Ajayi Crowther’s 179-year old letter: My capture into slavery and rescue

Ajayi Crowther’s 179-year old letter: My capture into slavery and rescue

Saturday, June 25, 2016 2:38 pm


Bishop Ajayi Crowther

Bishop Ajayi Crowther

Ajayi Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church. However, his background was rough. He was 12 years old when he was captured, along with his mother and toddler brother and other family members, along with his entire village, by Muslim Fulani slave raiders in 1821 and sold to Portuguese slave traders.

In his 1837 letter to Rev. Williams Jowett, then Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Crowther narrated his capture into slavery and rescue

By Samuel Ajayi Crowther

Letter of Mr. Samuel Crowther to the Rev. Williams Jowett, in 1837, then Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, detailing the circumstances connected with his being sold as a slave. Fourah Bay, Feb. 22, 1837

Rev. and dear Sir,

As I think it will be interesting to you to know something of the conduct of Providence in my being brought to this Colony, where I have the happiness to enjoy the privilege of the Gospel, I give you a short account of it, hoping I may be excused if I should prove rather tedious in some particulars.

I suppose sometimes about the commencement of the year 1821, I was in my native country, enjoying the comforts of father and mother, and affectionate love of brothers and sisters. From this period I must date the unhappy, but which I am now taught, in other respects, to call blessed day, which I shall never forget in my life.

I call it unhappy day, because it was the day in which I was violently turned out of my father’s house, and separated from relations; and I which I was made to experience what is called to be in slavery – with regard to its being called blessed, it being the day which Providence had marked out for me to set out on my journey from the land of heathenism, superstition, and vice, to a place where His Gospel is preached.

For some years, war had been carried on in my Eyo (Oyo) country, which was always attended with much devastation and bloodshed; the women, such men as had surrendered or were caught, with the children, were taken captives. The enemies who carried on these war were principally the Oyo Mahomendans, with whom my country abounds- with the Foulahs (Fulbe), and such foreign slaves as had escaped from their owners. Joined together, making a formidable force of about 20,000, who annoyed the whole country. They had no other employment but selling slaves to the Spaniards and Portuguese on the coast.

The morning in which my town, Ocho-gu (Osogun), shared the same fate which many others had experienced, was fair and delightful; and most of the inhabitants were engaged in their respective occupations. We were preparing breakfast without any apprehension; when, about 9 o’clock a.m. a rumour was spread in the town that the enemies had approached with intentions of hostility. It was not long after when they had almost surrounded the town, to prevent any escape of the inhabitants; the town being rudely fortified with a wooded fence, about four miles in circumference, containing about 12,000 inhabitants, which would produce 3,000 fighting men. The inhabitants not being duly prepared, some not being at home; those who were, having about six gates to defend, as well as many weak places about the fence to guard against, and, to say in a few words, the men being surprised, and therefore confounded – the enemies entered the town after about three or four hours’ resistance.

Here a most sorrowful scene imaginable was to be witnessed! – women, some with three, four, six children clinging to their arms, with the infant on their backs, and such baggage as they could carry on their heads, running as far as they could through prickly shrubs, which, hooking their blies and other loads, drew them down from the heads of the bearers. While they found impossible to go along with their loads, they endeavoured only to save themselves and their children: even this was impracticable with those who had many children to care for.

While they were endeavouring to disentangle themselves from the ropy shrubs, they were overtaken and caught by the enemies with a noose of rope thrown over the neck of every individual, to be led in the manner of goats tied together, under the drove of one man. In many cases a family was violently divided between three or four enemies , who each led his away, to see one another no more.

Your humble servant was thus caught-with his mother, two sisters (one an infant about ten months old), and a cousin – while endeavouring to escape in the manner above described. My load consisted in nothing else than my bow, and five arrows in the quiver, the bow I had lost in the shrub, while I was extricating myself, before I could think of making any use of it against my enemies. The last view I had of my father was when he came from the fight, to give us the signal to flee: he entered into our house which was burnt some time back for some offence given by my father’s adopted son. Hence I never saw him more-Here I must take thy leave, unhappy, comfortless father! – I learned, some time afterward, that he was killed in another battle.

Professor Ade Ajayi's book on Crowther, source of this letter

Professor Ade Ajayi’s book on Crowther, source of this letter

Our conquerors were Oyo Mahomendans, who led us away through the town. On our way, we met a man badly wounded on the head struggling between life and death. Before we got half-way through the town, some Foulahs (Fulbe), among the enemies themselves, hostilely separated my cousin from our number, here also I must take thy leave, my fellow captive cousin! His mother was living in another village. The town on fire – the houses being built with mud, some about twelve feet from the ground with high roofs, in square forms, of different dimensions and spacious areas; several of these belonged to one man, adjoined to, with passage communicating with each other. The flame was very high.

We were led by my grandfather’s house, already desolate; and in a few minutes after, we left the town to the mercy of the flame, never to enter or see it any more. Farewell, a place of my birth, the playground of my childhood, and the place which I thought would be the repository of my mortal body in its old age.

We were now out of Osogun, going into a town called Isehin (Iseyin), the rendezvours of the enemies, about twenty miles from my town. On the way we saw our grandmother at a distance, with about three or four of my cousins taken with her, for a few minutes: she was missed through the crowd to see her no more. Several other captives were held in the same manner as we we were: grandmothers, mothers, children, and cousins were all led captives. O sorrowful prospect! The aged women were to be greatly pitied, not being able to walk so fast as their children and grandchildren; they were often threatened with being put to death upon the spot, to get rid of them, if they would not go fast as others, and they often as wicked in their practice as in their words. O pitiful sight! Whose heart would not bleed to have seen this? Yes, such is the state of barbarity in the heathen land. Evening came on; and coming to a spring of water we drank a great quantity; which served us for breakfast, with a little parched corn and dried meat previously prepared by our victors for themselves.

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9 Comments

  • GabUm2 says:

    Really educative.

  • Stella Saunders says:

    AMAZING EXPERIENCE. But slavery is a wicked act agInst humanity and should not be repeated.

  • amazing2012 says:

    Slavery is bad and wickedness but Christianity is worst because it blind people from seeing the root of problem and the truth.
    On this historic letter, crowder has carefully refused to use the word that may indicates how Christians are involve in the process of slave trade and vehemently mentioned Muslims again and again.
    See my observations:
    Ajayi Crowther, the first African bishop of the Anglican Church had a rough background.
    1. He was 12 years old when he was captured, along with his mother and toddler brother and other family members, along with his entire village, by Muslim Fulani slave raiders in 1821 and sold to Portuguese slave traders.
    Remark: (Read the sentence carefully: MUSLIM Fulani Slave raiders sold to ……..Portuguese slave traders, why not used the word …….sold to CHRISTIAN Portugues slave traders ?).
    In his 1837 letter to Rev. Williams Jowett, then Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Crowther narrated his capture into slavery and rescue.
    Another part of the letter reads:
    2. For some years, war had been carried on in my Eyo (Oyo) country, which was always attended with much devastation and bloodshed; the women, such men as had surrendered or were caught, with the children, were taken captives. The enemies who carried on these war were principally the Oyo MOHOMENDANS (Muslims), with whom my country abounds- with the Foulahs (Fulbe), and such foreign slaves as had escaped from their owners. Joined together, making a formidable force of about 20,000, who annoyed the whole country. They had no other employment but selling slaves to the Spaniards and Portuguese on the coast.
    Remark:
    It suppose to read …..they had no other employment but selling slaves to the CHRISTIANS” spaniards and Portugues.
    Hiding of this simple truth have made many Christians to hate Muslims and blindly submits themselves back to the same slavery to Spaniards and Portugues today. They went through desert and attempt to cross the sea to reach the coast of Spain in a bid to reach those historic slave masters. At the end the history teaches nothing important to learn which is avoidance of becoming slaves. Because the true direction of the value of this historic fact is distorted,still Africans remain slaves at their hands.
    If Ajayi has mentioned and attached the word “..Christians” to the spaniards and Portugues, it will have help the Africans not to trust the Arabs as well as the Christians that may disguise yo enslave us in whatever name !
    Africans would have become suspicious on all foreigners coming to deceive us ! African would not have submits themselves again to the children of those that enslave Crowder in 20th century !
    Africans would not have risk their lives just to reach where they will be enslaved !!!!!!!

    • Smart says:

      You must be a very pathetic and blind-folded muslim. You see these men as we see them till today (Boko Haram, ISIS, Al-Shabbab,etc) shouting Allahu akbar in their conquest, glorifying the deity Allah, and it beats my imagination when i see blinded muslims like you, still living in denial, that they are not fighting the course of Allah. That someone bears Clifford, Richard, Clinton, etc does it qualify him or her to be a christian? The answer is no. Oooooo so, the slave raiders that were capturing slaves are muslim fulanis? No wonder, we have more muslims amongst the yorubas, than the Ibos.

      • Malick says:

        You are acting like the blind-folded man now. Nothing blinds a man more than sentiments. The world would be a very nice place if we could just see things they way they are instead of taking offence to truth or historical accuracy.
        Don’t let anyone get under your skin. The world is full of people with many different opinions, some you would agree with, some you wouldn’t. The secret of living happily in this very diverse world, is to ignore annoyance.

      • amazing2012 says:

        Tell me the difference between pagans, atheists and christians in attitude, just one difference in work not fake faith.

  • Adegbola Ifaturoti says:

    This letter is just one little source of history – the experience of one person from Yorubaland sold into slavery and saved by the British. Millions were sold into slavery from West Africa and only few were sold from Yorubaland.
    The mixture of Yorubas and Fulanis that attacked the town were most probably from Ilorin – a city that had just converted to Islam and still exists the way it did then.
    The British abolished slave trade in the year 1807 while the Yorubas did the same in 1894 under direction of the British. If slavery was bad, the perpetrators in this context were more of Yoruba and Fulani people. This has nothing to do with religion. Call it culture, call it greed but not religion.

    • Dap Sijuwade says:

      I think u are in denial about a fact of history. Islamic jihads where people were conquered in the name of Allah and sold into slavery is a fact and parcel of Islam. To deny it is ludicrous.

    • Ortiv says:

      Just as ISIS, Book Haram, Mujahedeen, All Qaeda etc are cultural ant religious????

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