When the former slave, Lott Carey, announced that he was going to Africa as a missionary, his employers at a Virginia tobacco warehouse offered him a $200 a year annual increase if he would stay on his job. In the 1820s that was good money. But Lott turned it down; he wanted to go where his color would not hamper his service, and was eager to preach the Gospel in Africa.
Lott had been born a slave around 1780 on the estate of William A. Christian, a day's ride from Richmond, Virginia. Though his parents were illiterate, Lott's father was a respected member of the Baptist Church. When Lott was twenty-four, he was hired out as a laborer in the Shockhoe tobacco warehouse in Richmond. He was profane and drunken.
But in 1807, Lott converted to Christianity and joined the First Baptist Church of Richmond. Hearing a sermon on the 3rd chapter of the gospel of John, Lott became eager to learn to read the story of Nicodemus, which is found in that passage. He learned to read and was licensed to preach.
Lott was an excellent worker; his efficiency, faithfulness and literacy earned him a promotion to shipping clerk in the tobacco warehouse. The merchants often tipped him and allowed him to collect and sell waste tobacco. With the money he saved in this way, he purchased his freedom and that of his two young children (his wife had died). Lott continued to work in the tobacco warehouse but also preached to the slaves around Richmond. He bought a house and educated his children.
In 1813, about the time Lott bought his freedom, William Crane came to Richmond from New Jersey. Lott and William organized a society to collect funds for mission work in Africa. The society chose Lott Carey and Collin Teague (another free black) as their missionaries.
In 1822 Lott moved to Monrovia, capital of Liberia, a colony established for free blacks who wanted to leave America. There he established Providence Baptist Church--the first church in Liberia. He preached several times a week and gave religious instruction to native children, using his own money to maintain a charity school. He also established a school at Big Town in the Cape Mount region despite Muslim protests.
But Lott lost his head in 1823, becoming leader of a resistance movement against the colonial agent Jehudi Ashmun. The freed blacks were dissatisfied with the distribution of land and Lott sided with them. The U.S. sent an armed vessel to deal with the situation in the summer of 1824. After investigation, Jehudi Ashmun was kept on as the colonial agent; the Colonization Society forbade Lott to preach any longer. However, he carried on other mission and medical work.
Lott and Ashmun were soon reconciled, and Lott became vice agent for the colony. In an apology for his conduct, he said that he had "inflicted in his character a wound that could not be healed in this world, and betrayed the great confidence reposed in him."
As vice agent, Lott was responsible for freed Africans arriving from the States as well as slaves recaptured from Trade Town, where the slave trade still flourished. Lott and Ashmun established a school for newly-freed Africans.
In 1828 Jehudi Ashmun returned to America, leaving Liberia's management in Lott's hands. Ashmun urged Lott to become the permanent agent for the colony. But before Lott could do so, he was mortally wounded in a munitions explosion, while preparing to undertake an expedition. He died on this day, November 10, 1828.
- Adapted from Glimpses #114. Christian History Institute, 1999.
- Cassell, C. Abayomi. Liberia; History of the First African Republic. New York: Fountainhead, 1970. [Gives the date of the explosion as Carey's date of death; however Carey lingered two days afterwards.]
- Taylor, James B. Biography of Elder Lott Cary, Late Missionary to Africa. With an Appendix on the Subject of Colonization, by J.H.B. Latrobe. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/taylor/taylor.html#p92.
Last updated June, 2007.