In 1816 when the American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded by a group of Quakers and slaveholders, its mission was to help relocate freed Black people. And between 1821 and 1838 after the ACS had helped 86 freed Enslaved Americans leave New York for the British colony of Sierra Leone, the ACS developed the first settlement, which would be known as Liberia.
The ACS had chosen relocating freed Black people over having an increasing number of freed Black Americans demanding rights, jobs, and resources at home. Some leaders in the Black community and abolitionists opposed the relocation of freed Blacks outside of the U.S., questioning why they should have to emigrate from the country where they and their generation were born.
Yet, the colonization idea received notable support from many, including Lott Cary (otherwise spelled Carey), who would become one of the first African-American Baptist missionaries to preach and work in Africa after helping found Liberia.
Lott Was Born into slavery in Charles City County, Virginia, Lott Carey (sometimes spelled “Cary”) was one of the first African American Baptist missionaries to preach and work in Africa.
At the age of 24, Cary was sent by his owner to work as hired slave labor in a tobacco warehouse, where he later got promoted to a supervisory position, enabling him to earn more than other enslaved people. Cary started to save as his main objective at the time was to buy his freedom and that of his wife as well as two children. Along the way, Cary got baptized at the First Baptist Church in 1807 after hearing a sermon based on the Bible’s third chapter of John that changed his life. He couldn’t read and write but he wanted to read the chapter on his own so much so that he eventually learned to read and write.
In 1819, Carey received approval from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions as well as the American Colonization Society to set up a mission in West Africa. Two years later, Carey, his wife and two children, and 28 adult members of his church and several children set sail for Liberia. Despite material hardships, Carey and his group established a mission in Liberia. Carey’s missionary work among the Africans in the region resulted in the expansion of the congregation by 60 or 70 new members by 1825, despite frequent armed resistance from other Africans who objected to the colonists’ presence. In 1826, the congregation constructed a new meeting house. Cary established schools, a joint-stock company and also became Liberia’s health officer before being elected vice agent of the colony in 1826. Two years later, Cary became governor of Liberia after the previous governor died.
Cary’s dream of spreading the gospel throughout Africa while helping to extend the settlement’s territory was cut short when he was killed in an accidental explosion of gunpowder in November 1828. Nevertheless, he left behind a legacy of leadership, commitment, and perseverance that continues to guide many, including Christians of all races.
Forty-eight year-old Carey was killed in an accidental explosion in 1828. Pan-Africanist John Brown Russwurm emphasized Carey’s importance to the Liberia mission project when he mourned Carey’s death with these words: “In the death of Mr. Carey, the colonists have to deplore one whose loss will not easily be supplied.”