Memoirs of Boston King, A Black Preacher
Autobiographical memoir of Boston King, a fugitive slave from South Carolina who became a teacher and minister in Sierra Leone, serialized in 1798 in The Methodist Magazine. A reading performance by Prof. Neal Lester and a Teaching Guide accompany this digital edition.
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- Teaching Guide to Boston King's Memoirs (PDF), Joe Lockard
Boston King’s Memoirs, published in The Methodist Magazine in four installments during 1798, represent an eighteenth-century historical and spiritual travelogue through North America and to Africa. It is one of a handful of African American slave narratives to emerge from the late eighteenth century, and is notable for being a transatlantic autobiography involving King’s eventual residence in Sierra Leone as a Methodist missionary.
The story that King tells is especially unusual in that it does not conform to histories that describe the American Revolution as a story of freedom: Boston King gained his freedom by running away from his master and fighting for the British. The American revolutionaries were a threat to King’s hard-won freedom, especially when the surrendering British evacuated New York City in 1783. Along with thousands more black refugees, to avoid re-enslavement King accepted a British offer of ship transport and resettlement in Nova Scotia.
King was a profoundly devout man; after initial resistance towards and rejection of religious faith, he became deeply involved in the intense devotion that characterized the black communities of Nova Scotia. He converted to Methodism and this narrative testifies to his spiritual struggles during that process. To support himself and his wife, King worked as a fisherman, carpenter, and general laborer while living in Birchtown, then the largest free black settlement in North America. He became a church leader and assumed pastoral responsibility for a small congregation.
Many of the resettled ex-slaves and ‘Black Loyalists’ were disappointed with their new lives in Nova Scotia, which were characterized by poverty, hunger, cold, and anti-black racism. When British reformers, with government support, organized the Sierra Leone Company to establish a new colony as a colonization project for former slaves, the black communities of Nova Scotia readily responded to recruitment promises. Because the communities were so intensely church-based, entire congregations left together. In 1792, a flotilla of 15 ships carried nearly 2,000 emigrants to Africa.
King’s wife took ill and died from fever shortly after their arrival in Sierra Leone, as did many new settlers. King worked for the Company and taught native Africans in his available time. In 1794 the Sierra Leone Company proposed to send him to England to improve his education so that he could return as a teacher, and King spent two years at a Methodist school in Bristol. Upon his return, he spent the remaining six years of his life as a Company agent and school-teacher in Sierra Leone, where he died together with his second wife in 1802.
- Joe Lockard