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Death of Bishop Samuel Ayaji Crowther

Bishop Crowther, ex-slave, pastor, missionary, translator.

AS A BOY, Ayaji Crowther showed his pluck by crawling into a blazing house to rescue his family’s idols. As a man, he risked captivity and death to carry the gospel to isolated regions of Nigeria. 

Born around 1809 at Oshogun in modern Nigeria, Ayaji was dedicated to Olorun, the supreme god of his people. A pagan priest predicted he would become great. He was a hard-working child, raising chickens and yams for sale and overseeing forty farm boys before he reached his teens. 

Disaster struck when Ayaji was just twelve. African and Muslim slavers attacked Oshogun. Although the villagers defended their town bravely, the slavers were too strong for them. They breached Oshogun’s wall and marched Ayaji, his sister, brother, mother, and grandmother away with ropes around their neck. 

Ayaji was sold to an African. Seeing that lazy complainers were sent for resale overseas, the boy determined to work hard so he could stay near his family. However, he was resold multiple times. Finally, he was sent to the coast. Many Africans died of fever on the march, while others suffered whippings intended to keep them walking. Ayaji’s stamina spared him from either. 

In 1821 Portuguese traders stuffed Ayaji with many other Africans into the hold of a ship destined for Brazil. However, Britain was enforcing a ban against slavery upon all nations. A British warship boarded the slaver and freed its slaves. Ayaji won favor with the British sailors by making himself as useful as he could aboard the warship. 

The British released Ayaji in Liberia where, for the first time in his life, he heard the gospel. Eagerly, he learned to read and became a Christian. In December 1825, he was baptized at an Anglican mission station, taking the name Samuel Ayaji Crowther (the last name was after one of the founders of the mission society). 

Impressed by Crowther’s hard work, missionaries invited him to accompany them to London. He seized the chance to see the world. After his return to Liberia, he entered Fourah Bay College to study for the ministry. He also married and started his own family. 

In 1843, Crowther took orders as a priest in the Church of England. He became a missionary to Africans, trekking across Nigeria to carry the Gospel to remote villages. Thousands were saved through his preaching. He did notable work not only for the church, but also for geography and linguistics, keeping careful notes of his travels and preparing a dictionary of Yoruba, his native language. He also made translations of church works into Yoruba and wrote grammars of other African languages. 

Crowther became the first African bishop of the Anglican Church. His diocese encompassed all of West Africa. He died on this day, 31 December 1891.

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