Raymond (1815-November 26, 1847) was the fearless American missionary who first brought education and the Christian religion to the people of Sierra Leone. In the face of overwhelming odds he established and maintained a mission and school, ready at all times to sacrifice his life for the cause of Christianity in which he so fervently believed.
Born in Ashby, Massachusetts, in 1815, Raymond was originally trained for mechanical work but had a strong desire to become a minister. After preliminary studies, he entered Amherst College, Massachusetts, where, after two years, his career as a student came to an abrupt end. Always concerned for the socially oppressed, Raymond had spent much of this time teaching black families, thereby incurring the disapproval of the college authorities. An incident, in which he had given a ride to a black girl, ended with his being rusticated. Although such severe measures were not uncommon in the ante-bellum United States, Raymond felt he had been punished quite disproportionately, and a number of his teachers agreed with him but were powerless to help. He moved to Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio, where he completed his studies in theology and classics. Having received his license to preach, he went to Canada, where he lived among fugitive slaves.
Raymond soon developed a passion to go to West Africa and spend his life there. In the meantime, the "Amistad Africans" were freed by verdict of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841. These were slaves who had revolted and taken their freedom in 1839, but had been arrested and charged with mutiny and piracy before the United States courts. While preparations were being made to send them home after their acquittal, the Amistad Committee, set up for their protection and welfare, hired Raymond to teach them at Farmington, Connecticut. When arrangements were completed, the Africans were repatriated. They were accompanied by three white missionaries–Raymond and his wife, and the Rev. James Steele, and two black teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. They had instructions to enter Mende country in Sierra Leone, where most of the Africans had been originally captured, and open up a mission.
The party reached Freetown in January 1842, whereupon many of the Africans promptly disappeared among friends or countrymen. Since there was much warfare in the interior, the missionaries were advised not to attempt to cross embattled territories to reach Mende country. Instead it was decided to open a mission somewhere in Sherbro country at one of the river-based points of entry into Mende country, and await more propitious times. Steele went ahead and concluded a treaty with Chief Harry Tucker to establish a station at Komende, 40 km (25 mi) up the Bum River. Meantime, Raymond moved with the ten remaining Africans to York, a village about 32 km (20 mi) south of Freetown. Steele returned from his negotiations in ill health, and immediately returned to the United States, leaving Raymond in charge.
Troubles started almost immediately. Steele had left the mission coffers empty; there were difficulties with the Wilsons who abandoned the mission; Mrs. Raymond became ill, and as the ultimate disaster, their little daughter Jane, died. Penniless and deserted–he had only six cents left when his daughter died–Raymond wrote urgent letters asking for money while the Wesleyan missionaries in Freetown came to his temporary rescue. In 1843, Raymond and his wife returned to the States to ask for funds and assistants. Miss Ann Harndon offered herself as a missionary, and they all returned together to Sierra Leone later that year.
Raymond lost no time in renewing the contact with Chief Tucker for the land at Komende, for which the chief was to receive 100 dollars a year in rent. But Spanish slave traders, fearing the effects of missionary activity on their trade, urged Tucker to expel Raymond. A quarrel developed between Raymond and Tucker, settled only by the intervention of other chiefs. Other troubles gathered fast. Miss Harndon took ill and died. Mrs. Raymond had another baby which died within a few days, and she began to have delusions of persecution. Fearing for her sanity, Raymond sent her home. He reported his distress to the Amistad Committee, which showed little sympathy, and thereafter he decided not to approach them with personal problems. Still fired with a fanatical desire to spread the gospel and die for the cause of Christ, Raymond carried on the work of the mission alone.
Throughout the 1840s the Sherbro was torn apart by civil wars, making Raymond’s task almost impossible. Yet he refused to give up hope. Realizing the futility of trying to convert warriors or peasants who lived under the threat of war, he confined himself to preaching to the chiefs and people in the immediate vicinity. In this way the so-called Mende Mission was inaugurated in Sherbro country. Raymond had a mission house and chapel built immediately; he hired a few artisans and started cultivation on the mission farm. But the school he had told the chiefs he would start was delayed by financial problems. The impatient chiefs forced his hand by sending their children to the mission to attend the long-promised school. Finally, in July 1846, Raymond could delay no longer, and the school opened with 24 pupils. It was immediately the subject of slanders of the slave traders in the area who told chiefs that the missionary was a liar who had come to obstruct their slave trade.
The school grew rapidly. Pupils were lodged and boarded in the mission compound and clothed at the expense of the mission. A sabbath school was also started which drew sizeable audiences, and Raymond’s standing with local chiefs and people was soon high.
At the mission he emphasized the virtues of piety and industry. He also tried to persuade his mission employees to adopt the Christian practice of monogamy. Many of them, true to African tradition, had more than one wife. Raymond promised to build a house for anyone who would confine himself to one wife and marry her under Christian law. But in some areas he was powerless. Although alcohol and tobacco were prohibited in any mission transactions by the Committee, Raymond found it impossible to dispense with the use of tobacco as a trading commodity, as it was the commonest and also the smallest unit of currency. In order to acquire staple foods, such as rice, for the mission, payment in tobacco was demanded and he was faced with the choice of disobeying the Committee or starving. Food supplies were also threatened by warfare which disrupted the trade routes from the interior, and Raymond and his mission were reduced at such times to living on boiled rice and palm oil.
War also created other extraordinary pressures on the mission. Warriors demanded that Raymond should "cook for the war," which he was forced to do in sheer self-preservation. Nevertheless, he continued to act on the abolitionist beliefs of the mission, rescuing many boys and girls from slavery by paying for their freedom and enlisting them in the school. Some of his artisans were run-away slaves. Rather than let them return to slavery when traced by their masters, Raymond paid for their manumission. This added considerably to the expenses of the mission, already chronically short of money to the point of being unable to buy food.
The Committee was totally unsympathetic to the trials of their lone missionary. He was questioned severely and requested at the end of 1846 to cut down the expenses of the mission and if possible close the school. Raymond, convinced of the moral propriety of his actions, refused. He loved the school and regarded the pupils, many redeemed from slavery and without parents, as his own children. His answer to the Committee was that he preferred to die with the children rather than discharge them.
The Committee also accused him of "trafficking" in tobacco, and turned a deaf ear to his explanations of its role as currency. They saw the matter simply as a breach of rules. At this point Raymond, almost at the end of his tether, considered leaving their service to "go into the interior where I can live, labor and die unknown."
In 1846, however, the American Missionary Association was founded and took over responsibility for the Mende Mission. The Rev. George Whipple became the correspondence secretary, and for once Raymond felt he was in touch with a sympathizer to whom he could unburden. “My dear brother,” Whipple wrote to Raymond, “sometimes my soul is in an agony for you, alone, and overburdened, crushed with cares, my soul trembles lest your body should sink under all.” In a private letter to his wife, Raymond said he was looking ten years older, bald and toothless. Raymond’s successor, George Thompson, stated frankly that “Brother Raymond has opened things on a large scale and the amount of work performed by him is almost incredible.”
In 1847 Raymond was recalled by the executive committee of the Missionary Association. “I am glad” he rejoiced “that the Committee at last see the necessity of our seeing one another face to face.” But as fate would have it, they never met. While in Freetown, en-route for home, Raymond took ill with yellow fever, and died on November 26, 1947.
When the Committee heard of his death they proceeded to make a martyr of him. They resolved, with many a high-flown phrase, to have a memorial written to him, which concluded: “In the death of Mr. Raymond the friends of missions have lost a self-sacrificing, devoted and successful missionary; the Church of Christ, a disinterested, exemplary and faithful minister; Africa, a most useful, laborious and true-hearted friend; the colored man, a sympathizing and unprejudiced friend and brother; this ‘American Missionary’ Association, a most beloved servant and friend; the missionary band, a most heroic, enterprising and fearless brother; and the world, a man of God full of faith in the Holy Ghost.” True words indeed–but the Committee itself had contributed in no small measure to the hardships which in the end cost Raymond his life.
At the time of his death, the school which he had opened just a year before had over 100 pupils, and the mission establishment a staff of fifteen. The Mende Mission had mechanical, educational, and agricultural departments as well as the core religious department. Had Raymond not “opened things on a large scale” the mission might not have been sustained; and the Sherbro people would in all probability not have gained their lead in western education over other hinterland peoples of Sierra Leone.
Arthur Abraham, “Sunrise in the Sherbro: the Mende Mission, 1842-47,” unpublished manuscript, 1977; M. Cable, Black Odyssey, New York, 1971.
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.