The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion has just 23 churches in the UK, so people are surprised to learn of a Connexion overseas – in the West African state of Sierra Leone. Sadly, in recent years Sierra Leone has been in the news for reasons other than Christian witness – such as military coups, poverty, atrocities by rebels and misuse of mineral resources.
In September 1996, a plaque was dedicated in Westminster Abbey inscribed, ‘Thomas Clarkson, a Friend of slaves.’ At 150 years after his death this was a belated recognition of the prime-mover behind the abolition of slavery. Not Wiberforce, Macaulay or Granville Sharp: Thomas Clarkson was the biggest force and he devoted his life to the cause.
Of greater significance to the Connexion in his brother John, who assisted Thomas. John Clarkson worked for the rights of Black Loyalists who were settled in Nova Scotia at the end of the American War of Independence. They had fought with the British and were promised their freedom and lands. As John Clarkson campaigned for them, he attended their services: Methodist, Baptist and Humtingdonian.
The Huntingdonians were led by John Marrant, who was converted under George Whitefield of Charleston, wounded in the American War and discharged in London. Hearing of the lack of Christian leaders in Nova Scotia he asked the Countess to arrange his ordination (Bath 1785) and ministered there.
The settlers were discontented with the lack of land, the climate and local discrimination, and John Clarkson arranged to escort a group of 1196 volunteers, one third of the black population, to a new life in Sierra Leone, where they arrived in March, 1792.
John Clarkson became the country’s first Governor, and the Huntingdonians established churches and took root. fter 200 years of growth, the number of churches has risen from 12 to 18 in recent years. They are all situated in the penisula area near to the coast.
By Kenneth B. Stone, taken from ‘Voice’, the magazine of the Connexion, December 1996, originally entitled ‘The Countess of Huntingdon’.