By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey

By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey

by Erskine Clarke

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In early November 1834, an aristocratic young couple from Savannah and South Carolina sailed from New York and began a strange seventeen year odyssey in West Africa. Leighton and Jane Wilson sailed along what was for them an exotic coastline, visited cities and villages, and sometimes ventured up great rivers and followed ancient paths. Along the way they encountered not only many diverse landscapes, peoples, and cultures, but also many individuals on their own odysseys -- including Paul Sansay, a former slave from Savannah; Mworeh Mah, a brilliant Grebo leader, and his beautiful daughter, Mary Clealand, at Cape Palmas; and King Glass and the wise and humorous Toko in Gabon. Leighton and Jane Wilson had freed their inherited slaves, and were to become the most influential American missionaries in West Africa during the first half of the nineteenth century. While Jane established schools, Leighton fought the international slave trade and the imperialism of colonization. He translated portions of the Bible into Grebo and Mpongwe and thereby helped to lay the foundation for the emergence of an indigenous African Christianity.

The Wilsons returned to New York because of ill health, but their odyssey was not over. Living in the booming American metropolis, the Wilsons welcomed into their handsome home visitors from around the world as they worked for the rapidly expanding Protestant mission movement. As the Civil War approached, however, they heard the siren voice of their Southern homeland calling from deep within their memories. They sought to resist its seductions, but the call became more insistent and, finally, irresistible. In spite of their years of fighting slavery, they gave themselves to a history and a people committed to maintaining slavery and its deep oppression -- both an act of deep love for a place and people, and the desertion of a moral vision.

A sweeping transatlantic story of good intentions and bitter consequences, By the Rivers of Water reveals two distant worlds linked by deep faiths.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465037698
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 488
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Erskine Clarke is Professor Emeritus of American Religious History at Columbia Theological Seminary and author of Dwelling Place, Wrestlin' Jacob, and Our Southern Zion. The recipient of Columbia University's Bancroft Prize for Dwelling Place, as well as many other awards, he has served as a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall College, University of Cambridge, and has lectured at Yale University, the University of Virginia, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Queens College, University of London.

Table of Contents

Maps ix

Preface xix

Part I Starting Places

1 A Slave's World 3

2 Many Mansions 22

3 A Black River Home 35

4 A Place Seen from Afar 54

Part II Journey to a West African Cape

5 Testing the Waters 71

6 Fair Hope Among the Grebo 87

7 Beneath an African Sky 105

8 Sorrows and Conflicts 130

9 The Bitter Cost of Freedom 147

10 Exploring Strange Worlds 159

11 The Conversion of William Davis (Mworeh Mah) 173

12 Rose-Tinted Glasses 191

13 "The Liberty of Choosing for Themselves" 209

Part III Life Among the Mpongwe

14 Toko and the Waterwitch 221

15 A Sophisticated, Hospitable, and Heathen People 236

16 Rainforest Lessons 253

17 The French: "The Most Dishonest and Shameless People" 266

18 Home Visit 276

19 "He Worships with Sincere Devotion the Customs of His Ancestors" 288

Part IV Homeward Journey

20 An Unsought and Unexpected Appointment 305

21 A Patriot's Choice 322

22 Civil War 338

23 Home Ground 347

24 Distant Voices 360

Epilogue 375

Acknowledgments 379

Notes 385

Index 435

Index of Names 443

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