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Part of a series on
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Christianity in Africa

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Samuel Bill
Christian Ignatius Latrobe
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George Grenfell
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Alexander Murdoch Mackay
Helen Roseveare
Mary Slessor
Charles Studd

Missionary agencies
American Board
Africa Inland Mission
Baptist Missionary Society
Berlin Missionary Society
Congo-Balolo Mission
Church Missionary Society
Heart of Africa Mission
Livingstone Inland Mission
London Missionary Society
Mission Africa
Paris Evangelical Missionary Society
Rhenish Missionary Society
WEC International

Pivotal events
Slave Trade Act 1807
Slavery Abolition Act 1833

Lott Cary (also in records as Lott Carey) (1780 – November 10, 1828) was an African-American Baptist minister and physician, and was instrumental in the founding of the Colony of Liberia in Africa. Born into slavery, he purchased his freedom. He was the first American Baptist missionary to Africa.


Early life and education

In 1780 Lott Carey was born into slavery and humble surroundings in Charles City County, Virginia. It soon became apparent that he was exceptionally bright and energetic.

In 1804, his master John Bowry, a Methodist minister, hired Carey out in Richmond, about 25 miles away. There in 1807 Carey joined the First Baptist Church of Richmond, originally a congregation of both whites and blacks, free and slave. Beginning his education by learning to read the Bible, Carey later attended a small school for slaves. Its twenty young men were taught by Deacon William Crane. He had come from Newark, New Jersey in 1812, opened a shoe store and joined the First Baptist Church. Crane's students met three evenings each week to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible.

As he became educated, Carey rose from working as a common laborer to become a shipping clerk in a tobacco warehouse along Tobacco Row. Because of his diligence and valuable work, Carey was often rewarded by his master with five-dollar bills from the money he earned. He was also permitted to collect and sell small bags of waste tobacco for his own profit.

Freedom and career

With money he had earned, in 1813 Carey purchased his own freedom and that of his two children for $850. As a free man, he continued to be both industrious and frugal. He and his family stayed in Richmond, where jobs were available and there was a growing free black community. In 1813 Carey became an official Baptist minister. He also studied with doctors while in Liberia and became a lay medical practitioner.

American Colonization Society

In the early 19th century, about 2 million African Americans lived in the United States, of which 200,000 were free persons. In 1816, Robert Finley established the American Colonization Society (ACS) with the goal of enabling former slaves to travel to Africa and establish a colony there. Despite the fact that by then, most enslaved and free blacks had been born in the United States, often for generations, some members of the ACS saw the goal as a kind of "repatriation" of blacks to Africa. The Society was supported by a paradoxical coalition of philanthropists, members of the clergy and abolitionists, and slaveholders. Those favoring abolition wanted to free enslaved blacks and provide them with the chance to go to Africa. The slaveholders feared the presence of free blacks in a slave society and wanted to expel them from the South and the United States.

Cary was among numerous free blacks who became interested in this movement. Most free blacks, however, were native to the United States and wanted no part of expatriation. Like those of European Americans, their roots were in the United States; they simply wanted to enjoy the rights of citizens and free people in the country where they had many ties.

Colony of Liberia

By 1821, Carey had accumulated a sum sufficient for him to pay his own expenses as a member of the colony sent to the African coast. In cooperation with the First Baptist Church of Richmond, the American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, and the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society, Carey became the first American Baptist missionary to Africa. Carey was one of the founders of the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society.

In the new colony of Liberia, Carey served the leadership as a counselor, physician, and pastor. He established Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, and several schools. In 1826, he was elected vice-agent of the ACS. Early life in the Colony of Liberia was full of danger. Native Africans resisted the colonization and expansion by the settlers, which resulted in many armed conflicts. The colonists were also at risk of attack from slave traders, who would have been happy to sell them into slavery.

In August 1828, Carey became acting governor of Liberia after having been designated the successor by the previous governor, who died. Later that year Cary's role in Liberia was cut short. Carey died on November 10, 1828, two days after an arms-making accident. Expecting an attack by slave traders, Carey and other men were making bullet cartridges. An explosion of materials fatally injured Carey and seven of his companions.

Legacy and honors

The remarkable story of Lott Cary has been inspiration for American school children. Despite starting life as a common slave in a rural county with few apparent opportunities, Carey became educated and industrious, bought his own freedom, became both a minister and a physician, and helped found a new nation.

  • His mission and memory have been kept alive through the work of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention, based in Washington, DC.
  • Providence Baptist Church, Monrovia, celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2001.
  • Lott Carey Road in Charles City County was named in his honor.
  • The Lott Carey House, where he was born a slave in Charles City County, is a designated state historical landmark. It is still in use as a private residence. It is noted by Virginia historical marker, V27-Lott Cary Birthplace, at the intersection of Virginia State Highways 155 and 602.
  • In his honor, the Board of Supervisors of neighboring James City County, Virginia declared March 21, 2001, to be "Lott Carey Day" in the county.

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