Born in Osoogun (in what is in lanlate, Oyo State, Nigeria), he and his family were captured by Fulani slave raiders when he was about twelve years old.
Primate of all Nigeria
Church: Church of Nigeria
In office: 1864–1891
Full Name: Samuel Ajayi Crowther
Birth place: Osogun
Died: 31 December 1891
Death place: Lagos
Famous as: Religious Leader, writer and Author
Education: St Mary’s Church; Fourah Bay College; Oxford University
Grandchild: Herbert Macaulay
Children: Dandeson Crowther, Abigail Crowther
Early childhood and slavery
A direct descendant of King Abiodun, Ajayi was 12 years old when he and his family were captured, along with his entire village, by Fulani slave raiders in 1821 and sold to Portuguese slave traders.
The British had outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in the early 19th century and used its navy to patrol the coast of Africa. Before the slave ship left port for the Americas (where Spain and Portugal still had slavery in their colonies), it was boarded by crew from a British Royal Navy ship under the command of Captain Henry Leeke.
They freed the captives, and took Ajayi and his family to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they were resettled by local authorities.
Conversation to Christianity and education
While in Sierra Leone, Crowther was cared for by the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) and was taught English. He converted to Christianity.
On 11 December 1825 Bishop Ajayi Crowther was baptized. He named himself after Samuel Crowther, vicar of Christ Church, Newgate, London, and one of the pioneers of the CMS. Ajayi was baptized by John Raban.
While in Freetown, Crowther became interested in languages. In 1826 he was taken to England to attend the school of St Mary’s Church in Islington, which had established a connection with free Africans in the 18th century.
He returned to Freetown in 1827. He was the first student admitted to the newly opened Fourah Bay College, an Anglican missionary school.
Because of his interest in language, he studied Latin and Greek of the classical curriculum, but also Temne of West Africa. After completing his studies, Crowther began teaching at the school.
Marriage and family
Bishop Ajayi Crowther married a schoolmistress, Asano (i.e. Hassana; she was formerly Muslim), baptised Susan. She had been liberated from the same Portuguese slave ship as Ajayi, and was among the captives resettled in Sierra Leone.
She had also converted to Christianity. Their several children included Dandeson Coates Crowther, who later entered the ministry and in 1891 became archdeacon of the Niger Delta.
Susan and Crowther’s second daughter, Abigail, married Thomas Babington Macaulay, a junior associate. Their son and Crowther’s grandson, Herbert Macaulay, became one of the first Nigerian nationalists. He played an important role in ending British colonial rule in Nigeria.
Missions and works
Bishop Ajayi Crowther was selected to accompany the missionary James Schön on the Niger expedition of 1841. Together with Schön, he was expected to learn Hausa for use on the expedition.
Its goal was to stimulate commerce, teach agricultural techniques, encourage Christianity, and help end the slave trade. Following the expedition, Crowther was recalled to England, where he was trained as a minister and ordained by the Bishop of London.
Schön wrote to the Church Missionary Society noting Crowther’s usefulness and ability on the expedition, recommending that he be prepared for ordination.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther returned to Africa in 1843 and, with Henry Townsend, opened a mission in Abeokuta, in today’s Ogun State, Nigeria.
Crowther began translating the Bible into Yoruba and compiling a Yoruba dictionary. In 1843, his grammar book was published, which he had begun working on during the Niger expedition.
A Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer followed later. Crowther also compiled A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language, including a large number of local proverbs, published in London in 1852.
He also began codifying other languages. Following the British Niger Expeditions of 1854 and 1857, Crowther, assisted by a young Igbo interpreter named Simon Jonas, produced a primer for the Igbo language in 1857.
He published one for the Nupe language in 1860, and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther had become a close associate and friend of Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, an influential politician, mariner, philanthropist and industrialist in colonial Lagos.
The two men collaborated on social initiatives in Lagos, such as the founding of The Academy (a social and cultural center for public enlightenment) on 24 October 1866. Crowther was the first patron and Captain J.P.L Davies was the first president.
Merits and ordination
In 1864, Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church; he was consecrated a bishop on St Peter’s day 1864, by Charles Longley,
Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther had continued his studies and later received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Oxford.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther later met Queen Victoria and read the Lord’s prayer to her in the Nigerian language of Yoruba, which she described as soft and melodious.
In March 1881, he and his son Dandeson attended a conference on the island of Madeira, in the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther had begun to work in languages other than Yoruba, but he continued to supervise the translation of the Yoruba Bible (Bibeli Mimọ), which was completed in the mid-1880s, a few years before his death.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther is celebrated with a feast on the liturgical calendar of some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church (United States) and the Church of Nigeria, on 31 December.
Death, burial, exhumation, and reburial
Crowther died of a stroke in Lagos on 31 December 1891. He was buried at Ajele Cemetery in Lagos.
In 1971 the Lagos State Government under Mobolaji Johnson wanted to redevelop the site of the cemetery for new government offices and issued notices to families of the deceased.
Seth Kale, Anglican Bishop of Lagos, representing the Anglican community and Crowther’s family, delayed exhumation and reburial until 1976.
An elaborate ceremony was held at a new burial site and a cenotaph was installed at Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.