Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1809–31 December 1891), was a Nigerian linguist, clergyman, and the first African Anglican bishop of West Africa. Born in Osogun (in what is now Ado-Awaye, Oyo State, Nigeria), he and his family were captured by slave raiders when he was about twelve years old. This took place during the Yoruba civil wars, notably the Owu wars of (1821-1829),where his village Oshogun was sacked. Ajayi was later on resold to Portuguese slave dealers, where he was put on board to be transported to the New World through the Atlantic.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther
|Primate of all Nigeria|
|Church||Church of Nigeria|
Osogun, Oyo Empire
|Died||31 December 1891|
Lagos, Lagos Colony
|Education||St Mary's Church;|
Fourah Bay College;
Crowther was freed from slavery at a coastal port by the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron, which was enforcing the British ban against the Atlantic slave trade. The liberated peoples were resettled in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, Ajayi adopted an English name of Samuel Crowther, and began his education in English. He adopted Christianity and also identified with Sierra Leone's then ascendant Krio ethnic group. He studied languages and was ordained as a minister in England, where he later received a doctoral degree from Oxford University. He prepared a Yoruba grammar and translation of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer into Yoruba, also working on a Yoruba version of the Bible, as well as other language projects.
A grandson of King Abiodun, through his mother, Afala, Ajayi was around 12 years old when he and his family were captured, along with his entire village, by Fulani slave raiders in March 1821 and sold to Portuguese slave traders. His mother Afala, who was later baptized with the name Hannah, toddler brother, and other family members were among the captives. His father, Ayemi, was most likely killed in the raid of his village or shortly afterwards.
The British outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and used their navy to patrol the coast of Africa. During that period, Spain and Portugal still allowed the Atlantic slave trade in their colonies in the Americas. Before the slave ship left port for the Americas, it was boarded by crew from a British Royal Navy ship under the command of Captain Henry Leeke. They freed the captives, and took Ajayi and his family to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they were resettled by local authorities.
While in Sierra Leone, Crowther was cared for by the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) and was taught English. Due to his remarkable intellectual qualities, Ajayi was sent to school, and within a short time, he was able to read the Bible with ease. He converted to Christianity. On 11 December 1825 he was baptized by John Raban. He named himself after Samuel Crowther, vicar of Christ Church, Newgate, London, and one of the pioneers of the CMS.
While in Freetown, Crowther became interested in languages. In 1826 he was taken to England to attend the school of St Mary's Church in Islington, which had established a connection with free Africans in the 18th century. He returned to Freetown in 1827. He was the first student admitted to the newly opened Fourah Bay College, an Anglican missionary school. Because of his interest in language, he studied Latin and Greek of the classical curriculum, but also Temne of West Africa. After completing his studies, Crowther began teaching at the school.
Crowther's missionary journey to Nigeria began in 1841. He represented the missionary arm of the Niger Expedition alongside Rev. J.F. Schon. He was ordained a priest and selected for the C.M.S project in the Yoruba mission on his second visit to England in 1843, after his brilliant account of the expedition and the rare qualities he displayed. In 1846, Crowther and Rev. Townsend opened the C.M.S mission in Abeokuta. During the 1854 Niger Expedition, Crowther had a hand in the founding of the missions in Niger.
Marriage and familyEdit
Crowther married a schoolmistress, Asano (i.e. Hassana; she was formerly Muslim), baptised Susan. She had also been liberated from a Portuguese slave ship as mentioned in Crowther's 1837 letter. He writes: "She was captured by His Majesty’s ship Bann, Captain Charles Phillips, on the 31st October 1822." Asano was therefore among the captives resettled in Sierra Leone. She had also converted to Christianity. Their several children included Dandeson Coates Crowther, who later entered the ministry and in 1891 became archdeacon of the Niger Delta.
Crowther was selected to accompany the missionary James Schön on the Niger expedition of 1841. Together with Schön, he was expected to learn Hausa for use on the expedition. Its goal was to stimulate commerce, teach agricultural techniques, encourage Christianity, and help end the slave trade. Following the expedition, Crowther was recalled to England, where he was trained as a minister and ordained by the Bishop of London. Schön wrote to the Church Missionary Society noting Crowther's usefulness and ability on the expedition, recommending that he be prepared for ordination.
Crowther began translating the Bible into Yoruba and compiling a Yoruba dictionary. In 1843, his grammar book, on which he had begun working during the Niger expedition, was published. A Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer followed later. Crowther also compiled A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language, including a large number of local proverbs, published in London in 1852.
He also began codifying other languages. Following the British Niger Expeditions of 1854 and 1857, Crowther, assisted by a young Igbo interpreter named Simon Jonas, produced a primer for the Igbo language in 1857. He published one for the Nupe language in 1860, and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864.
Crowther had become a close associate and friend of Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, an influential politician, mariner, philanthropist and industrialist in colonial Lagos. The two men collaborated on social initiatives in Lagos, such as the founding of The Academy (a social and cultural center for public enlightenment) on 24 October 1866. Crowther was the first patron and Captain J.P.L Davies was the first president.
In 1864, Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church; he was consecrated a bishop on St Peter's day in 1864, by Charles Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral. The licence from Queen Victoria for his consecration as a bishop authorised and empowered him "Bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in the said countries in Western Africa beyond the limits of our dominions." He had continued his studies and later received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Oxford. He later met Queen Victoria and read the Lord's prayer to her in Yoruba, which she described as soft and melodious.
In March 1881, he and his son Dandeson Crowther attended a conference on the island of Madeira, in the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco. Crowther had begun to work in languages other than Yoruba, but he continued to supervise the translation of the Yoruba Bible (Bibeli Mimọ), which was completed in the mid-1880s, a few years before his death.
Death, burial, exhumation, and reburialEdit
In 1971 the Lagos State Government under Mobolaji Johnson wanted to redevelop the site of the cemetery for new government offices and issued notices to families of the deceased. Seth Kale, Anglican Bishop of Lagos, representing the Anglican community and Crowther's family, delayed exhumation and reburial until 1976. An elaborate ceremony was held at a new burial site and a cenotaph was installed at Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Samuel Ajayi Crowther.|
- Works by Samuel Ajayi Crowther at Biodiversity Heritage Library
- Works by Samuel Ajayi Crowther at Open Library
- Works by or about Samuel Ajayi Crowther at Internet Archive
- "Crowther, Samuel Ajayi". Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Boston: Boston University School of Theology. 2002. Archived from the original on 11 July 2014.