Daniel Coker

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Daniel Coker, African-American missionary to Sierra Leone, 1820

Daniel Coker (1780–1846), born Isaac Wright, was an African American of mixed race from Baltimore, Maryland who gained freedom from slavery and became a Methodist minister. He wrote one of the few pamphlets published in the South protesting slavery and supporting abolition.[1] In 1816 he helped found the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black denomination in the United States, at its first national convention in Philadelphia.

In 1820, Coker took his family and immigrated to the British colony of Sierra Leone, where he was the first Methodist missionary from a Western nation. There Coker founded the West Africa Methodist Church.[2] He and his descendants continued as leaders among what developed as the Creole people in Sierra Leone.

Early life[edit]

He was born enslaved as Isaac Wright, in 1780 in Baltimore, or Frederick County, Maryland, to Susan Coker, a white woman, and Daniel Wright, an enslaved African American.[3] Under a 1664 Maryland slave law, Wright was considered a slave as his father was enslaved.[4][5] (Another source said that his mother was an enslaved black and his father white.)[1]

Beginning in the colonial period, Maryland had added additional restrictions on unions between white women and black slaves. Under a 1692 Maryland law, white women who had children with slaves would be punished by being sold as indentured servants for seven years and binding their children to serve indentures until the age of twenty-one if the woman was married to the slave (although this was later prohibited by law), and until age thirty-one if she was not married to the father.[6][4][5] Growing up in a household with his white Coker half-brothers, Wright attended primary school with them as their valet.[3] A white half-brother was said to have refused to go to school without him.[2]

As a teenager, Wright escaped to New York. There he changed his name to Daniel Coker and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church.[3] Coker received a license to preach from Francis Asbury, a British missionary who had immigrated to the United States and planted numerous frontier churches during his career, as well as riding large circuits to minister to people.[5]

Coker returned to Baltimore. For a time he passed as his white half-brother. Friends finally helped purchase his freedom from his master, to secure his legal status. As a free black, he could teach at a local school for black children.[5] By this time, Baltimore was a center of a growing population of free blacks, generally free people of color, including a number manumitted after the Revolutionary War.

Methodist minister[edit]

In 1802, Francis Asbury ordained Coker as a deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He actively opposed slavery and wrote pamphlets in protest. In 1810, Coker wrote and published the pamphlet Dialogue between a Virginian and an African minister, described by historian and critic Dorothy Porter as resembling a "scholastic dialogue". [1] It is noted for its literary quality and because it was one of the few protest pamphlets "written and published in the slaveholding South."[1]

While working at Sharp Street Church, Coker began to advocate for black Methodists to withdraw from the white-dominated church. He founded the African Bethel Church, which later became known as Bethel A.M.E. Church.[3]

In 1816, Coker traveled to Philadelphia, where he represented his church and collaborated with Richard Allen in organizing the national African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was founded by several congregations as the first independent black denomination in the United States. Coker was elected as the first bishop by the delegates, but he deferred to Allen,[7] who had founded the first AME Church in Philadelphia. Coker represented Bethel A.M.E. Church (founded 1787/1797) in Baltimore.[8]

Emigration to Western Africa[edit]

Early in 1820,[9] Daniel Coker sailed for Africa on board the Elizabeth. He was among 86 African-American emigrants assisted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), who wanted to resettle free blacks in West Africa. The passengers on the Elizabeth were the first African-American settlers in what is now Liberia. (Their descendants developed as the Krio people.)

Coker was one of four AME missionaries on the Elizabeth. In transit and ten days from New York, he organized the first foreign branch of the AME Church.

The ACS planned to settle a colony at Sherbro Island, now within Sierra Leone, then a British colony. The newcomers were not used to the local diseases, and quickly became ill. The area was swampy, resulting in many mosquitoes that carried disease. All but one of the twelve white colonists and one-third of the African Americans died, including three of the four missionaries. Just before dying, the expedition's leader asked Coker to take charge of the venture. He helped the remaining colonists get through their despair and to survive.[10]

Coker led the group to seek another location on the mainland. He and his family settled in Hastings, Sierra Leone, a newly established village about 15 miles from Freetown and intended for Liberated Africans freed from illegal slave ships. It was one of several new villages developed by the Church Missionary Society, which was active in the colony.[11] Coker became the patriarch of a prominent Creole family, the Cokers. Coker's son, Daniel Coker Jr., became a leader in the town of Freetown.[12] The Coker descendants still reside in Freetown and are among the prominent Creole families. Other members of the expedition settled in what became Liberia.

Henry McNeal Turner in 1891 elaborated on Coker's achievements, writing,

"It would seem, from all I can learn, that Coker played a prominent part in the early settlement of Liberia. The first Methodist Church established here was the African M. E. Church; but by whom established I cannot say. Tradition says it was afterward sold out to the M. E. Church. Besides the probability of Rev. Daniel Coker's having established our church here, he also played a mighty part among the early settlers of Sierra Leone. His children and grandchildren are found there to-day."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Newman, R.; Rael, P.; Lapsansky, P., eds. (2001). "Chapter 3: Daniel Coker". Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature, 1790-1860. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-415-92443-6
  2. ^ a b Aaseng, Nathan (2003). "Coker, Daniel". African-American Religious Leaders: A-Z of African Americans. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing. p. 42, 43. ISBN 9781438107813
  3. ^ a b c d Logan, Rayford W.; Winston, Michael R., eds. (1982). Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: W. W. Norton.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Brackett, Jeffrey R. (1969). The Negro in Maryland (1889). Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries.
  5. ^ a b c d Thomas, Rhonnda (Fall 2007). "Exodus and Colonization: Charting the Journey in the Journals of Daniel Coker, a descendant of Africa". African American Review. 41 (3): 507–519.
  6. ^ Heinegg, Paul (2001). "Introduction". Free African Americans in Maryland and Delaware[Archives of Maryland, 13:546-49].
  7. ^ Cite error: The named reference thomas was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Lofton, Kathryn E. (2010). "Coker, Daniel". In Alexander, Leslie M.; Rucker, Walter C. (eds.). Encyclopedia of African American History. v. 2. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO , LLC. p. 341. ISBN 978-1-85109-774-6
  9. ^ Sources give late January or early February for Coker's departure.
  10. ^ Walston, Vaughn J.; Stevens, Robert J., eds. (2002). African-American Experience in World Mission: A Call Beyond Community, Volume 1. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library. p. 31. ISBN 0-87808-609-9.
  11. ^ Sidbury, James (2007). Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic (Google eBook). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-19-532010-7.
  12. ^ Dixon-Fyle, Mac; Cole, Gibril Raschid, eds. (2006). New Perspectives on the Sierra Leone Krio. American University Studies Series IX, History. Vol. 204. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 0-8204-7937-3.
  13. ^ Turner, Henry McNeal (December 7, 1891). "Thirteenth Letter". African Letters. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2012-05-26.


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