Biography of Bishop Ajayi Crowther

Full Biography of Bishop Ajayi Crowther

This story is about a slave who became Africa’s first Anglican bishop, he was also the first to translate the Bible into Yoruba language. His name is Samuel Ajayi Crowther.

Born in the town of Osogun, Oyo State in 1809. He grew up in dangerous times of slave trade and war. When Bishop Ajayi Crowther was around 12years old, he, his family members and his entire village were captured by Fulani slave traders. Ajayi remembered the sad event; the destruction of once booming houses, the capture of people as slaves and the roping by the neck, the slaughter of those unfit to travel, the distress of being torn from relatives. Ajayi was transferred from hands to hands six times before being sold to Portuguese traders. They were in the slave ship taking them to America where they would be resold when their ship was intercepted by British navy patrol ship. The British Evangelical Christians with William Wilberforce as a key player, had abolished slave trade in 1807, so they use their navy to patrol to stop every form of slave trade and to free captured slave. God intervened and Ajayi and his family members that were with him were set free. His father, Ayemi was most likely killed when the slave traders stormed his village.

After they were set free they were taken to Freetown in Sierra Leone to be resettled. By this time Sierra Leone was becoming a Christian community. While in Sierra Leone the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) took care of Ajayi and taught him English. Due to his outstanding intelligence, Ajayi was sent to school and within a short time, he was able to read the Bible easily. He converted to Christianity and named himself Samuel Crowther, the name of a popular priest he loved so much, one of the founders of CMS. While in Freetown, Crowther became interested in learning languages. In 1826, he was taken to England to school, he later returned to Freetown to continue schooling in a Missionary school. After completing his studies, Crowther began teaching in a school.

Ajayi wrote this concerning the salvation of his soul: “About the third year of my freedom from the slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely the slavery of sin and Satan. It pleased the Lord to open my heart…I was admitted into the physical church of Jesus Christ here on earth as a soldier to fight manfully under His banner against our spiritual enemies.” There is another worst form of slavery and it is the slavery of the soul by sin and satan. Only Jesus can set someone free from this most terrible slavery. Call on Him today!
Bishop Ajayi Crowther and his pastor son
Bishop and his wife and another priest

Bishop Ajayi Crowther returned to Nigeria and in 1843, he set up a missionary base in Abeokuta, the present capital city of Ogun State. During this time, he translated the Bible into Yoruba language and called it Bibeli Mimo. He also wrote a Yoruba dictionary, published a grammar book, wrote the Anglican book of common prayers in Yoruba and produced a vocabulary book explaining the Yoruba language. This vocabulary book contained many Yoruba proverbs. He completed and published the first Yoruba Bible in 1884, a few years before his death. 

Bishop Ajayi Crowther who was a linguist (someone who is skilled in languages), began work in other languages, he started codifying other languages. He was assisted by a young Igbo interpreter to produce a prayer book for the Igbo language in 1857. He produced one for Nupe language in 1860 and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864. He later met Queen Victoria of England and read the Lord’s prayer to her in Yoruba, which she described as soft and melodious.

In Nigeria, Efik Bible was the first language Bible to be translated in 1862 for the new testament and 1868 for the old testament. Yoruba was the second language Bible published in 1884. The Igbo Bible was first published in 1906, the Hausa came in 1932. The Bible has been translated into over 1,000 African languages.

In 1864, Bishop Ajayi Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican church by the bishop of London. In a unique twist of events, in 1848, Crowther was reunited with his mother. They had been apart for 25years. He baptised his mum and renamed her Hannah. She was formerly a water priestess named Madam Ibisomi-T’Elerin-masa.

Bishop Ajayi Crowther married a school headmistress. Her name was Asano but changed to Susan after her conversion to Christianity. She was also freed from a Portuguese slave ship. They had several children one was a priest. The famous Nigerian nationalist Herbert Macaulay was Bishop Ajayi Crowther’s grandson. Herbert Macaulay played an important role in ending British colonial rule in Nigeria leading to Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960.

Crowther died in 1891 at the age of 82. About 131 years later, we still read of his significant impacts in the spread of the gospel.

Today, we can read and tell that Bishop Ajayi Crowther had an unusual faith. His life teaches us to choose to follow Jesus, live for Him, be diligent and be used as an instrument for His glory. He cherished the Bible so much that God used him to translate the Bible into Yoruba, this is a very great work. He left many legacies for us to follow. This kind of excellent life begins when you surrender your life to Jesus.

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