Crowther arrived Badagry this month 177 years ago

January 25, 2022
Towns & Cities

The year was 1845.

On 17 January, Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, his wife and two young children stepped into Badagry, travelling on a ship from Freetown. The journey lasted four weeks, with stops at Monrovia and Accra.

He was 36 years old.

The C.M.S mission house where Bishop Crowther lived and translated part of the Bible into Yoruba

Also travelling with them were Reverends Henry Townsend and Carl Gollmer, accompanied by their wives, a catechist, schoolmaster, an interpreter, carpenters and labourers.

Sent by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), they would spend the next 18 months here and their work would change the story and fortunes of the town thereafter.

Big celebrations afoot

it is important to note here, however, that the earliest missionaries (Methodists) to reach Badagry did so three years earlier, in 1842.

They hosted the first christian gathering, under the shade of the Agia tree, smack in the middle of a market; and in December of same year, they pioneered the first ever Christmas service.

This initial seed is what the contingent of the CMS watered and nurtured, so to speak. And it is thanks to these efforts that the Church will mark the 180th anniversary of christianity in Nigeria this year.

Gberefu Island (by Adedeji Olalekan)

Long walk to slavery

Over the past decade, I have made several visits to Badagry as a tour guide and travel journalist. so I know the town like — pardon the cliche — the palm of my hands. 

As a first-time visitor to Badagry, the local tour guides will lead you to the key slavery sites, ending the experience with a canoe ride across the Lagoon and a 2.5km walk on the sandly Gberefu island to the Point of No Return.

Typically, they’ll point out Badagry’s early connection with christianity and show you the relevant landmarks — particularly the old CMS Mission House (famously known as the First-storey building).

If time permits, they’ll also stop at the Agia Tree monument, the site of an old fallen tree where an obelisk now stands.

The moon, and the serpent

In one of his journal entries, Crowther wrote about what a typical Sunday was like.

13th April 1845:“I preached to a congregation of sixty-three adults and forty children. The children seemed to be peculiarly delighted with the service, and were heard distinctly joining in the Confession, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Responses to the Ten Commandments in the Yoruba language. Last Lord’s Day I sighed that we could not as yet get any of these children to school, but to-day I brought with me a few letters of the alphabet, thinking they might amuse them and that thus they could at the same time be initiated, though but slowly, into the mystery of speaking their own language out of books, as they see me do every Lord’s Day. The simple-hearted children were quite pleased with this new art, and soon blocked me up in their midst to see me point to the moonlike O and the serpent-like S (The Moon and the Serpent. Although the men and women were at liberty to go away after service, yet they remained to see these wonderful letters…”

On my most recent visit (January 2022), I was pleased to see that the site of the Agia tree monument is now undergoing a re-construction; a 3D rendering shows that on completion it will have a mini-amphiteathre, and a block of rooms.

My guess is that it will likely have a museum touching on the history of Christianity in Nigeria.

I have often thought that the premises should be a place of pilgrimage, a place where Christians of all denominations should visit in their hundreds of thousands to pray, to worship, to meditate. 

With the road that leads to it also being paved and widened, I am hopeful that my dreams would become reality before too long. 

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