Charles Knight (circa 1799-1879) was an Ibo recaptive, who became the first African to be appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Sierra Leone.
He was sent to Gloucester, a recaptive village in the mountains near Freetown, about three months after his release from the holds of the slave ship. There he received schooling after which he found employment in Freetown, first as a shop assistant and later as a schoolmaster. While serving as a teacher he was chosen along with another recaptive Wesleyan, Joseph May, for teacher training in England under the sponsorship of the English Quakers.
He left Freetown in 1842, but illness forced him to return to the colony only six months after he had begun his studies. After serving as an assistant missionary from 1844, Knight was ordained a full minister in 1848, and subsequently served in York and Hastings. Ten years later he became head of the Theological and Educational Institution, which trained candidates for church duties as well as for teaching in the Wesleyan schools. Its curriculum was expanded to include algebra, arithmetic and geography in addition to the normal courses in theological education, Latin and Greek.
Together with John Ezzidio, a prominent businessman and an active churchman, Knight made extensive plans for the construction of the Wesleyan Church in Freetown, as well as the renovation of many other churches in the city. In the belief that church members had deserted the Wesleyan Mission on account of the dilapidated state of its buildings, he hoped that his program of rebuilding might win them back.
In 1861, Knight, now superintendent of the Freetown circuit, became acting general superintendent of the Mission in Sierra Leone. But when the Rev. Benjamin Tregaskis, an intransigent and overbearing man, was appointed head of the Mission in 1864, Knight entered into the most difficult period of his ministerial career. Through his intolerance and militancy, Tregaskis created considerable disharmony within the Church, and treated his African colleagues with such contempt that, fearing a general revolt of the African clergy in Sierra Leone, the London headquarters prevailed upon him to return to Britain on leave in 1874. In that year Charles Knight replaced him as substantive general superintendent, the first African to hold such a position.
Attempts to discredit Knight’s tenure came not only from contemptuous Europeans but also from the rivalry of some Aku (Yoruba recaptive) clergymen. But he maintained a firm hold on his position despite the return of Tregaskis, who joined the ranks of his detractors.
A stern disciplinarian, Knight insisted on high moral standards among his flock. He was also zealous in educational improvement, and was as concerned to raise the standard of teaching at the Mission’s schools as he was to improve the work of pupils who attended them. A system of school inspection was established and followed by other changes, such as improved conditions for teachers.
He also planned to extend the Mission’s work into the regions beyond Freetown, and started by sending a catechist to Bonthe in the Sherbro, but this project was cut short when Knight fell ill late in 1877 and died on December 13, 1879, aged 80.
E. Emandu Turay
Christopher Fyfe, A* History of Sierra Leone, London, 1962; E. Matei Markwei, “The Rev. Charles Knight in Methodist History,” The Sierra Leone Bulletin of Religion*, June and December, 1967.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.