects.”25 The second appendix was a re-publication of the prospectus for the “West African Native Bishopric Fund,” first issued after Crowther’s ordination in 1864, which outlined the initiatives Crowther hoped to begin with monies contributed to the Fund. First among these initiatives would be the building of mission stations, which would allow Crowther to “encourage heathen kings and chiefs to receive and support Native teachers and schoolmasters by grants-in-aid.” A second initiative would be the engagement of “interpreters and copyists,” to reduce African languages down to script. A third initiative would be the “occasional” redemption of Africans held in captivity. A fourth would be the “promotion” of “native industry” through the gifting to African chiefs of “cotton gins or mechanical tools.” The Fund was to be administered in London by T. Fowell Buxton, son of the famous abolitionist; and Henry Venn.26

The last appendix offered a five-year review of the accomplishments of the Fund. It noted that over the period 1865–1870, close to 3300 pounds were collected by the West African Native Bishopric Fund. Five hundred of those pounds were collected from Africans, from the “kings and chiefs” of Bonny and Brass. It may be reasonably concluded that these were monies put forth to pay for the schools Crowther had built in these two territories. The bulk of the funds, more than twenty-four hundred pounds, were listed only as “contributions from England,” meaning they were the results of pious offerings, probably of special Sunday collections. With monies from the fund, three mission stations had been built, at Bonny, Brass, and Igbessa. Note that in all three places the school house was the first building completed, and the school the first ongoing activity associated with the mission. The station at Igbessa deserved mention also for the fact that indigenous converts had been taught brickmaking and carpentry, and had used these skills to build a home for the pastor. The third and fourth initiatives listed were curiously combined in the story of the ransom of a Mr. Doherty, an African missionary agent abducted by the king of Dahomey. The Fund paid the king fifty pounds for Mr. Doherty’s release, in the form of “cotton gins and other presents.”27

In 1878, Crowther’s supporters in England paid for the construction of a small steamship, suitably christened “The Henry Venn,” which then sailed to West Africa there to facilitate Crowther’s trips up and down the Niger.28 This ship has drawn most of the attention directed by scholars toward the subject of the subsidization Crowther received from English Christians. Scholars have wrongly concluded that the finance committee put into place in London to handle the costs associated with the ship represented a new institutional arrangement between the CMS and the Niger Mission. As just shown, however, a committee for directing financial contributions through the CMS to Crowther was set up before Crowther returned to Africa as a bishop. The costs associated with maintaining the steamer only prompted a reorganization of the earlier committee. More attention should be directed to the relationship between Crowther and his English Christian supporters before 1878 because the steam ship was only the highlight of an extraordinary sponsorship that began with Crowther’s consecration in the cathedral in Canterbury. Crowther depended upon this sponsorship to cover his expenses up until that option was denied by the actions of the Finance Committee.29 It is worth suggesting that the relationship between Crowther and his supporters also played a key role in shaping the approach Crowther’s detractors followed in attacking him. Some real portion of the membership of the Church of England cheered on the success of Anglicanism’s one African bishop. And Crowther’s supporters would brook no assault on his devotion and commitment to Christian evangelism. His administrative/managerial acumen, however, offered a vulnerable target.

The Attack on Crowther

During the 1880s Crowther was under siege almost continuously by English missionaries determined to strip him of both his territories and the revenue stream that allowed him to evangelize those territories according to his own agenda. Though by then in his seventies, Crowther displayed a remarkable amount of political skill, blunting these challenges. Crowther’s moves to squelch the Wood Report, first issued in 1880, which indicted several of Crowther’s native agents on what proved to be false charges, have been discussed by a number of scholars.30 More research needs to be done, however, on how Crowther tweaked his persona within the CMS during the decade, making himself indispensable to various factions within the organization. Before the rise in the 20th century of European “experts” on Africa, there was a need in Europe for “natives” who could be cited in support of some position in some debate. Crowther became such a source on at least two issues. Edward W. Blyden began building his case against Christianity and for Islam during the 1870s, culminating in the publication of his collected essays on the subject under the title of Christianity, Islam and the Negro in 1887. In CMS publications, Crowther became the anti-Blyden, his writings used to counter the arguments put forward by Blyden.31 Crowther was an outspoken opponent against accepting polygamists into the Anglican Church. He wrote a memo against the practice of polygamy that influenced Anglican Church thinking on this issue. Crowther returned to England a number of times after his elevation. Figure 2 presents a photograph taken during his visit in 1873 where he sits with a number of missionaries under the “Wilberforce Oak” at Holwood Park, Keston.32

Figure 2. Samuel Ajayi Crowther (center) with missionaries, Keston, Kent, 1873. Public domain.

His last trip to England, where he effectively fended off his attackers for one last time, was actually for the purpose of attending the decennial Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, where he served on the subcommittee that successfully argued for the reaffirmation of the ban against the admission of polygamists into the church.33

The chink in Crowther’s armor was, as his attackers appreciated, the men he hired as native agents. There is very little research on these men as a group, and no consensus among scholars about the charges against them. Ajayi made three points about them worth mentioning. First is that “native” here signals “African” not “indigenous.” Crowther had to recruit his agents in Sierra Leone. They were all Saros. Second is that the CMS did not pay these men enough salary to survive, so they needed to engage in trade—the crux of the indictment against them by the Finance Committee—in order to survive. Third is that some of them did suffer from moral failings that compromised their integrity as men of God. Further research might investigate the pastoral therapies Crowther followed with his agents with a view toward determining whether Crowther’s optimism that he could guide lost agents back to their declared vocations was misplaced. Whatever the case, as Ajayi observed about staffing decisions in the Niger bishopric, Crowther was confronted with a choice between “a defective staff capable of reformation and none at all.”34

Whether Crowther’s native agents could be saved or not, the essential issue in the minds of Crowther’s attackers was the weakness that Crowther revealed in hiring them in the first place. A bishop, as a “lord,” was expected to rule over the men under his authority in the same manner an aristocrat had once been expected to rule over the people living upon his domains. The criticism of Crowther was that he lacked the capacity to exercise dominium. One of the Europeans on the Finance Committee, Graham Wilmot Brooke, confided in his diary about Crowther that the latter “does not seemed called of God to be an overseer.”35 Another of the Europeans, J. A. Robinson, was more forthright, declaring in one of his memoranda back to Salisbury Square about the situation in the Niger bishopric, that “The Negro race shows almost no signs of ‘ruling’ power. This is true in Sierra Leone, Liberia, West Indies and equally on the Niger.”36 Robinson’s comments reflected a sensibility evident in the CMS from the time that Venn first broached the idea of elevating Crowther. Africans could not rule, they could only be ruled. Crowther was occupying a space better taken by a European.37 Venn held the sensibility at bay until his death in 1872. Crowther’s popularity and support among Anglicans in England held it in check from 1872 to 1890. But by 1890, after a decade of accusations of corruption and wrongdoing in his bishopric, Crowther’s reputation had been tarnished enough that his detractors at Salisbury Square could deputize a group of high flying, twenty-something missionary reformers to travel to the Niger bishopric to do what Crowther appeared to lack the command to do, which was to dismiss his corrupt underlings.38

“Mission Boys”

Missionary racism was not the only motivation behind the assault on Crowther’s authority. There was also a growing fear, shared among Europeans with some connection with Africa’s West Coast, of the adversarial instincts toward Europeans discernable in the behavior of the Africans educated in mission schools, especially those of Crowther. “Mission boys” as educated African Christians were called by Europeans at the end of the 19th century, approached Europeans as equals, and, according to some Europeans, as prey.39 In part because he was among the most educated of African Christians, and in part because he was educating the students in the Niger Mission to be just like him, Europeans in and out of the church identified Crowther and his mission as a source for this problem.

By way of background it may be observed that evolutionary constructs of human development had come to dominate European thinking, including European Christian thinking, by the end of the 19th century. European science located Africans, individually and collectively on the primitive end of a linear scale of development and Europeans, individually and collectively on the opposite, advanced end of the scale. European science further postulated that it would take centuries for Africans as a race to draw even with Europeans as a race. Stock may have used the quotation from Stowell to set the historical stage for the scene where Crowther was ordained, but by the time Stock used the quotation, the signification of the term “primitive” had changed, the import being that “primitive” no longer represented something to emulate, but rather a point from which to evolve. For Stock the term signaled an anterior stage in human social development. The more racist among Europeans affirmed that Africans as a race were fated to remain at that stage of development and were therefore doomed to extinction.40 More liberal Christians like Stock believed that Africans as a race could grow, but as a race they needed to mature past the primitive stage and then several other intermediary stages before they could grasp the spiritually ennobling ways in which modern European Christians handled modern European material culture.41 From this perspective, the knock against Crowther was that he refused to accept the box Europeans insisted be placed around African ambitions for development. Crowther was convinced that Christianity could be used to circumvent the temporal constraints of social evolution. He taught Africans that faith in Jesus could efface the social and cultural gaps between the European and African races in a single generation. Even the European Christians most sympathetic to Africa’s development were skeptical about this possibility.

European imperialism brought to the fore a related problem for European thinkers, the observable phenomenon of “primitive” individuals and groups of individuals assimilating some corpus of European culture, and then, based upon the assimilation, asserting that they were as civilized and as entitled as Europeans claimed to be. In the early 20th century this phenomenon was approached from the vantage point of the social sciences as the process of “denationalization.” Denationalization involved two psychological transformations. Primitive individuals alienated themselves from the values and mores of their reference society, their tribe, while partially and inadequately embracing the values and mores of modern European society. The resulting mental dislocation prompted paranoia, anger, and distrust, usually targeted at individuals with authority, both within the tribe and among the European population.42 The most concrete illustration 20th-century Europeans had in mind when they talked about denationalization was African Christians demanding political rights in lands colonized by Europeans. African Christian anger over the rejection of these demands Europeans recognized as a source for sedition.43

In the late 19th century, along the West African coast, the phenomenon that was later called denationalization had more of an economic than a political complexion. It emerged in the context of the battle between Europeans and Africans to monopolize international trade along the coast and waterways. Africans had controlled this trade for centuries, and both Venn and later Crowther built their missiological strategies for African Christian regeneration based upon the further development of African controlled commerce.44 But then quinine was discovered and from the 1870s onward, Europeans used their control of the European end of the trade to replace Africans with Europeans on the African end.45 One aspect of the European effort was the promotion of an image of Africans as collectively too primitive to trade in the commodities of modern life. In the context of delegitimizing African Christian competition for trade along the Niger, George Taubman Goldie, founder of the Royal Niger Company, wrote to the CMS to say that Saro Christians, as “foreign natives” engaged in trade along the banks of the river, were sowing “demoralization” among the natives. Crowther and his agents, Goldie claimed, were stripping away the mores of indigenous people, leaving the latter in an alienated, exploitable state. Goldie suggested that, insufficiently civilized themselves, Sierra Leoneans were giving in to their own covetous instincts, and selling indigenes whatever the latter craved, most significantly, alcohol. African Christians were the culprits in the liquor trade that plagued coastal life. Europeans, as moderns, recognized the dangers inherent in certain types of consumption, and could and would display restraint in passing on potentially noxious products to Africans. As proof of his case Goldie pointed to the commitment of his firm to the suppression of the liquor trade, though as Ajayi noted, all he did was restrict the trade to ports that he controlled, like Onitsha.46 The point here is twofold. First is that the notion that Africans, in seeking premature entry into some world that Europeans sought to reserve for Europeans, were doing some sort of permeant psychological damage to themselves as well as other Africans, was first formulated in the 19th century. The notion would have an extended life throughout the colonial era. Demoralization gave way to denationalization, and denationalization to detribalization. Second is that the notion first emerged in response to the threat Europeans perceived as coming from Africans trained by Crowther.

Perhaps since the publication of Page’s biography, scholars have written about Crowther’s “diocese.” Technically this is a misconception since according to the CMS’s definition of a missionary bishopric, Crowther did not have a diocese. The misconception may be used, however, to return to Sanneh’s point about the inherent problems Crowther faced with negotiating, sometimes simultaneously with African rulers, British colonial officials, British missionaries, and British traders, all without any statuted authority. To mid-19th-century Anglicans back in England, there may have been something wonderfully romantic about the idea of a “missionary” bishop without the “trappings” and “adornings” of episcopal power and authority granted to a “lord” bishop, but on the ground in West Africa, the absence of these things hamstrung everything Crowther attempted. It also left him at the mercy of all the third parties through which he had to operate to get things done. If Crowther had been fully vested with the ordinary powers claimed by bishops of the Church of England, the Finance Committee through which his adversaries in the CMS took him down would have had no standing.

But the ordinary powers claimed by Anglican bishops posit the existence of a type of church and state that did not exist in the territories entrusted to Crowther. There was no threat of coercion behind Crowther and his commands, and he never possessed any authority other than that which locals were willing to grant to him, a reality made obvious in 1867 when Crowther and his entourage were kidnapped while on tour, to escape only at the cost of the death of the Englishman who arrived unexpectedly with a boat at their place of hostage.47 What enraptured Crowther’s Anglican base in the stories published about his exploits, however, was the evidence that, while Crowther was never vested with the powers traditionally granted to a “lord bishop,” his successes as a “missionary bishop,” rested on his instinctive presumption of the former. For these audiences, Crowther’s life provided a concrete demonstration of how the Christian god made clear his chosen through providential interventions in the latter’s lives. The Christian god gave Crowther a charismatic authority where a bureaucratic one was lacking. One feature of class conflict in 19th-century Europe was the usurpation by the bourgeoisie of what in previous centuries had been aristocratic and royal prerogatives. Still, in the European imagination, kings and rulers continued to dominate life in contemporary Africa in ways they had once dominated life in Europe. Crowther and his adventures fed these illusions. As Stock perceptively observed, already in CMS reports dating from the late 1860s, Crowther was being pictured as “resembling the missionary bishops of the Dark Ages, who interviewed kings and emperors and held their own with them fearlessly.”48 This genre of characterization of Crowther never lost its popularity—it shapes in large part the narrative of Crowther’s career as bishop as recounted by Page. The genre allowed audiences in Europe to have their cake and eat it too. They could both nurse their images of the primitivism of Africa while simultaneously cheering on Crowther’s battles against this primitivism as the acts of a man of God.

Worth stressing is that the genre also allowed Crowther to promote with European support an African initiated program of Christian social regeneration. The uniqueness of this achievement needs to be emphasized. All other African initiated efforts at Christian social development encountered stiff opposition if not outright hostility from European missionaries.49 Eventually, so did Crowther’s. But inside a window of opportunity that stayed open for a generation, from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s, Crowther, with funding collected directly from British sources, lead a charge to develop African communities through Christian evangelism.

Crowther lead this charge through the building of schools. This is where Crowther was most indebted to Venn, who taught that Christian communities were the outcomes of the marshaling of local forces to bring churches, that is, congregations, and social welfare institutions such as schools, into existence. For Venn, the initial and primary focus of the missionary had to be on church formation/congregation building.50 Crowther shifted this focus, however, to school construction. He recognized the power of the African market for European intellectual skills. As Page noted, sometimes parents would show up at one of the mission schools in Crowther’s bishopric with the purely instrumental hope that their child might be taught how to gauge palm wine volumes and write up the tallies correctly using the European numbering system. Other times parents would want their child to know everything a school had to teach and informed the teachers to keep their child working day and night in order to get through the curriculum as quickly as possible.51 For African rulers, the establishment of a school in their lands served as a status symbol. As the king of Bonny boasted on the day the school was first opened in his town, “Now I consider myself as just returned from England, inasmuch as I have introduced school and the elements of Christianity into Bonny.”52 So Crowther and his agents concentrated their energies on working with communities to build schools, the assumption being that school construction would spark congregation formation.

Emmanuel A. Ayandele deserves some credit for recognizing the historical import of Crowther’s missiological strategy. But Ayandele overstated the connection between Crowther and later Nigerian nationalism.53 The thrust of Crowther’s initiatives was not toward state-building but toward what could be better labeled as community building, though as already noted, at the time it was thought of more as congregation building. There is an argument for the point about nationalism Ayandele was trying to make, but it would better take its start from Adrian Hastings’s suggestion that Christianity creates the cultural critical mass for the genesis of the idea of a European style nation-state, and through that, of European styled nationalism.54 Crowther is better appreciated for his role in generating such critical mass through the churches he helped found among the various African peoples who would later come together to form Nigeria.

Crowther built his missiology on evangelization through education with confidence that the Africans who could grasp what was being taught in the schools he established would become Christians. His ambition was to equip these students with the mental toolkit needed to prosper in a world full of people who would prey upon them because of their faith. Stock related a story of how Crowther sought to impress several representatives of the Emir of Nupe visiting him at the CMS mission station at Ghebe (Gbebe). Ghebe was the location of a mission-led effort to grow cotton. After taking the visitors on a tour of the station’s ginning operations, according to Stock, Crowther:

asked them to deliver this message to their master: —“We are Anasara (Nazarenes): there (pointing to the school room) we teach the Christian religion; these (pointing to the cotton-gins) are our guns; this (pointing to the clean cotton puffing out of them) is our powder.”55

Stock celebrated the story as an example of how Crowther rebutted claims about the superiority of Islamic civilization. Goldie and other British traders would have insisted, however, that those guns were pointed at them also. Most useful for this argument, the story gives a sense of how Crowther presented Western economic know-how to other Africans as a weapon, a weapon Christianity could equip them to use.

Commerce and cotton growing were not the only implements Crowther supplied his students. An issue of The Church Missionary Gleaner for 1870 contains a report, written by Archdeacon Danderson Crowther, Crowther’s son, of a school examination over which Bishop Crowther presided, held at the school at the Bonny mission station. As was typical of these events, the king and chiefs of Bonny, along with their families were in attendance. Students provided oral presentations of their skills in scripture reading, letter writing, spelling, mathematics, and English pronunciation. One young girl of approximately nine years of age drew special praise from the archdeacon, who observed that the child with her lack of tribal facial scars, her comfort in wearing “English dress,” combined with her “tolerably good English accent,” could be taken “for a girl from Sierra Leone, or other civilized place, rather than rude, uncultivated and uncivilized Bonny.”56 The event culminated in the late afternoon with a series of dramatic reenactments, all performed by senior boys. One dramatization was “Canute and his courtiers.” A second was “Alexander and the Thracian Robber.” A third re-created the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius (presumably from Shakespeare). The last dramatization, the grand finale, was Hannibal’s speech to his soldiers.57

The report of the school examination at Bonny gives a glimpse of the content of the curriculum at the mission station schools established by Crowther, and the appeal of that content as well. As the report suggests, the emphasis in Niger Mission schools was on the acquisition of intellectual skills that could demand some public appreciation. Crowther was quite conscious of the “wow” factor of European intellectual skills, of the capacity of the skills to impress other Africans. He directed his school teachers toward an emphasis on building up these skills for display. Crowther was aware of something else as well, of what might be called the mimesis of power, that is, the reenvisioning of moments of decision making with a didactic intent to teach habits of command. Where did Europeans get their presumptions of superiority, their certainty that their skin color automatically granted them “big man” status? The dramatic reenactments presented at the Bonny school examinations were offered to African audiences as a clue. All four reenactments were probably from an elocutionary reader, commonly used in those days to teach public speaking. This type of reader would contain a selection of dramatizations of historical or mythical scenes to which moralistic dialogue had been added. All four of the selections chosen for this occasion involved senior boys dressing up as men recognized in European history books as rulers. Each selection turned on the boys acting out some decisive moment where the ruler taught or received some lesson in life. In the context of mimicking the behavior of European rulers, Crowther was training African boys to habits of decision and command. Without going too deeply into the ideas of the historian Johann Huizinga, it can still be insisted that as Huizinga argued, play is always more than play.58 It is also practice for adult life. The dramatizations chosen at the mission school in Bonny provided senior boys with practice if not for rule itself, then for interaction with those who did weld power. It would be fair to observe that the dramatizations were taken from a textbook of the sort that would have been in use fairly typically in Britain and the United States. But that is the point. Young European males were trained this way. In training young African males the same way, Crowther was playing Prometheus. It would also be appropriate to point out that European missionaries, particularly European CMS missionaries, followed similar teaching practices in their schools. But those missionaries were not African. They were not, like Crowther and his native agents, living, breathing, preaching demonstrations that the process worked.

In the 20th century, when colonial education departments set out to “adapt” school curricula to the needs of colonial subjects, stamping out pedagogical practices such as those Crowther maintained was their goal. Crowther acquired his “fearlessness,” as Stock described it, elsewhere, presumably at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone where he was among the very first students enrolled. As seen here, Crowther undertook to pass the virtue on to students in his schools through historical dramatizations. Students left his schools with a conviction that through their education they could hold their own with kings, and, as colonial governments later would come to complain, with Europeans as well.

Crowther and the African Demand for European Civilization

In future scholarship, the spotlight should seek to illuminate how through his use of mission schools Crowther changed the cultural dynamics associated with the introduction of European civilization along the western coast of Africa. Evangelization through schools has a long history as a Christian practice. Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, both African as well as European, used the strategy with success across Africa. But Crowther did more than just use the strategy. Crowther branded the process through which the CMS made its schools in West Africa prototypical dispensaries of English Christian civilization. CMS mission schools, as they were developed under Crowther, became the model that other missions were forced to emulate in order to satisfy African expectations. It was the type of mission school Crowther popularized that colonial governments were determined to suppress when they mandated government oversight over education starting just after World War I. Crowther’s schools served also as the model for the “bad” mission schools that in the 1920s the reports of the Phelps Stokes Education Commissions promised to replace with “good” mission schools that made use of American ideas of industrial education. Lastly, it was an image of what schools like those established by Crowther once did that African Christians had in mind in the battles against government educational reforms they fought and eventually won in the 1930s.

At the end of the 19th century, as both background and prelude to the white missionary assault on Crowther’s dignity, there were many, many complaints among whites about the African Christians who saw themselves as “black Englishmen,” socially, culturally, and if they got their way, politically on the same social level as Europeans. These complaints were backhanded compliments to Crowther and the intellectual empowerment embedded in his approach to education. More than any other missionary, black or white, Crowther made European civilization appear accessible through the conversion process. In doing this Crowther forged in the African mind a linkage between schools and faith and civilization that other missionaries, and later, colonial educators, could never break.

Discussion of the Literature

Samuel Ajayi Crowther, his career, and his missiology have been studied by three different groups of scholars with somewhat different concerns. Each of these concerns continues to generate its own body of scholarship though cross-fertilization does occur. Church historians have recognized Crowther as a pivotal individual in the expansion of Christianity to the African continent. Crowther was written about fairly continuously from the 1860s to the 1890s in both European and African newspapers, and in the journals of the Church Missionary Society, but most historical treatments of his biography go back to Jesse Page’s The Black Bishop: Samuel Adjai Crowther, first offered in a much smaller version as Samuel Crowther: The slave boy who became bishop of the Niger.59 Page had access to the CMS archives and all the writings of Crowther and incorporated large passages by and about Crowther in his text. It is the sense of thoroughness the biography conveys that has perhaps inhibited other scholars from attempting to write an updated biography of Crowther over the past century. The biography tends toward the hagiographic, but what keeps it from crossing that line are the events associated with Crowther’s resignation, which the biography glosses over. Page collaborated with Eugene Stock of the Church Missionary Society, and Stock built his own presentation of Crowther on that of Page. Page’s biography, in tandem with Stock’s chapter on Crowther in his The History of the Church Missionary Society, offer what has remained the fullest treatment available of the narrative of Crowther’s life. More modern treatments of Crowther have sought to flesh out the picture offered by Page/Stock with discussion of Crowther’s missiology as represented by Andrew F. Walls’s “The Legacy of Samuel Ajayi Crowther”; his import in the history of the CMS, as represented by Lamin Sanneh’s “The CMS and the African Transformation: Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Opening of Nigeria.”60 Sanneh should also be acknowledged for posing the question of Crowther’s role in the development of trans-Atlantic black Christianity; see Lamin Sanneh, Abolitionists Abroad: American Blacks and the Making of Modern West Africa.61

The second group of investigators of Crowther and his legacy have been modern Nigerians interested in Crowther’s role in the origins of their country. Here the field had been dominated by the work of Jacob F. Ade. Ajayi and Emmanuel A. Ayandele, both of whom wrote influential treatments of Christianity in colonial Nigeria in the decade after Nigerian independence. Ajayi can be credited with creating a counternarrative on Crowther’s life to that offered by Page. Ajayi sought to build upon Page’s presentation of Crowther as a spiritual/moral exemplar by crafting an image of Crowther as a religious pioneer whose actions had historical outcomes. In Christian Missions in Nigeria, Ajayi offered the first systematic scholarly treatment of the details of the fateful August 1890 meeting of the Finance Committee. But Ajayi’s assessments of Crowther as a Nigerian, as a Christian, come out more fully in some of his other writings. Ajayi’s “Bishop Crowther: A Patriot to the Core,”62 though summary, is perhaps the best short treatment of Crowther as a historical figure. The texts of the three lectures at the Henry Martyn Centre at Cambridge that Ajayi given in 1999 toward the end of his life are useful as a more mature discussion of the topics he first covered in Christian Missions in Nigeria in 1965. Ayandele’s treatment of Crowther is by far the most complex, the most condemnatory, and the most controversial. As Ayandele saw things in his The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria,63 Crowther was an African nationalist despite himself. Crowther did all the right things to jump-start the nationalist movement that would culminate in Nigerian independence, but for all the wrong reasons. In his “Background to the ‘Duel’ between Crowther and Goldie on the Lower Niger. 1857–1885,”64 Ayandele offered a more sympathetic view of Crowther as an individual whose aspirations for good were rendered obsolete by the changing of the times.

The third and latest group writing about Crowther has been scholars of culture concerned to fit Crowther’s ideas into some broader assessment of late 19th-century African consciousness. Peter Rutherford McKenzie published Inter-religious Encounters in West Africa: Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s Attitude to African Traditional Religion and Islam65 in the wake of the work of Ajayi and Ayandele. Using the ideas of the two Nigerians as a springboard, McKenzie sought to answer what was then the novel question of what was the “othering” process implicit in Crowther’s efforts to convert African traditionalists and African Muslims. McKenzie tried to move the discussion of Crowther outside the Christian/nationalism discourse into the more academic realm of cultural studies. Alison Fritchett Climenhaga recent article, “Heathenism, Delusion, and Ignorance: Samuel Crowther’s Approach to Islam and Tradition Religion,”66 may be considered as an effort to bring McKenzie’s ideas back into the discussion among Christians. The most recent piece of scholarship to offer a new perspective on the historical import of Crowther is J. D. Y. Peel’s Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba. Like McKenzie, Peel pulled the camera back from viewing Crowther just as a Christian. McKenzie’s point was that Crowther was helping to shape at least the Western consciousness of traditionalists and Muslims as well. Peel went beyond this to talk about how all three cultural mindsets, Christian, traditionalist, and Muslim, interacted in the formation of a modern cultural mindset centered in an ethnic identity. Crowther in this reading is, to use a scientific metaphor, an organic mutation that takes root and then sires a new crop of Christian Yoruba, adapted to their environment. At present, to write about Crowther is to engage with Peel’s insights, as Stephen Ney investigation of Crowther as an author, “Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Age of Literature" (2015),67 illustrates.

Primary Sources

There are three types of primary sources available for the study of the life and thought of Samuel Ajayi Crowther. First are the published outcomes of Crowther’s linguistic and ethnological researches. Crowther’s Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language was first published in 1843, and then augmented and reprinted with an introduction by O. E. Vidal, the CMS bishop designated of Sierra Leone in 1852. The 1852 edition was last reprinted in 2015.68 A separate work, Crowther’s Grammar of the Yoruba Language also appeared in 1852, again with an introduction by Vidal. Crowther published A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Nupe Language in 1864, and a Vocabulary of the Ibo Language in 1882.69 Crowther translated a number of the books of both the Old and New Testaments into various African languages, most importantly Yoruba. A number of these were published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, but are not readily available today. Crowther was also the lead author on the translation of the New Testament into Yoruba first published in 1871.70 The second type of primary source was Crowther’s missionary narratives, told in the form of journal entries. Crowther’s mastery of this form deserves greater scholarly recognition since through his stories of his various expeditions, he was probably the best-known and most-read writer of African ancestry in 19th-century Britain. Crowther was first introduced to European readers in the context of his journal of the ill-fated Niger Expedition of 1840, which was published along with the journal of the missionary Frederick Schon in 1843.71 By 1855, Crowther was enough of a recognized name that the CMS published his journal of the expedition of the merchant explorer Macgregor Laird up the Niger river.72 In 1859, Crowther was the lead author of a collection of narratives by African Christian missionaries of their endeavors along the Niger.73 In 1871, the CMS published as a pamphlet one last narrative of Crowther’s missionary adventures.74 After that, Crowther’s narratives appeared as part of the reports on the Niger Mission published in various CMS journals. Also of value for understanding Crowther’s ambitions for his new bishopric is “A Charge Delivered on the Banks of the River Niger in West Africa,” a pamphlet composed of Crowther’s first sermons upon his return to Africa after his ordination.75 The third type of primary source available for Crowther are the letters, reports, and correspondence available from the CMS archives. These archives are still in Birmingham, England, but fortunately, a good deal of this material has been digitized by the Adam Matthews Company and then sold as part of research database packages to university libraries. The Empire Online database contains a significant amount of the materials on Crowther available in the CMS archives. The CMS Periodicals database contains most of the journal literature published by the CMS by and about Crowther.76

Further Reading

  • Ajayi, Jacob F. Ade. Christian Missions in Nigeria: The Making of a New Elite. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1965.
  • Ajayi, Jacob F. Ade. “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture I. ‘Philanthropy in Sierra Leone.’” Available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture I.
  • Ayaji, Jacob F. Ade. “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture II. ‘Crowther and Language in the Yoruba Mission.’” Available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture II.
  • Ayaji, Jacob F. Ade. “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture III. ‘Crowther and Trade on the Niger.’” Available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture III.
  • Ayandele, Emmanuel A. The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria 1842–1914: A political and social analysis. London: Longmans, 1966.
  • Ayandele, Emmanuel A. “Background to the ‘Duel’ between Crowther and Goldie on the Lower Niger. 1857–1885.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 4, no. 1 (1967): 45–63.
  • Ayandele, Emmanuel A. “Bishop Crowther: A Patriot to the Core.” In Tradition and Change in Africa: The Essays of J. F. Ade. Ajayi. Edited by Toyin Falola. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000.
  • Climenhaga, Alison Fitchett. “Heathenism, Delusion, and Ignorance: Samuel Crowther’s Approach to Islam and Tradition Religion.” Anglican Theological Review 96, no. 4 (2014): 661–681.
  • McKenzie, Peter Rutherford. Inter-religious Encounters in West Africa: Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s Attitude to African Traditional Religion and Islam. Leicester, U.K.: University of Leicester, 1976.
  • Ney, Stephen. “Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Age of Literature.” Research in African Literatures 46, no. 1 (2015): 37–52.
  • Page, Jesse. The Black Bishop: Samuel Adjai Crowther. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908.
  • Peel, John Y. D. Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003, 278–279.
  • Sanneh, Lamin. “The CMS and the African Transformation: Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Opening of Nigeria.” In The Church Missionary Society and World Christianity 1799–1999. Edited by Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000, 173–197.
  • Stock, Eugene. “The Niger and Its Black Bishop.” In The History of the Church Missionary Society, Its Environment, Its Men and Its Work, 4 vols. London: Church Missionary Society, 1899–1916, 450–465.
  • Walls, Andrew F. “The Legacy of Samuel Ajayi Crowther.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 16 (1992): 15–21


  • 1. Jesse Page, The Black Bishop: Samuel Adjai Crowther (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908). See also Eugene Stock, “The Niger and Its Black Bishop,” in The History of the Church Missionary Society, Its Environment, Its Men and Its Work, vol. 2. (London: Church Missionary Society, 1899), 450–465.

  • 2. John Y. D. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 278–279.

  • 3. Andrew F. Walls, “The Legacy of Samuel Ajayi Crowther,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 16 (1992): 15–21, 16. See also Lamin Sanneh, “The CMS and the African Transformation: Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Opening of Nigeria,” in The Church Missionary Society and World Christianity 1799–1999, eds. Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley (Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 173–197, esp. 184; and Stephen Ney, “Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Age of Literature,” Research in African Literatures 46, no 1 (2015): 37–52.

  • 4. Walls, “The Legacy of Samuel Ajayi Crowther,” 18–19. See also Matthew Oluremi Owadayo, “Samuel Ajayi Crowther,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Available online.

  • 5. See Peter Rutherford McKenzie, Inter-religious Encounters in West Africa: Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s Attitude to African Traditional Religion and Islam (Leicester, U.K.: University of Leicester, 1976); and Alison Fitchett Climenhaga, “Heathenism, Delusion, and Ignorance: Samuel Crowther’s Approach to Islam and Tradition Religion,” Anglican Theological Review 96, no. 4 (2014): 661–681.

  • 6. See “Global Anglicanism at a Crossroads,” Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life.

  • 7. Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 191–193.

  • 8. See, for example, Sierra Leone Weekly News, December 13, 1890, 4.

  • 9. Church Missionary Gleaner, July 1884, 74.

  • 10. Church Missionary Gleaner, July 1884, 74.

  • 11. See Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 128–131, 172–173. See also Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture I. ‘Philanthropy in Sierra Leone’ available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture I (n.p.)

  • 12. Sierra Leone Weekly News, August 18, 1888, 4.

  • 13. Peel, Religious Encounter, 123–151; Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 191–193; Jacob F. A. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria: The Making of a New Elite (Evanston, IL Northwestern University Press, 1965), 25–52; and Emmanuel A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria 1842–1914: A Political and Social Analysis. (London: Longmans, 1966), 29–69.

  • 14. See Jacob F. Ade. Ajayi, “Bishop Crowther: A Patriot to the Core.” See also Jacob Ade Ajayi, “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture II. ‘Crowther and Language in the Yoruba Mission’”. Available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture II.

  • 15. Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 464.

  • 16. Quoted from Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 455.

  • 17. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 181.

  • 18. See Peel, Religious Encounter, 9.

  • 19. See “Global Anglicanism at a Crossroads,” Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life.

  • 20. Quoted by Peel, Religious Encounter, 134.

  • 21. See Emmanuel A. Ayandele, “Background to the ‘Duel’ between Crowther and Goldie on the Lower Niger. 1857–1885,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 4, no. 1 (1967): 45–63, esp. 53–56; and Jacob Ade Ajayi, “The Ambiguous Mandate of Bishop Crowther: Lecture III. ‘Crowther and Trade on the Niger’” available online as Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture III.

  • 22. See Peel, Religious Encounter, esp. 23–46.

  • 23. See Benjamin N. Lawrance, Emily Lynn Osborn, and Richard L. Roberts, eds., Intermediaries, Interpreters and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Colonial Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); Patrick Harries and David Maxwell, The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa (Grand Rapids, MI: W. E. Eerdmans, 2012); and Tamba M’bayo, Muslim Interpreters in Colonial Senegal: Meditations of Knowledge and Power in the Lower and Middle Senegal River Valley (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016).

  • 24. See Tolly Branford, “World Visions: Native Missionaries, Mission Networks and Critiques of Colonialism in Nineteenth-Century South Africa and Canada,” in Grappling with the Beast: Indigenous South African Responses to Colonialism 1840–1930, eds. Peter Limb, Norman Etherington (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010), 311–339, esp. 318–325; and Andrew F. Walls, “Distinguished Visitors: Tiyo Soga and Behari Lal Singh in Europe and at Home,” in Europe as the Other: External Perspectives on European Christianity, eds. Judith Becker and Brian Stanley (Gottingen, Germany: Vandenhoecke and Ruprecht, 2014), 243–254.

  • 25. Samuel A. Crowther, Niger Mission: Bishop Crowther’s Report of the Overland Journey from Lokoja to Bida, on the River Niger and thence to Lagos, on the sea coast, from November 10th, 1871 to February 8th, 1872 (London: Church Missionary House, 1872).

  • 26. Crowther, Niger Mission, 34.

  • 27. Crowther, Niger Mission, 35–36. See also The Church Missionary Gleaner, n.s. 17 (1867): 123–126.

  • 28. Page, The Black Bishop, 326–329; Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 241–244; and Ayandele, “Background to the Duel,” 54–55.

  • 29. See Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 205–207.

  • 30. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 245–248; Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 208–210; and Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 192–193.

  • 31. See, for example, Right Rev. Bishop Crowther, “A Brief Review of the Niger Mission since 1857,” Church Missionary Society Intelligencer (April 1887): 22–27.

  • 32. See Church Missionary Outlook, July, 1933, 135.

  • 33. See Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 206–207; Felix J. Ekechi, “African Polygamy and Western Christian Ethnocentrism,” Journal of African Studies 3, no. 3 (1976): 329–349, 338–342; and Timothy Willem Jones, “The Missionaries’ Position: Polygamy and Divorce in the Anglican Communion, 1888–1988,” Journal of Religious History 35, no. 3 (2011): 393–408, 399–400. For an argument against this interpretation of Crowther’s views on polygamy, see Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 183–184.

  • 34. Ajayi, Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture III.

  • 35. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 213.

  • 36. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 214.

  • 37. See especially Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 189–191.

  • 38. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 238–255; and Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 208–216.

  • 39. See Andrew E. Barnes “Aryanizing Projects: African Collaborators and Colonial Transcripts,” in Antimonies of Modernity, ed. Vasant Kaiwar (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 62–97.

  • 40. See Richard N. Price, Making Empire: Colonial Encounters and the Creation of Imperial Rule in Nineteenth Century Africa (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and Helen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

  • 41. See Philip Zachernuk, Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003); and Vivian Bickford Smith, “The Betrayal of Creole Elites, 1880–1920,” in Black Experience and the Empire, eds. Philip Morgan and Sean Hawkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 194–227.

  • 42. See Andrew E. Barnes, Making Headway: The Introduction of Western Civilization in Colonial Northern Nigeria (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009), esp. 115–116.

  • 43. See Andrew E. Barnes, Global Christianity and the Christian Black Atlantic: Tuskegee, Colonialism and the Shaping of African Industrial Education (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017), 99–101.

  • 44. On Venn see Wilbert R. Shenk, Henry Venn-Missionary Stateman (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1983), 67–79; and Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, “Henry Venn and the Policy of Development,” in Tradition and Change in Africa, ed. Toyin Falola (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1999), 57–68. On Crowther see Page, The Black Bishop, 240–274; and Ajayi, Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture III.

  • 45. See Ayandele, “Background to the Duel,” 53.

  • 46. Ajayi, “Bishop Crowther,” 94–95; and Ajayi, Texts of the Henry Martyn Lectures 1999 Lecture III.

  • 47. Page, The Black Bishop, 211–239.

  • 48. Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 458.

  • 49. Barnes, Making Headway, esp. 115–116.

  • 50. Barnes, Global Christianity and the Christian Black Atlantic, 99–101.

  • 51. Page, The Black Bishop, 266.

  • 52. The Church Missionary Gleaner 15 (1865): 124.

  • 53. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact, 205–210. See also Sanneh, “The CMS and African Transformation,” 183–184.

  • 54. See Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. 149–266.

  • 55. Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 453.

  • 56. The Church Missionary Gleaner 19–20 (1869–1870): 29.

  • 57. The Church Missionary Gleaner, 19–20 (1869–1870): 29–30.

  • 58. Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1949).

  • 59. Page, The Black Bishop; and Jesse Page, Samuel Crowther: The slave boy who became bishop of the Niger (General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1888).

  • 60. Eugene Stock, The History of the Church Missionary Society; Andrew F. Walls, “The Legacy of Samuel Ajayi Crowther,” International Bulletin of Ministry Research (January 1992): 15–21; and Lamin Sanneh, “The CMS and the African Transformation.”

  • 61. Lamin Sanneh, Abolitionists Abroad.

  • 62. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria; and Ajayi, “Bishop Crowther: A Patriot to the Core.”

  • 63. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria.

  • 64. Ayandele, “Background to the ‘Duel.’”

  • 65. Peter Rutherford McKenzie, Inter-religious Encounters in West Africa.

  • 66. Climenhaga, “Heathenism, Delusion, and Ignorance.”

  • 67. Ney, “Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Age of Literature.”

  • 68. Samuel Crowther, Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language: Part I. English and Yoruba. Part II. Yoruba and English, to Which Are Prefixed the Grammatical Elements of the Yoruba Language (London: Church Missionary Society, 1843); Samuel Crowther and Owen E. Vidal, A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language (London: Seeleys, 1852); and Samuel Crowther Samuel and Owen E. Vidal, Grammar and Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language (London: Seeleys, 1852).

  • 69. Samuel Crowther, A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Nupe Language (London: Church Missionary House, 1864); Samuel A. Crowther and James F. Schön, Vocabulary of the Ibo Language Part I (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882); and Samuel A. Crowther, Vocabulary of the Ibo Language Part II: English-Ibo (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1883).

  • 70. Testamenti Titọn Ti Jesu Kristi Oluwa Ati Olugbala Wa 1871 (London: British and Foreign Bible Society).

  • 71. James F. Schön and Samuel Crowther. Journals of the Rev. James Frederick Schön and Mr. Samuel Crowther: Who, with the Sanction of Her Majesty's Government, Accompanied the Expedition Up the Niger, in 1841, in Behalf of the Church Missionary Society. With Appendices and Map (London: Hatchard and Son, 1842).

  • 72. Samuel Crowther, Journal of an Expedition Up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers Undertaken by Macgregor Laird in Connection with the British Government in 1854 (London: Church Missionary House, 1855).

  • 73. Samuel Crowther and John C. Taylor, The Gospel on the Banks of the Niger: Journals and Notices of the Native Missionaries Accompanying the Niger Expedition of 1857–1859 (London: Church Missionary House, 1859).

  • 74. Samuel Crowther, Niger Mission.

  • 75. Samuel Crowther, A Charge Delivered on the Banks of the River Niger in West Africa (London: Seeley, Jackson & Halliday, 1866).

  • 76. The Adam Matthews Digital website can provide further information.