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John Marrant, America's first black preacher

America's first black preacher, a missionary to the Cherokee, and an author, John Marrant lived a life of adventure and hardships to serve God.

Born in 1755 in a free black family in New York, John Marrant's early life suggested nothing of the adventure his future would hold. His father died when he was four. He lived in several colonies with his mother and siblings for several years until he settled with an older sister's family in Charleston, SC, in 1766.

At this time his sister sought to find a master to apprentice him to, but Marrant begged to take music lessons. Succumbing to his pleas, she enrolled him in a music school where he learned to play French horn and violin. By the time he was thirteen, Marrant was a sought-after musician for parties and dances.

One evening on his way to a dance, a friend challenged him to go into a church where evangelist George Whitefield was preaching and blow his French horn to upset the meeting. As Marrant prepared to blow the horn, Whitefield announced his text from Amos 4:12: "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." Under conviction, Marrant passed out.

Over the next few days, Marrant talked with a preacher and prayed until he found relief from his guilt. However, his sister's family did not agree with his faith. Marrant returned to his mother's home but found only animosity at his change of life.

At fourteen, Marrant left home to wander in the wilderness where he was rescued by a Cherokee hunter who took him to the Cherokee village. Sentenced to death in the Cherokee village in spite of the hunter's pleas, Marrant won his life through prayer and led several people to the Lord. Marrant, one of America's earliest missionaries to the Indians, spent two years among the Cherokees, Creeks, Catawars, and Howsaws, but his preaching was best received by the Cherokees.

His family did not recognize him in his Indian dress upon his return. They had assumed him dead, but he remained with them until the American Revolution.

The British impressed him into the navy where he served for seven years. During that time he backslid though he saw God extend a merciful hand to him and protect him in horrifying battles.

After being released from the navy in the 1780s, he met evangelist George Whitefield again and renewed his walk with God. He joined the Huntington Connexion of Calvinistic Methodists and Selina, Countess of Huntington ( also spelled Huntingdon) became one of his mentors.

In 1785 he accepted ordination and published an autobiographical pamphlet, A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black, which was so popular that it was reprinted more than seventeen times under different titles. However, not all of those printings were arranged by Marrant and he received little financial support from the publication.

In 1785 also, he received a letter from his brother who lived in Nova Scotia, urging him to come to Nova Scotia to preach. Marrant started a church in the free black town of Birch Town and ministered to the Indians in the area for four years.

In 1789 while in Boston, Marrant preached one of his few sermons that has been preserved on the equality of all men before God. His stay in Boston and his preaching on the dignity of all men infuriated some people and Marrant lived amidst death threats and mobs.

He became Chaplain of Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, one of the first institutions in Massachusetts to call for the abolition of slavery. Due to this group's work, Boston abolished the slave trade in 1788.

He left for England in 1790 and died in 1791 at the age of only thirty-six.

More information on John Marrant:
  • Marrant's works online
  • John Marrant

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