This article is the second in a series of four stories that celebrate Black leadership in mission through IM’s past and present.
In 1780, Lott Carey was born into slavery in Charles City County, Virginia. He was fortunate to be kept together with his family, some of whom were Baptist believers. When he was around twenty-four years old, his owner hired him out as a common laborer at a tobacco warehouse in Richmond where tobacco use and alcoholism prevailed—an environment that negatively impacted Carey.
In 1807, Carey joined the integrated First Baptist Church of Richmond, where he made the decision to follow Christ and was baptized. Not only did his behavior change drastically, but upon hearing the story of Nicodemus, Carey wanted to learn more about the Bible. To learn reading, writing, math, and Bible study, he attended a school that Deacon William Crane led for enslaved people.
Ministry in Richmond
Carey was a shrewd businessman. His ability to manage assets efficiently led to a promotion to shipping clerk and later to warehouse supervisor. In addition to his wages, he earned bonuses and made extra money selling waste tobacco. In time, he had a salary, owned land, and became a respected member of the community. A widower, Carey was eventually able to buy freedom for himself and his two children. In addition to his supervisor role, he became an ordained Baptist minister and preacher.
Although he was making an impact in Richmond, Carey wanted to leave the US to minister in Africa. “I wish to go to a country where I shall be estimated by my merits, not by my complexion,” he said, “and I feel bound to labor for my suffering race.” Such was the strength of his desire that even when his employer offered a substantial salary raise, Carey turned it down.
Carey co-founded the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society with Collin Teague in 1815 to send missionaries to Africa. In 1817, the Society sent a delegate to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions (now known as International Ministries), formally requesting it to start mission work in Africa. In 1819 the Board appointed Carey and Teague as its first missionaries to Africa. The Board and the Society entered a joint venture with the newly formed American Colonization Society (ACS) that was working to establish a colony for free and formerly enslaved African Americans in Africa. Although the ACS was controversial, the joint effort provided the financial and logistical resources to send the Carey and Teague families to West Africa in 1821.
A new colony in Liberia
Carey’s small group sailed to Sierra Leone, but upon arrival found that land hadn’t been procured for the new colony, so they had to work on a farm to support themselves and pay for food and rent. Shortly after the Carey family arrived, his second wife died, leaving him a single father again. The following year, Carey and his family moved to the colony of Liberia.
In Liberia, Carey embraced the role of pastor, businessman, and lay physician. Life was dangerous because local tribes fought the colonization by American settlers, slave traders tried to sell Blacks back into slavery, and tropical diseases were rampant killers. Carey navigated these challenges and succeeded in founding the Providence Baptist Church of Monrovia (1822). He established schools, ministered to free and newly emancipated emigrants from America, provided medical care for the sick, and worked cross-culturally by going inland to establish a mission among the Mandingoes.
His leadership abilities saw him elected to the post of Vice Agent, where he worked with the governor, Jehudi Ashmun, to protect and expand the colony. Carey was so invaluable that he had to decline an invitation to visit America because the colony couldn’t afford to lose his medical skills during an influx of new immigrants.
When Ashmun returned to the US for health reasons, Carey took on the role of interim governor. After Ashmun’s death, Carey was designated to become the next governor, but sadly he was wounded in an accidental gunpowder explosion and died two days later on November 10, 1828. He was only forty-eight years old.
While Carey’s name lives on in a mission convention, scholarships, schools, churches, and roads, his legacy lives on in his example as a leader whose heart for others and stewardship of his God-given talents made him effective in multiple occupations. Carey met human needs when he provided jobs to workers in a profitable warehouse, brokered peace between local African peoples and American settlers, built schools to educate children, and offered medical care to ailing immigrants. In these capacities, he personified God’s love and shared his faith.
Author Darshana Chetti is the daughter of Dr. Samuel Chetti, CEO/Executive Minister Emeritus of ABCOFLASH, and the niece of IM global servants to Lebanon, Dan and Sarah Chetti. This is the second in a four-part series celebrating Black missionaries from IM’s past and present as part of Black History Month 2022.
Read more from the series: