Chief Sam and the "Back to Africa" movement

The following is excerpted from Shirley Nelson's Fair, Clear & Terrible.  It is an anecdotal sidelight in the history of the Kingdom, providing a touch of humor as well as insight into a quirky part of the Shiloh story.  It is a section of history we, the editors of ths site, probably would not have bothered to include had we not been made aware of Frank Murray's alluding to it by way of a defense regarding the failure of the 1911 West African mission endeavor in a letter written to Downeast magazine in 1974. 

"Unexpected difficulties turned aside the African venture (in 1910, Ed.) for the time being . . . Frank Murray then adds parenthetically (it was resumed in 1914)."

We therefore, in the interest of keeping the record straight, have chosen to provide some of the detail to the "resumed African venture" alluded to above   The story is also described in William Hiss's dissertation, together with this citation: The Longest Way Home: Chief Alfred C. Sam's Back to Africa Movement   by W.E. Bittle and G. Geise, Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1964

"Yet, in this period of frailty and withdrawal, the Kingdom's thinking was more than ever worldwide. It still expected to embody the wards of Isaiah: "And nations shall come to you for light, and Kings to the brightness of your rising." In the spring of 1914 that seemed to be happening. The "king" was Chief Alfred C. Sam of West Africa.  Chief Sam claimed to be the successor to the "throne" of a tribe on the Gold Coast.   He had been converted by a former Shiloh student, Joseph Taylor, a member of the Fanti tribe who had returned to Africa in 1901 as a missionary.  Chief Sam had visited Durham in 1911 and had been baptized by Willard Gleason in the Androscoggin. Now, three years later, he had come back with twenty new followers, seeking Shiloh's help.

One day on the Coronet off the coast of Africa, Sandford had prayed that an African chieftain might be saved and lead his whole tribe to Christ, the initial step in the salvation of the entire continent.   Sam seemed a direct answer to that prayer.  His father, the chief of the tribe, had died and his people were begging Sam to return and claim the throne. Sam wanted Shiloh missionaries to go with him and minister to the tribe.  He had already raised the money and had bought a ship.  He had done this by establishing a back-to-Africa movement among the long exploited black share- croppers of the Southwest states.  For $25.00 each the investors were to be carried to the Gold Coast on an old Cuban steamer, which he had purchased and renamed the Liberia. Once in Africa, Sam promised, they would build factories and begin a native industry in mahogany and cocoa on the twenty square miles of land he claimed to own.

Sam's followers provided the hilltop with "unexpected diversion," in Arnold's words. [Ms. Nelson's father, Ed.] For three weeks they laughed and sang boisterously around the grounds. Their personnal habits were shocking, their language startling. They all but took over in the chapel with "lusty" song and testimony. It was as if Shiloh's own style of enthusiasm was being returned to them in this course reinterpretation of Holy Ghost fire.

Somehow they managed to feed them. In spite of himself, Arnold resented the testimony of one "well-padded" gentleman, who praised God with shout because he "felt so good." He might well "feel good," Arnold thought. "His stomach was full; mine was not."

On the third of June, 1914, when the Liberia steamed out of Portland Harbor headed for Galveston, where several hundred more passengers awaited, she was carrying twelve choice missionaries and sailors, from the Kingdom, including Willard Gleason, Lester McKenzie, Harry Whittom, Austin and Hama Perry, Herbert Jenkins (who had never given up the idea of going back to Africa), and Jean Dart.

Sandford's letters expresssd concern. Cultural differences, meant little. Here was another suspicious mixture of spiritual levels. The project struck him as "Satanic trickery," he said. But it was already too late.

"Capt. McKenzie is away--off--off--and I can see no reason why you all shouldn't blow far away in the same gale for you have no protection and no head and no obedience and no object or aim but to do as each little mind thinks best."

Perhaps McKenzie was doing as he had been taught so carefully - to find God's will with his heart, not his head. The ship arrived at Galveston on June 18, where hundreds of Sam's people "swarmed over it for days in riotous explosion of joy, drinking and smoking." While Sam went off to raise more money, the Shiloh group waited a full six weeks, fighting repeated attacks of dysentery.  Galveston's consistent temperature of 85 degrees, along with a matching humidity, turned the hold of the iron ship into a steam bath. Outside their quarters the Shiloh personnel faced hostile threats from some of the black passengers. The project seemed doomed.

It was the war in Europe which settled matters once and for all. By August 3, with transatlantic waters hiding German submarines, Sandford sent an unmistakable order from prison: Go home. It was one thing to sail around the Horn with a company of absolutely pure people; it was another to sail into the path of danger in the company of those whom God could not bless with safety. Hadn't they tried that before?

But it was weeks before the Kingdom people made it home, and by then one of their men had died of dysentery. The Liberia crossed the Atlantic without their help and reached Africa, to find Sam's throne long occupied by another and all promises shattered.

from Fair, Clear & Terrible by Shirley Nelson pp 356-358


On June 5, 1898 while en route to Jerusalem, FWS and Willard Gleason so journ for a two week period with the Bethel Mission in Liverpool, and while there hear a native African speak of missionary work along the Gold Coast. Below is an excerpt from Willard Gleason's journal re-published in the July 1 edition of "Tongues of Fire".  Is this, perhaps, the Kingdom's first "run-in" with the individual later recognized as Chief Sam, whose path crosses with the Kingdom again some 16 years later?

June 5. Attended the Bethel Mission again today.  Brother Sandford spoke with great blessing this morning to a very appreciative audience on "The Blood."  This afternoon we received a call from a young African who with his two brothers was sent to this country by their father to learn "the love of God", as he expressed it.   Their father is a chief of a native tribe on the gold coast in the west Africa.   In a former visit the young man said of his country "plenty, PLENTY GOLD but NO CHRIST."  "Plenty missionaries but MISSIONARIES WANT GOLD."  Shameful that a young African with his heart reaching out after God should have to give such a testimony concerning those sent among them to teach them of Christ, but really caring more for the African's gold than for his soul!  "O God, deliver Africa from missionaries whose hearts are filled with covetousness rather than the love of God for heathen souls. and send forth genuine men and women who will preach and live the Everlasting Gospel. Amen!"  Our hearts went out to the young man as he told us he wanted to study so as to go back to his native land and to tell his people about the love of God.  Who knows but the mantle of Sammy Morris, cut off so early in his walk with God is going to fall on this life and make him even an apostle to dark Africa?