Thomas Birch Freeman

(1809—1890) missionary and colonial official

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(1809–1890). Black British Wesleyan missionary and traveller in West Africa. Freeman was born in Hampshire, the child of a black father and a white mother. Little is known of his early years, but he was employed as a gardener in Suffolk and became a Christian, joining the Wesleyan Methodists. In 1838 Freeman went as a missionary to the Gold Coast, an area of West Africa where he was to spend most of his life. He built Methodist churches at Cape Coast and Accra, promoted education, and trained local men for the ministry. He established a mission station in Kumase, the Asante capital, and visited towns in southern Nigeria and also the kingdom of Dahomey, where he urged King Gezo to stop the slave trade. On furlough in Britain in 1843 Freeman actively promoted missionary work and also the anti-slavery cause, both helped by publication of his travel accounts. In 1847 and 1848 he accompanied the Governor of the Gold Coast on official visits to Dahomey and Kumase. He married four times; his first two, white British, wives died shortly after arriving in West Africa; thereafter he married two local women, which gave him close links to coastal society, although his inability to speak Fante limited his mission work. Freeman was an ardent missionary but not a competent financial manager. Owing to misunderstandings with the Wesleyan Mission, he separated himself from that body and worked for the colonial government. He rejoined the Mission in 1873 and, with his son, promoted Methodist work in the southern Gold Coast.

From The Oxford Companion to Black British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.

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