Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Johnson, Samuel (B)

Anglican Communion

Nigerian churchman and historian, famous for his history of the Yoruba.

His father was one of the Saros, the people who came to Nigeria in the 1840s from Sierra Leone having lived there as “recaptives” taken off slave ships by the British Navy or as children born to such people in Freetown. They usually came from areas within modern Nigeria, many of them being Yorubas. He was from the Oyo area and claimed descent from the Alaafin Abiodun of Oyo. He was enslaved, freed at sea and resettled in Freetown. Like other recaptives he was given the European names Henry Johnson when baptized.

Henry Johnson and his wife Sarah had several sons who became famous in Nigeria, where they moved in 1857 to join the Church Missionary Society (CMS) mission under Rev. David Hinderer at Ibadan. The eldest, Henry, became a famous archdeacon with the CMS. The second, Nathaniel worked for the CMS as a teacher and catechist. The third, Samuel, was a clergyman and historian, and the fourth Obadiah, was the second Nigerian in the country’s history to qualify as a medical doctor.

Samuel Johnson was born at Hastings, Freetown, on 24 June 1846. He moved to Yorubaland with his family and spent some time with them at Ibadan,–longer than planned because of the Ibadan-Ijaye war of 1860-62, one of many wars among the Yoruba kingdoms after the 1820s. From 1863 to 1865 he completed his education at the CMS Training Institution in Abeokuta.

From 1866 he worked as a schoolmaster under the CMS at Ibadan becoming, in 1867, assistant to Daniel Olubi, the CMS deacon at that time. He became superintendent of the Anglican Mission’s schools at the Kudeti and Aremo stations in Ibadan, and in 1873 he visited Oyo, his ancestral homeland. In 1875 he became a catechist, and became involved in the Yoruba conflicts. The greatest of all the wars among Yoruba states, the Ekiti Parapo War, broke out in 1877 which Johnson dubbed the “Sixteen Year War.” It involved Ibadan, the dominant military power, and Egbaland as well as the Ekiti states, which joined to form the Ekiti Parapo. Educated Yorubas, Saros in particular, were involved. Johnson played the role of a peacemaker. In 1881 he carried letters to Lagos from the Alaafin of Oyo suggesting British intervention to restore peace. The effort failed but Johnson and others continued their peace efforts. In 1885 he was a British government mediator between Ibadan and the Ijesha and Ekiti states. In 1886 the war ended in some parts, though it was to continue in others until 1893. British interventions to restore peace were to pave the way for British annexation.

In 1880 Johnson became a deacon. The following year he was sent to Oyo as a pastor, and in 1888 was ordained a minister. He helped foster the growth of CMS work in Oyo and contributed to the growth of christianity in the area. The Training Institution formerly at Abeokuta was eventually moved to Oyo in 1896 and took on the name St. Andrew’s College. That followed the British occupation of Yorubaland, at first due to treaties signed by Obas in 1893, later, in Oyo, due to military action taken in 1895 to ensure full submission. Thus the Alaafin of Oyo, who had been a nominal ruler of the Yorubas from his capital at New Oyo from the 1840s, was subordinated to British rule. By then Samuel Johnson, who had carefully studied the traditions of his countrymen while at Oyo had almost completed a major work, a general history of the Yorubas. Finished in 1897, the manuscript was sent to the CMS headquarters in London, where it was lost without a trace.

Rev. Samuel Johnson died on 29 April 1901. He had been married twice, the second marriage with Martha Garba was celebrated at Lagos in 1895.

His brother, Dr. Obadiah Johnson, saw to it that his work on Yoruba history was not wasted after the mysterious loss of the manuscript. Over the years he compiled the book again from Samuel Johnson’s notes. Obadiah Johnson died in London in 1920, and the book was published in London in 1921 by George Routledge and Sons, as A History of the Yorubas from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate, written by Samuel Johnson and edited by his brother. It is recognized as a pioneering historical study of high quality which ensured Samuel Johnson’s fame.


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