Morgan, John

1790s-1872
Methodist
Gambia

John Morgan was the first Wesleyan Methodist Missionary to set foot in The Gambia valley. He was commissioned a reverend minister of the Methodist Church in 1820[1] and soon thereafter sent out with the Reverend John Baker[2] by the Committee of the General Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (GWMMS) of London to establish a new station in The Gambia.[3] According to his autobiography, Morgan wrote that “On the (3rd) day of February 1821, (I) landed in the Island of St. Mary….”[4] Baker arrived about a month later[5] in a medically unfit and emaciated state.

Morgan was active in the formation and establishment of the first five Wesleyan Methodist societies in The Gambia. With the exception of the Melville-Town Station at Oyster Creek, on St. Mary’s Island, founded in March 1821 through the initiative of Baker, the founding leadership at the other four societies was directly credited to Morgan [see Map 2]. These were the Bethesda Mission Station at Mandinary in Kombo East mainland (May 1821); the Jollof -Town Station within the Bathurst Settlement on St. Mary’s Island (September- October 1821); the Soldier-Town Station within the Bathurst Settlement on St. Mary’s Island (before May 1823)[6]; and the Georgetown Station at Macarthy Island (Janjangburay) (March-April 1823) about 300 km from St. Mary’s [see Map 1]. Although the Tendaba settlement was visited in March-April 1821, Morgan never succeeded in “planting” the gospel mission there.

Tendaba Mission Station Attempt

Morgan left Baker at St. Mary’s Island and proceeded alone to their recommended workstation of Tentabar (Tendaba), about 110 km upriver, in the Kingdom of Queenella (Kwinela) in the present-day Kiang West District of Lower River Region [see Map 1]. Before being introduced to the Mansa of Kwinella, Morgan was drilled to teach him the required customary protocols. Eventually, he was granted an audience with the Mansa and given an opportunity to state the purpose of his visit and the proclamation of the gospel at the Tendaba Palace:

Mansa: “I am glad to see you!… I want to see plenty of white men in my country.” MORGAN: “I am not come to your country to trade, but I am sent by good men in my country, to whom the Great Creator of the world has given a book which makes known His will concerning them and you, and all men in every part of the world. That book tells us that all men, black and white, are brothers. It also informs us of the way to be happy in this life, and everlasting life after death. The same book tells us that it is our duty to make that way known to all mankind. To make it known to you, I am come to learn your language, and to give you that book in your own language, that you and your children may be wise and happy as we are.” Mansa: “That is very good! But don’t you want gold, slaves, wax, or hides?” MORGAN: “I want nothing of that at all. I only want the King to give me a place to build my house, that myself and my brother, (at) Banjoul (Banjul), might live among you, and teach you and your children that good way.” Mansa: “That is very good! Take the land, as much as you want, and where you please; but I advise you to build your house near the river, that if my people attempt to injure you, you may jump into a canoe and get out of their reach. Some of my people have been trading, and have got rich, and I cannot govern them.”[7]

Morgan concluded that The Mansa of Kwinella was not helpful in that he had not provided any guarantee of their protection in his kingdom. Morgan returned to St. Mary’s Island, disappointed, where they had stayed in the house of Methodist Merchant Charles Grant, before renting a house in Jollof Town. In consultation with merchants, Baker and Morgan decided to search for an alternate mainland mission base that would provide some opportunity to visit the “little church” at Melville-Town on St. Mary’s Island[8] which had already been established by Baker.

Mandinary Mission Station

Accompanied by merchants from St. Mary’s Island, a meeting was held with the Mansa of Kombo. Complying with local custom, the missionaries brought along a royal gift of a horse draped in scarlet cloth from head to tail![9] The Mansa was pleased with their respect for tradition and reciprocated, accordingly. He authorized his messenger-guide to accompany the missionaries to select a site for their convenience. Initially, Morgan and Baker chose a cliff facing the Atlantic Ocean,[10] which was quite probably on the Bakau-Fajara coastline. However, the small community nearby did not welcome them: “The opposition of the villagers, and the lack of population, made the Missionaries think that locality was not their place.” They returned to the Mansa to report the outcome. The Mansa proposed a site in the opposite direction, called Mandinaree (Mandinary), on the south bank of the River Gambia. This site was about nine miles (14 km) from St. Mary’s Island.”[11]

The people of Mandinary were predominantly Mandinka and a religious mix of Muslims and traditional religionists. Morgan and Baker anticipated the same type of opposition experienced at Tendaba and at the Bakau-Fajara cliff site. They, therefore, resolved to embark on their building project with minimum local consultation. An approved elevated site, located about 500 m from the village settlement, was selected. First, they rented accommodation at Mouji’s[12] premises within the Mandinary settlement. Next, a lean construction team was recruited comprised of Morgan, Baker, and just three men and their wives. [13] The women were vital in the team in that they assisted in labor, they cooked, they laundered, and attended to other domestic matters. Thirdly, the team brought along imported construction tools and equipment from St. Mary’s Island. No sooner had the clearing of the land started than local opposition mounted. At a court session which became necessary at Mandinary, and was presided over by Mansa Bojang himself, the “palaver” was brought into the open. The complainants asserted that:

they were born freemen on the land, therefore the land is theirs, that the white men were cutting down trees (acacia) which supplied them with food during the hungry season and have no other motive of coming there than to take their wives and children as slaves.[14]

Morgan refuted their claim and responded that they were not slaves, and that they represented “the King of England and good English people (who) have stopped the slave trade, and thus proved themselves friends of the black men.” Having heard both sides of the conflict, the Mansa gave a ruling in favor of the missionaries. His Majesty placated the unwarranted hostility of the residents against the strangers and gave a dire warning that there would be fatal consequences should there be a further breach of his authority. This decision was a respite to the missionaries. They proceeded, forthwith, to continue their work felling trees, excavating, constructing, and doing evangelization among the local population. However, this royal ruling came with a price. Morgan and Baker were taxed a saddle, a bridle, and ringing bells for the displacement of the court! When Morgan protested, the Mansa reminded Morgan:

“Have you not given me a horse? (Now,) I want the ta-lang to tie to it when I ride, (so) that when the horse gallops, it may go ta-lang, ta-lang.” “O, I see,” said (Morgan): “it is a bell to fasten to (the) horse’s head or tail, that the Mansa may make music in his rides!” [15]

Works progressed, satisfactorily, at the Bethesda Mission Building in Mandinary. It was provisionally complete by June 14, 1821. The missionaries and their assistants vacated their temporary lodgings at Mouji’s and moved into their newly constructed building. Morgan described the attractive oblong house of dimensions: … about forty feet (12 m) by fifteen feet (4.6 m), which was divided into three apartments, - at each end a bedroom with a large chamber in the middle for ordinary purposes. The walls were formed of perpendicular posts sunk deep in the ground; and on these was nailed wattled bamboo cane, plastered with oyster shell lime, the floor was a compound of lime and sand. The roof was thatched with grass, and the whole was wind and water-tight. Hanging, unglazed shutters served for windows, which were as needful for the admission of air as for the entrance of light; these, except while the tornadoes were passing, were kept open night and day.[16]

Thus, a new mission station was “planted” at Mandinary for preaching the gospel, for teaching, and for healing. The cutting down of trees, excavations, and heavy construction works had a devastating effect on the team, but especially on Morgan and Baker. The poor quality of the water and frequent attacks of malaria fever did not help the situation. On July 14, 1821, Morgan’s sickness worsened and caused his immediate evacuation to St. Mary’s Island for emergency medical attention. This was the beginning of a forced sick leave which lasted over two months. Surprisingly, Morgan was denied immediate admission to the only Government hospital at St. Mary’s. During the wait, Charles Grant, the “Good Samaritan” Scotsman and building contractor, took care of him and held direct responsibility for him while continuing to make a petition with the authorities for the admission of Morgan to the hospital. After almost six weeks at St. Mary’s Island (July-August 1821),[17] Morgan sought further recuperation at Goree Island, about 150 km by sea, where he spent the next three weeks.[18]

When Morgan returned to Mandinary in September-October 1821, the Bethesda Mission Building had been completed. A “small Christian community (had been) formed … (and the) chapel was opened (since) August 1821.”[19] Upon his return, Morgan found Baker in a deteriorated state of health which necessitated his immediate evacuation to St. Mary’s Island. [20] The GWMMS sent out two missionaries, in succession, to replace Baker, who was removed from the station, completely, “to save his life.” The first was William Bell, a reverend minister, and agriculturist, who arrived on January 28, 1822, and was dead by March 15, 1822.[21] The Reverend George Lane arrived from Freetown on May 11, 1822, “and found Mr. Morgan ‘very unwell’ and some weeks after this he was ‘feeble’.”[22] For the next five months, Lane became a valuable assistant to Morgan as they operated the stations of Bethesda Mission, Melville-Town, and Jollof-Town, together. By the end of October 1822, however, Lane had fallen ill, which necessitated his return to Freetown.[23] Again, besides the indigenous interpreters and local preachers, Cupidon and Sallah, Morgan became the lone European Wesleyan Methodist Missionary in The Gambia.

Notwithstanding the severe challenges confronting the missionaries and assistants, some preaching, teaching, and healing took place at Bethesda Mission Station - Mandinary for at least two years (1821-1823). The unavailability of faithful Mandinka translators of the gospel coupled with the unwillingness of students to be taught at the school greatly undermined progress at the Bethesda Mission Station. With the forced absence of the principal missionaries due to sickness, the property was vandalized with repeated robberies.[24] Having expended much labor, sweat, and tears at the Bethesda Mission Station with imperceptible fruits of mission, and plagued with illness, Morgan wrote, in resignation, to the GWMMS Committee in London requesting “directions respecting his removal from Mandinary.” When the response was inordinately delayed, Morgan unilaterally abandoned the Bethesda Mission station for St. Mary’s Island, leaving some liberated Africans in charge.

St. Mary’s Island Mission Station

On the Sunday following his arrival at St. Mary’s in February 1821, Morgan was invited to preach at the Government House to an international and interracial congregation comprising settler merchants, soldiers, and “a great number of re-captured slaves.”[25] From then on, in the absence of the appointed chaplain, Morgan offered services to the troops.[26]

Throughout their stay at the Bethesda Mission Station – Mandinary (May 1821- c. March 1822), there were weekly contacts with the Melville Town station, termed “the little church at St. Mary’s Island (by Oyster Creek).”[27] Since March-April, 1821, worship, prayer-meetings, and teaching took place at this “provisional chapel of branches.”[28] As early as May 12, 1821, Morgan recorded an encounter with a converted soul, whom he referenced as the “first-fruit” of the mission.[29]

With the collapse of the Melville-Town Chapel as the result of a tornado and the departure of Baker, Morgan took the radical step of reorganizing the mission. He relocated activities of mission to “another part of town” (Jollof Town), where he rented “a place of worship and schoolroom.”[30] Here at Jollof-Town, the twin priority languages of mission for teaching and learning were not Krio and English, but instead Wollof and English. A new formal school system was set up and it had six hours of formal tuition, beginning at 6:30 am, for the children who were “composed of boys from nine to thirteen years of age.”[31] Within six months from intake, “each boy could read a chapter in the New Testament and write a legible hand.”[32] In addition, there were non-formal evening classes for adults. The resource learning materials available were the Bell’s Alphabet Cards and the Lancaster’s sheets, which were pasted on the walls of the schoolroom.[33] The subjects were Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and English Grammar. However, the school excluded the children of liberated Africans.[34] Nonetheless, “some young men who were slaves,” determined to gain access to learning, came to the school in the evening and benefitted from the learning offered by Morgan’s assistants.[35] Within six months, a limited number of tutored slaves and liberated Africans could also read and write.[36]

The first two years (1821-1822) of Morgan’s direct preaching and teaching at Jollof-Town on St. Mary’s Island bore noticeable fruits in the form of thirty-five registered conversions. [37] Among these, were two indigenous Wollof slaves who soon progressed to becoming outstanding interpreters, local preachers, and assistant missionaries. These were John Cupidon,[38],[39] and Pierre Sallah[40] As disciples of Morgan, each had gone through the Jollof-Town Day School and Sunday School. Morgan demanded high standards before acceptance as members of the Wesleyan Methodist Society: “Neither men nor women were received into the Church, while living in a state of polygamy or cohabiting without Christian marriage. No boy was admitted to the school with gregrees.”[41] His insistence on the burning of amulets of scholars led to acts of revenge. His rented house in Jollof-Town was set on fire on October 9, 1822.[42]

After a period during which he was either given housing by Charles Grant or on rented property in Jollof-Town, the GWMMS eventually acquired substantial property within the settlement of Bathurst for the purposes of building a manse-school and a chapel. A Bathurst Family tradition has asserted that it was their ancestor Francis Goré Ndiaye who offered landed property within the triangular Dobson Street-Clarkson Street-Picton Street block to the mission.[43] Francis Goré Ndiaye was a free-Wollof and master mason who came from Goree Island [see Map 4]. (He was) connected with the Wesleyan Methodist Society and “rendered valuable and faithful services in the cause of Christianity for a period of fifty years, (exercising) great influence, both as a Class-Leader and (Local) Preacher among the Jollof Tribe … and was highly esteemed and respected by all who knew him.”[44] Within the said gifted property, Morgan supervised the erection of the original single-story mission house, with the dimensions of 37 feet by 17 feet (11.3 m x 5.2 m). Its purpose was to serve as a schoolroom and a place to hold Divine Services on the ground floor and to provide a manse on the first floor.[45]

Macarthy Island Station

In its continued quest to suppress the slave trade and slavery in the Gambia River valley, Captain Alexander Grant, the founder, and commandant of the British settlement on St. Mary’s Island embarked on state visits to the riverine kingdoms[46] from the beginning of March 1823. One of the dominant objectives of this tour was to search for suitable areas to accommodate liberated African migrants to the colony. Given that the priority objectives of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in The Gambia were to assist the government in providing “housing, education, work, and fellowship” for recaptives, Morgan and Charles Grant were invited. Thomas Joiner, “the only (liberated) African merchant in a mercantile community of Europeans and Mulattoes”[47] at St. Mary’s Island hosted the tour party.

The cruising ship “proceeded without molestation as far as Cantalikunda, near the falls of Barrocunda, a distance of from five to six hundred miles (800 to 1000 km) from the Atlantic.”[48] It was on its return trip that the tour party decided upon Leman Island, or Janjanberry (also called “Janjangbureh” or “Land of Refuge”), [49] located about 200 miles (300km) upriver [see Map 3]. Captain Grant negotiated the lease of the island from its owner, the Mansa of Kattaba.[50] Fort George was promptly built by a detachment of thirteen Black soldiers of the West India 2nd Regiment, on the now renamed Macarthy Island. With the approved authority of Captain Grant present, Morgan “fixed a lot of land for his missionary establishment”[51] near Fort George and prayed in the fervent hope that the assigned property will “prove a center from which the Sun of righteousness shall diffuse its ray through the dark shades…”[52] Besides the construction of a house to accommodate the mission base, in a few months, Morgan “initiated a small school for some liberated African children.”[53]

During a meeting in April 1824 with the agricultural Quaker Mission at Cape St. Mary, Morgan investigated the use of plowing machines with the intention of using the same for “cultivation further in the interior”[54] Morgan made procurement and distributed some of these agricultural plant and equipment to Georgetown where relics were available at the mission compound as late as the 1960s. Morgan left The Gambia, abruptly, on March 27, 1825, due to deteriorating health, after four years of arduous missionary travel (1821-1825).

Conclusion

John Morgan was the first founding Wesleyan Methodist missionary to The Gambia. He was a sound preacher, an efficient teacher, and a pragmatic missionary. He possessed working knowledge of Krio, Wollof, and Mandinka. Morgan has been credited with planting at least four societies and chapels in The Gambia: Bethesda Mission Station – Mandinary (August 1821); Jollof-Town Station - St. Mary’s Island (September-October 1821); Soldier-Town Station – St. Mary’s Island (before May 1823); and the Fort George Mission Station on Macarthy Island (Janjangburay) (March-April 1823). Morgan assisted Baker in the founding of the society at Melville-Town Station at the easternmost part of St Mary’s Island (March 1823).

Morgan, assisted by his disciples Cupidon and Sallah, were the first apostles of the gospel to the Wollofs on St. Mary’s Island. Morgan left legacies of theological dialogue with Muslim leaders, high standards to qualify for church membership, frequent evangelical outreach, thorough teaching and learning, and the construction of chapel-school-manse edifices in all mission stations.

Gabriel Leonard Allen


Notes:

1.Www.mywesleyanmethodists.org.uk, accessed 2021/02/18, 09:00hrs. 2.John Baker was a British Wesleyan Methodist Missionary then serving in Sierra Leone (1819-1821) 3.William Fox, A Brief History of the Wesleyan Missions on the Western Coast of Africa (London: Aylott and Jones, 1850), 265. 4.John Morgan, Reminiscences of the Founding of A Christian Mission The Gambia (London: Wesleyan Mission House, 1864), 3; One source stated that “Mr. Morgan landed at St. Mary’s direct from England on the 8th of February, 1821; …” Arnold Hughes and David Perfect, History Dictionaries of Africa, No. 109: History Dictionary of Gambia (The Scarecrow Press Incorporation: Plymouth, 2008), xxxiii; Another source puts it a month later: “On March 8, 1821, John Morgan arrived in St. Mary’s like the first Methodist Missionary to The Gambia. Martha T. Frederiks, We have toiled all night: Christianity in The Gambia 1456 – 2000 (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum Publishing House, 2003), 194; The Quaker missionary, William Singleton, had arrived earlier on January 21, 1821, on an exploratory mission. 5.Fox, 266.

  1. Fox, 280.
  2. Morgan, 15.
  3. Morgan, 20.
  4. Fox, 267. 10.Morgan, 23.
  5. Morgan, 23.
  6. Fox, 268.
  7. Morgan, 26.
  8. Morgan, 27.
  9. Morgan, 29-30.
  10. Morgan, 31-32.
  11. Fox, 268.
  12. Morgan, 42.
  13. Frederiks, 196.
  14. Baker sailed briefly to the Cape Verde Islands for “fresh air,” and then was ordered to leave St. Mary’s altogether for the West Indies, via Sierra Leone. Morgan, 44.
  15. Fox, 270-271.
  16. Fox, 271.
  17. Fox, 272.
  18. Morgan, 46-54.
  19. Fox, 265.
  20. This tradition was to continue with subsequent Wesleyan Methodist missionaries John Harkins, Richard Marshall, and William Moister (1830-1833).
  21. Morgan
  22. Morgan 11.
  23. Fox, 268.
  24. Morgan, 56.
  25. Morgan, 56.
  26. Morgan, 57.
  27. Morgan, 57.
  28. Mahoney, 81.
  29. Morgan, 57.
  30. Morgan, 57.
  31. Morgan, 58.
  32. “Between 1822 to 1848, (John Cupidon) served the emerging church as a translator, local preacher, catechist, teacher, and assistant missionary.” Martha Frederiks on John Cupidon. Https://dacb.org/stories/gambia/cupidon-john/.
  33. “It was Cupidon who, in 1842, had to bury (liberated African merchant) Thomas Joiner (then aged about fifty-four years) in the absence of a minister.” Mahoney, 49.
  34. Pierre Sallah was an indigenous Wollof convert who rose to become an assistant minister in the Methodist Church with seventeen years of service (1831-1848). Martha Frederiks on Pierre Sallah. Https://dacb.org/stories/gambia/sallah-pierre/.
  35. Morgan, 60.
  36. Frederiks,
  37. Source: Dr. Burang Goree Ndiaye is a great-great grand-son of ancestor Francis Goree-Ndiaye. This claim was received from his parents and supported by several of his siblings. This information has been passed down through the family. Interview with Dr. Burang Goree-Ndiaye, Kanifing, March 2020.
  38. Source: Contents from a Memorial Plaque erected on the walls of what was then called Wesley Chapel and is now Wesley Cathedra, in memory of Francis Goré Njie (AD 1815-1902).
  39. This mission house, in expanded and rehabilitated form, has remained the administrative headquarter base of the mission.
  40. Names of these kingdoms: Barra, Niani, Wuli, Kantalikunda, Tumana, Europina, Niamina, Jarra, Kwinella, Foni and Kombo.
  41. Mahoney, 38.
  42. Fox, 275.
  43. Fox, 278.
  44. Morgan, 101-102.
  45. Fox, 278.
  46. Fox, 279.
  47. Frederiks, 201.
  48. Fox, 289.

Bibliography:

Fox, William. A Brief History of the Wesleyan Missions on the Western Coast of Africa. London: Aylott and Jones, 1850. Frederiks, Martha T. We have toiled all night: Christianity in The Gambia 1456 – 2000. Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum Publishing House, 2003. Goree-Ndiaye, Dr. Burang. Interview by author. Kanifing, March 2020. Hughes, Arnold and David Perfect. History Dictionaries of Africa, No. 109: History Dictionary of Gambia. The Scarecrow Press Incorporation: Plymouth, 2008. Mahoney, Asi Florence. Creole Saga: The Gambia’s Liberated African Community in the Nineteenth Century. 2nd ed. Banjul: Baobab Printers, 2017. Morgan, Rev. John Morgan. Reminiscences of the Founding of A Christian Mission The Gambia. London: Wesleyan Mission House, 1864.


This biography, received in March 2021, was written by Rev. Gabriel Leonard Allen, of the Gambia, a theologian, ecumenist, and interfaith activist Full Ministerial Connection with the Methodist Church in the Gambia. He is also a member of the DACB Editorial Board and a JACB contributing editor.