Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1809-31 December 1891) was a linguist and the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria. Born a freeman, sold as a slave and later regained his freedom in his mid twenties, Bishop Ajayi Crowther developed interest in languages and he was inspired to take up the task of translating the bible into an indigenous Nigerian language for the first time ever.
Samuel was born in 1806 in Osogun near Oyo in present day Oyo State and not Abeokuta as is reported by many. At 12 years old he was captured along with his mother and toddler brother and other family members, with his entire village, by Muslim Fulani slave raiders in 1821. the whole slaves were shared amongst soldiers and Crowther was then traded for a horse. He stayed with the master who bought him in exchange of a horse at Dadda for about a month and was resold to in the open market at Ijayi where he was bought by a Muslim woman who lived in Toko. At this point he attempted suicide and the woman got worried and resold him at the slave market to a Portuguese merchant aboard a Brazilian ship on April 7, 1822.
However, before his slave-ship left the port, it was boarded by a British Royal Navy ship under the command of Captain Henry Leeke, and Crowther was taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he was released. After two and half months, he arrived Freetown, Sierra Leone, a freed slave.
Grew under the care of a Christian Missionary Society (CMS) Schoolmaster. He was taken to London in 1826, schooled briefly in Islington, becoming the first Nigerian to train with English children. In 1827, he enrolled at the Fourah Bay Institute of the CMS. He worked as Teacher (1830-1834) at his Alma mater. He got married in 1829 to a fellow free slave girl converted to Christianity. He was an unusually gifted man. He wrote the account of his captivity on request from the CMS in 1837, 15 years after he had been living in Freetown. It was published in the church missionary Record in October, 1837
Standing probably on the spot where Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther was first buried at the then ‘Ajele Cemetery’ but today a part of that cemetery is now been used as secondary school “Eko Akete Grammar School” and the other part is now Campos Mini Stadium Igbosere.
Ajele Cemetery was a major cemetery on Lagos Island demolished by the Lagos State military government under Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson in December 1971. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s body was later exhumed for proper burial now at the CMS Cathedral Church Compound.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther was ordained in 1843, after his graduation at the Training Institute at Islington. He was the first black Anglican Pastor. He translated the English Bible in Yoruba in 1889, the Yoruba version was available in single volume in 1890. In the course of the translation, he said….“I am so absorbed in the problem of translation that I sometimes found it difficult to concentrate in worship”.
And in the course of translation, the need to capture the essence of meaning without alternation, nevertheless is an uphill task, and Crowther said “How should this passage be translated, which is the most suitable word, the most correct rendering etc. These varies though about the translation soon take the place of meditation”. His Lokoja and Benue expedition followed in 1854 up to Ibi and reached Jebba in 1857. The principle behind the Niger expedition was co-operate effort of the Church and the state in promoting Christianity, commerce and civilization in a joint move to combat slave trade. He visited Britain in 1877 and the Royal Geographical Society honoured him with a golden wrist-watch.
His personal sacrifice and toils for the establishment and expansion of Christianity in Africa cannot be underrated. Twice in 1859 and 1871, his boat was grounded, he had to trek all the way back to Lagos. In 1888 four years after Crowther became Bishop, the Egba expelled European Missionaries from Abeokuta as a reprisal against the policies of the colonial administration in Lagos. Crowther, accused the European that they were more interested in wielding power than in evangelization. Bishop Crowther, on leaving Osogun, said;Farewell, place of my birth, the play ground of my childhood, and the place which I thought would be the repository of my mortal body in its old age. On June 29, 1864 he was consecrated the Bishop of Western Equatorial Africa by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1843, a grammar book which he started working on during the Niger expedition was published; and a Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer followed later.
He also compiled a vocabulary of the Yoruba language, including a large number of local proverbs, published in London in 1852. He produced a primer for the Igbo language in 1857, another for the Nupe language in 1860, and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864(so was his extensive knowledge about Nigerian languages).
In 1864, he was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church; he was consecrated a bishop on St Peter’s day 1864, by Charles Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral. He later received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Oxford.
Source from Dr Raphael’s Blog