Lott Cary (also in records as Lott Carey) (1780 – November 10, 1828) was an African-American Baptist minister and lay physician, who was instrumental in the founding of the Colony of Liberia in Africa. Born into slavery, he purchased his freedom. He was one of the first black American missionaries as well as the first American Baptist missionary to Africa.
Early life and education 
In 1780 Lott Cary was born into slavery and humble surroundings in Charles City County, Virginia, on the estate of Mr. William A. Christian. It soon became apparent that he was exceptionally bright and energetic.
In 1804, his master John Bowry, a Methodist minister, hired Cary out as a young man in Richmond, about 25 miles away. He was hired out by the year at the Shockoe warehouse. In 1807 Cary joined the First Baptist Church of Richmond, originally a congregation of both whites and blacks, free and slave. He was baptised by its pastor, John Courtney. Beginning his education by learning to read the Bible, Cary later attended a small school for slaves. Its twenty young men were taught by Deacon William Crane. He had come from Newark, New Jersey in 1812, opened a shoe store and joined the First Baptist Church. Crane's students met three evenings each week to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible.
As he became educated, Cary rose from working as a common laborer to become a shipping clerk in a tobacco warehouse along Tobacco Row. Because of his diligence and valuable work, Cary was often rewarded by his master with five-dollar bills from the money he earned. He was also permitted to collect and sell small bags of waste tobacco for his own profit.
Freedom and career 
In 1813, his first wife died. With money he had earned, in 1813 Cary purchased his own freedom and that of his two children for $850. As a free man, he continued to be both industrious and frugal. He and his family stayed in Richmond; jobs were available and there was a growing free black community. In 1813 Cary became an official Baptist minister. He also studied with doctors while in Liberia and became a lay medical practitioner.
American Colonization Society 
In the early 19th century, about 2 million African-Americans lived in the United States, of whom 200,000 were free persons. In 1816, Robert Finley established the American Colonization Society (ACS), with the goal of enabling former slaves to emigrate to Africa and establish a colony there. Although most enslaved and free blacks had been born in the United States, often for generations, some members of the ACS saw the goal as a kind of "repatriation" of blacks to Africa. The Society was supported by a paradoxical coalition of philanthropists, members of the clergy and abolitionists, and slaveholders. Those favoring abolition wanted to free enslaved blacks and provide them with the chance to go to Africa. The slaveholders feared the presence of free blacks in a slave society and wanted to expel them from the South and the United States.
Cary was among numerous free blacks who became interested in this movement. Most free blacks, however, as native to the United States, wanted no part of expatriation. Like those of European Americans, their roots were in the United States; they simply wanted to enjoy the rights of citizens and free people in the country where they had many ties.
Colony of Liberia 
By 1821, Cary had accumulated a sum to pay his own expenses as a member of the colony sent to the African coast. In cooperation with the First Baptist Church of Richmond, the American Baptist Foreign Missions Society, and the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society, of which he was a founder, Cary became the first black American missionary to Africa.
In the new colony of Liberia, Cary served the leadership as a counselor, physician, and pastor. His second wife died shortly after they arrived in Africa. In 1825, the New York Observer noted that he had, at Cape Mesurado, since lost a third wife, "the daughter of Richard Sampson, from Petersburg, Virginia. He established Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, and several schools. In 1826, he was elected vice-agent of the ACS.
Early life in the Colony of Liberia was full of danger. Native Africans resisted the colonization and expansion by the American settlers, which resulted in many armed conflicts between them. The colonists were also at risk of attack from slave traders, who would have sold them into slavery.
In August 1828, Cary became acting governor of Liberia. He had been designated the successor by the previous governor, who died. Later that year Cary's role in Liberia was cut short. He died on November 10, 1828, two days after an accident while making bullets. Expecting an attack by slave traders, Cary and other men were making bullet cartridges. An explosion of materials fatally injured Cary and seven of his companions.
Legacy and honors 
The remarkable story of Lott Cary has been inspiration for United States and Liberian school children. Despite starting life as a common slave in a rural county with few apparent opportunities, Cary became educated and industrious, bought his own freedom, became both a minister and a physician, and helped found a new nation.
- His mission and memory have been kept alive through the work of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, based in Washington, DC.
- Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2001.
- Lott Cary Road in Charles City County was named in his honor.
- The Lott Cary House is a designated state historical landmark. It is used as a private residence. Virginia historical marker, V27-Lott Cary Birthplace, notes the site at the intersection of Virginia State Highways 155 and 602. While little is left of the original 18th century house, and it appears the original is more likely Bowry's plantation house than a slave quarter home where Cary would have been born, the site is important as a landmark of the man and his achievements.
- The Board of Supervisors of neighboring James City County, Virginia declared March 21, 2001, to be "Lott Cary Day" in his honor.
See also 
- Ralph Randolph Gurley, "Sketch of the Life of Lott Cary", in Life of Jehudi Ashmun, Late Colonial Agent in Liberia. With An Appendix, Containing Extracts from his Journal and Other Writings; 1835, online at Documenting the South, University of North Carolina
- Liberia – "Liberia", Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)
- "History of Liberia", History of Nations
- "Cary, Lott". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
Added information from a biography of Lott Carey in the New York Observer of November 5, 1825.