Rev Thomas Birch Freeman

 

Of all the missionaries to West Africa, the Rev Thomas Birch Freeman was the most famous and longest lived. He was born in Hampshire in the village of Twyford on 29th November 1809. His father was a Negro who worked as a gardener and his mother had previously been widowed before marrying again.

As a young man, he was very clever and became botanist and head gardener at Orwell Park, the house of Sir Robert Harland in Ipswich. Later, he trained as a minister, volunteering to go to the Gold Coast, or Ghana as we now call it, in 1837.

In those days, many missionaries had died in the Gold Coast because of the climate and diseases that were there. Thomas Freeman said that he would “stand in the deadly breach with full confidence that God will save my life.” God did save his life and Thomas lived in the Gold Coast for more than fifty years.

He married three times. The first two times he married English women but they both died after only a few days in the Gold Coast. Freeman, with his African blood, survived. The third time, he married an African lady and their descendants still live in Accra to this very day.

In 1839 Thomas made a journey through the forest to Kumasi - “The City of Blood” - where the Ashanti people lived. When his story reached England, Christians were so moved that the Ashanti Mission was founded, to bring the Good News of Jesus to those far off people.

He also extended his missionary work into Dahomey and Western Nigeria, Thomas was keen to spread the Gospel and spent so much money on his work that he got into debt.

The Missionary Society had to struggle to pay off these debts and, after criticism, Thomas resigned from the Society in 1857 and began to work for the British Government in Accra.

Happily, in 1878, he returned to the ministry and in 1885 he preached at a special service to celebrate 50 years of missionary work on the Cape Coast.

Although he never learned an African language, he was an effective pastor and in 1877 alone he baptised more than 1500 people.

Thomas died in retirement at Accra on 12th August 1890.

Itinerant Preachers

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