Freeman, Thomas Birch
1809-1890; e.m. 1837

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WM missionary, the son of an English mother and African father (a freed slave?), he was born on 29 November 1809 at Twyford, Hants. He worked as a gardener at Orwell Park, near Ipswich, becoming head gardener and botanist, but was dismissed when he joined the Wesleyans and became a local preacher. In 1837 he offered himself as a missionary and was sent to the Gold Coast (now Ghana, where he found that all five of his predecessors had died within thirteen months of arrival. HIs first two wives both died soon after arriving in Africa. Freeman, with his African blood, survived. He not only planted churches in the coastal area, but made several difficult expeditions inland and along the coast. In the Ashanti capital, Kumasi, where human sacrifices were being offered, he was viewed with suspicion. But his 1842 journey is regarded as the beginning of Methodism in Nigeria, Benin and Togo . He was at the heart of the anti-slavery struggle. In 1857 he resigned from the ministry after over-spending his budget and became the civil commandant of the Accra District; but he still preached and was reinstated by the WM Conference of 1873. Although he never learned an African language, he was an effective pastor and in 1877 alone baptized over 1,500 people. He died at Accra on 12 August 1890.

  • F.D. Walker, Thomas Birch Freeman, the son of an African (1929)
  • C.P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa (1948-55) 1 pp.306-8, 2 pp.47-49
  • N.A. Birtwhistle, Thomas Birch Freeman, West African Pioneer (1950)
  • Paul Ellingworth, 'Thomas Birch Freeman, Ann Goulstone and the "Fly-sheets"', in WHS Proceedings, 34 pp.5-8
  • A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988) pp.447-53
  • P. Ellingworth, Thomas Birch Freeman (Peterborough, 1995)