Samuel Ajayi Crowther

c.1806-1891. Anglican bishop. Born at Oshogun in Yorubaland, he was enslaved in 1821 and taken to Sierra Leone after liberation by the British navy. He was baptized in 1825 and entered the African Institution (later Fourah Bay College) in 1827. In 1841 he was a Church Missionary Society representative on the Niger expedition. His report so impressed the society that he was summoned to London for further training and ordained in 1843. For some ten years after 1846 he worked at Abeokuta, giving special attention to the Yoruba language. His most significant work was in the Niger Mission which he initiated in 1857 and led for thirty years.

In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Western Africa beyond colonial limits, but as the European missionaries in Yorubaland would not accept his jurisdiction, he was virtually bishop of the Niger. The mission depended upon local financial support and could not attract well-qualified staff. Furthermore, poor communications made supervision difficult. Crowther's achievement nevertheless led his former European opponents to recommend an African bishop for Yorubaland in 1875. This confidence was not shared by younger European missionaries, who attacked the policy of African leadership. Crowther's personal integrity was never questioned, but many charges were brought against his subordinates, and financial administration was taken out of his hands. His position was progressively undermined, and by 1889 he was ready to resign. His discipline was probably too gentle and his administration faulty, but this did not justify the arrogant behavior of his critics. The conflict led to the secession of the Niger Delta Pastorate in 1891, the formation of the United Native African Church in Lagos in 1892, and the appointment of a white successor after Crowther's death. It helped to discredit Henry Venn's* “three-self” policy in pursuance of which Crowther had been appointed.

See J.F.A. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria 1841-1891 (1965); J. Page, The Black Bishop (1908).