James Read was a London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary pastor among the Cape Coloured of South Africa. Born in Essen, England, he, like so many other LMS volunteers, was a skilled artisan, a carpenter. In 1798 he was sent to the South Seas by the LMS, but his ship was captured by the French. Eventually Read got back to Britain. In 1800 he went to the Cape Colony to help J. Van der Kemp. He aided in the setting up of Bethelsdorp, a large settlement of Khoi and people of mixed race. These were soon to be deemed, along with freed slaves, one people, the Cape Coloureds. At Bethelsdorp and the other settlements of the LMS, the Coloureds enjoyed more freedom than anymore else in the colony.
Read married Sara, a Khoi. Of their children, James, Jr. became a leading evangelist and minister; their daughters were teachers; and Joseph was a hero of the frontier as an officer of the Cape Regiment. Read helped many people bring charges of ill treatment against their masters to the new British courts set up in 1811, for which many whites never forgave him. He then went north of the Orange River outside the colony, contacting a number of groups among the Tswana people, which prepared the way for Robert Moffat.
Serving as John Philip’s right-hand man, Read played an important role in the campaign that achieved equality for all before the law in 1828. In 1829, the newly created Kat River settlements of the Coloured people called Read to be their minister and he stayed there for most of the rest of his life. Under Read’s leadership, the church at Kat River became an active evangelistic community; it also created good relations with the Xhosa across the frontier. All of this was destroyed in the frontier war of 1850-1851 when the old man had to leave Kat River. He removed to nearby Elandi Port, where he died.
Andrew C. Ross
Christopher Saunders, “James Read: Towards a Reassessment,” in Collected Seminar Papers, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London (1977). See also Andrew C. Ross, John Philip (1986).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.