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James William King
c. 1837 to 1914
Methodist Church
The Gambia

 

James William King was an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in The Gambia and one of its longest serving workers in the 19th century.

Very few details about King’s life are known and there are no data about his life before he started working for the Methodist Church. It seems he was a Gambian (rather than e.g. a Sierra Leonean who had moved to Bathurst) because he is described as being fluent in Wolof and Mandinka. His name seems to suggest that he was liberated African, rather than a Wolof or Mandinka. [1]

King was employed as a catechist around 1879, a position he held for about six years; he served at MacCarthy Island and in British Kombo. In 1885 he was recommended as a ministerial candidate.[2] The minutes of the Methodist Synod of 1885 describe King as an senior candidate (he was 48) who was considered suitable for the ministry because he was"‘married, strong and healthy, pious and strictly moral."[3]

King received his ministerial training in the Gambia, though his theological formation seems to have been rather minimalistic. The synod of 1887 reported that King had done little in the way of writing exams, but did not make an issue out of this, arguing King was already advanced in years and had difficulty writing.[3] In 1890 King was recommended to be received into full connection. The Synod recommendation states that King was “a man of excellent character” and was able to speak and preach fluently in Wolof and Mandinka.[4] He was ordained in 1891 without having completed his probation exams.[5]

After his ordination King continued to serve the Bathurst church. When in 1897 he was scheduled to be transferred to MacCarthy Island, he declined on medical grounds and requested to be made a supernumerary. He had reached the age of sixty by then. The request was granted and King continued to serve the Methodist church as a supernumerary for another 16 years.[6] During this period his name was listed under the Bathurst circuit. Among other things he served as a chaplain to the army and led the temperance society.

In 1913 King had a stroke, but despite this physical setback, he was still deemed to be “a splendid old worker and now in his affliction very bright and cheerful.”[7] In 1914 King passed away, aged 76.[8] He had served the Methodist Church for 6 years as a catechist, for 12 years as an active itinerant minister and another 16 years as a supernumerary, a total of 34 years. This makes King one of the longest serving Methodist church workers in the Gambia in the 19th century.

The archival sources offer no particulars about the way King exercised his ministry. But Delaney Russell’s tribute to King is revealing. In his letter to the Missionary Committee in London informing them of the King’s death, Russell wrote: “His name is still fragrant in the Combo’s and MacCarthy,” alluding to 2 Corinthians 2:15 in which Paul encourages people to dedicate their lives to Christ as a sweet smelling sacrifice. A worthy praise for a faithful worker.

Martha Frederiks


References:

[1] Synod 1890, Box 298 H2708 mf. 22. Note: the Box numbers refer to the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society archives (now part of Methodist Missionary Society Archives) at SOAS in London; the H and mf. numbers reference the IDC microfiche edition.
[1] Pullen/Maude to WMMS, Bathurst March 23 1885, Box 288 H2709 mf. 985.
[2] B. Prickett, Island-Base. A history of the Methodist Church in the Gambia 1821-1969, Bo [Sierra Leone], s.a., 137.
[3] B. Prickett, Island-Base, 141. Whether King’s difficulty in writing was caused by limited writing skills or by a physical condition is not clear.
[4] Synod 1890, Box 298 H2708 mf. 22.
[5] B. Prickett, Island-Base, 144.
[6] Synod 1897, Box 298 H2708 mf. 23.
[7] B. Prickett, Island-Base, 169.
[8] Russell to WMMS, March 3 1914, Box 796 H2709 mf. 1044. Another long-serving Gambian was the local preacher and  later assistant missionary John Gum, a Wolof slave who was ransomed by the Methodist Church around 1835. Gum became a local preacher around 1824 and served as an assistant missionary between 1835 and 1848. After his retirement on medical grounds in 1848 (he became blind) he continued to serve as a chapel keeper and a local preacher until at least 1859, a total of 35 years.
[9] Russell to WMMS, March 3 1914, Box 796 H2709 mf. 1044.

Bibliography

Martha Frederiks, We have toiled all night. Christianity in The Gambia 1452-2000, Zoetermeer: 2003
Barbara Prickett, Island-Base. A history of the Methodist Church in the Gambia 1821-1969, Bo [Sierra Leone], s.a.



This article, received in 2016, was researched and written by Martha Frederiks, Professor for the Study of World Christianity at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Research foci include West African Christianity, Christian Muslim relations and religion and migration. Frederiks worked in The Gambia between 1993 and 1999 as adviser of the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa.