The Anglican bishop Samuel Adjai Crowther (ca. 1806-1891) was a pioneer African missionary and the first African Anglican bishop in Nigeria.
Samuel Crowther, of the Yoruba tribe, was enslaved in 1821 and put aboard a ship which was captured by the British navy. The freed slaves were sent to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where Crowther was baptized and, in 1827, became the first teacher to graduate from the Church Missionary Society's Teacher Training College at Fourah Bay. He joined the 1841 Niger expedition, sent out by England to explore the Niger River, combat the slave trade, and open the country for legitimate trade. Climatic conditions prevented success, but Crowther distinguished himself. He was invited to England for further training and ordained in the Church of England in 1843.
Crowther worked as a priest in Sierra Leone but soon became a member of the Anglican Mission in Nigeria, first at Badgray and later at Abeokuta. There, by accident, he recognized his mother after 25 years of separation and baptized her in 1848.
Crowther preached in Yoruba, translated parts of the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer and also published a Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language (1852). He believed that evangelization and trade should go together in order to bring peace and prosperity to the country.
In 1854 and 1857 Crowther was a member of two further Niger expeditions. The second suffered shipwreck, and Crowther did not return to Lagos until 1859. In 1855 he published Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers, and in 1859, with J. C. Taylor, The Gospel on the Banks of the Niger, 1857-1859.
Crowther made frequent visits to England. In 1857 he was made head of the Niger Mission, and as the work prospered he was consecrated a bishop of the Church of England in West Africa in 1864 and also awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by Oxford University.
As a bishop, Crowther faced many difficulties. There was local opposition, both African and European; his duties and rights were not easily defined, and he was short of African helpers. Many of his African staff came from Sierra Leone and found it difficult to live in Nigeria. But the work prospered, and soon there were more than 600 Christians, with 10 priests and 14 teachers and catechists. His task was hard, but the fact that he was an African bishop inspired many African Christians in the years that followed. He died on Dec. 31, 1891, and was buried in Lagos.
Further Reading on Samuel Adjai Crowther
A full-length biography of Crowther is Jesse Page, The Black Bishop: Samuel Adjai Crowther (1908). Two more recent evaluations are in J. F. Ade Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891 (1965), and E. A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 1842-1914 (1966).
Additional Biography Sources
Page, Jesse, The Black bishop, Samuel Adjai Crowther, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.