Ajayi Crowther’s 182-year old letter: ‘How I was captured as a Slave’

President Muhammadu Buhari published an opinion in the Washington Post newspaper in commemoration of August 23rd, the day the UN declared as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

He wrote that four centuries ago, the first 20 documented African slaves arrived on the shores of Virginia. He added: “In the years that followed, millions more were shipped in dehumanizing conditions across the ocean and enslaved. Slavery had, of course, existed before. But this indicated the beginning of a mechanized trade that saw human beings reduced to property on an unprecedented scale.”Bishop Ajayi Crowther.

Bishop Ajayi Crowther

One of the victims of this hideous trade was Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, though the vessel that carried him and other captives was lucky to have been rescued by some British anti-slavery frigates on the Atlantic before it sailed to America. In his 1837 letter to Rev. Williams Jowett, then Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Crowther narrated his capture into slavery and rescue.

Below is the letter dated 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.

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