John Marrant: America’s First Black Preacher
He was among America’s first black preachers.
A fiery Methodist who converted thousands—blacks, Indians, whites—to Christianity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
His life story–of only 35 years–has inspired millions.
John Marrant was born a free black June 15, 1755 in New York City.
When his father died, at four, his mother moved the family to Florida, then to Georgia, and finally to South Carolina. John learned to read and write and play the French horn. His musical talent landed several gigs.
At age 13, John joined a friend at a revival meeting featuring the legendary Great Awakening evangelist George Whitefield. As Whitefield preached, Marrant experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ. In the heat of spiritual fire, he collapsed to the floor, paralyzed and mute. It was no momentary experience. John couldn’t move nor talk. Friends had to carry him home. His family was shocked. Doctors tried to administer medication, but he refused.
In the days and weeks that followed, only one thing eased John’s condition: studying the Bible.
Although he eventually regained movement and could talk, his family still believed John went insane. All he wanted to do was read and study the Bible. When the fight with his family proved too much, Marrant left home to wander in the woods, alone, relying only upon God’s protection and provision.
One day a lone Cherokee found John, and they covenanted to work together. Hunting. Fishing. Trading furs. When the Indian took him to his tribal fort, John was viewed as a threat to the Cherokees and sentenced to death. Marrant began to pray to Jesus. His bold and incessant prayers not only converted his executioner, they convinced the chief to dismiss his death sentence. John lived with the tribe for the next two years, converting dozens of Cherokees to Christianity.
Marrant had no special credentials. Just a love for God and His people.
Eventually, John returned to his family (who didn’t recognize him initially) and found work on local plantations. He used the opportunity to evangelize and convert black slaves with whom he labored. During the Revolutionary War, the British captured Marrant and discovered his musical skills. They commissioned him as a musician in their Royal Navy then sent him to fight several British battles.
After the war, John moved to London to sell clothing. That’s when he reconnected with George Whitefield, the fiery English evangelist who radically converted him as a young teen.
Whitefield encouraged John to join the Methodist clergy and on May 15, 1785, he was ordained.
His first church was in Nova Scotia, ministering to blacks, Indians and interested whites. John’s passionate biblical messages drew crowds…and criticism. Methodist ministers were increasingly jealous that their white parishioners preferred Marrant’s black services.
Eventually John moved to Boston and found a new cause: abolishing slavery. In 1785, he published his autobiography: A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black. In his book, Marrant recounted his radical conversion, life with the Cherokees and the “wonderful dealings” and experiences he enjoyed. The book proved popular and sold well (17 editions), inspiring black readers for decades.
Three years later, John married. There’s some evidence he and Elizabeth had children, but it’s unverified. The rest of John’s life he preached and pastored, returning to London, where he died on April 15, 1791. Marrant was only 35 years old.
If it wasn’t for his book, John’s name and legacy as America’s first black preacher might be forever lost to time.
John Marrant. Free Black. Methodist Evangelist. Author. Abolitionist. Musician.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “John Marrant” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Marrant
- Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black (1785). Available as a Google book download.
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