Ajayi Crowther: “I was bartered for a horse, slapped my slave master”

Ajayi Crowther

Ajayi Crowther

One of the victims of the hideous slave trade in Nigeria was Bishop Ajayi Crowther. 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 the Americas. His captors, thus, became captives of the liberators. In anger, having been battered for a horse earlier in his journey, Crowther had opportunity to revenge. He delivered horrendous slaps on his captor.

Crowther narrated:

“In a few days we were quite at home in the man-of-war; being only six in number, we were selected by the sailors, for their boys; and were soon furnished with clothes. Our Portuguese owner and his son were brought over into the same vessel, bound in fetters; and thinking that I should no more get into his hand, I had the boldness to strike him on the head, while he was shaving by his son – an act, however, very wicked and unkind in its nature. His vessel was towed along by the man-of-war, with the remainder of the slaves therein. But after a few weeks, the slaves being transshipped from her, and being stripped of her rigging, the schooner was left alone on the ocean – Destroyed at sea by captors being found unseaworthy, in consequence of being a dull sailer”.

In this 182-year old letter, Crowther narrated how he was captured as a boy, sold, bartered for a horse and other disposable articles, rescued and others.

It was first published in TheNEWS on 25 June 2016, entitled:

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

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. Continue reading the story.

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