Lott Carey was born a slave, purchased his freedom, and carried the gospel to Africa.
A few weeks ago I was asked to write an essay tracing the history of the modern missions movement based on an assigned text. I worked through prominent figures in the modern missions movement and traced its development in India, on the African continent, and throughout the South Pacific. As I worked through the text, I found one thing conspicuously missing—the contributions of African-Americans to the modern missions movement.
While I have come to appreciate the work of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, and others, there are other unsung heroes neglected in many historical accounts of the modern missions movement. One such hero is Lott Carey—often known in missions circles as “the other Carey.”
Lott Carey was born a slave around 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia. His father was a devout, pious Baptist—as was his grandmother. Carey’s nuclear family was anomalously intact in an era where slaveholders regularly ripped slaves’ families apart, selling and trading children with other plantation owners. Carey’s grandmother was the typical matriarchal figure in his life. She took care of Carey, who was an only child, on the Virginia plantation while his parents labored away throughout the day.
His grandmother’s presence proved valuable in shaping Carey’s future. As a child, she told the young Carey about Africa and how the people there did not know God. This piqued Carey’s interest and led him to ask, “And do all of them think that the great God lives far away from them and does not love them?” His grandmother told him she desired to go back and tell them, but her age would prevent her from doing so. She then told him that it might be him that would “travel over the big seas” to carry the gospel to the African people. This conversation, combined with a few other providential events, would become the driving force behind Carey’s missionary zeal as an adult.
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