his death in 1769. The haphazard nature of such careers was a fitting testament to the centuries of dogged effort to take Christianity into Bilad al-Sudan, 'land of the blacks', as Arab geographers called sub-Saharan Africa. By 1776, the year of the American Revolution, the missions across Africa had become marginal, weakened under the global strain of the slave trade. Saving souls had yielded to selling them.
Christian antislavery movements and the return of former slaves to Africa
Nevertheless, change was afoot, thanks in large part to the unforeseen and far-reaching consequences of the American Revolution. It is relevant to the story of Christianity in modern Africa to point out that what became the United States contained the largest population of Africans anywhere outside Africa. The vast majority of these Africans were slaves, some 700,000 by 1790, with an additional 59,000 free Africans. Antislavery sentiments acquired a new urgency in the context of the anti-colonial politics of the Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. Many of the leading voices for independence from Britain expressed similar objections to the continuation of slavery on American soil. The first antislavery society was founded in 1775 in Philadelphia, and in 1785 Benjamin Franklin became its president. Franklin joined the emancipation of slaves to the national cause of political independence, vowing, for example, to boycott sugar because it was dyed with the blood of slave labour. A related motive in such ideas of boycott was undoubtedly the attack on the economic interests of the plantation system on which Britain's colonial power was based. The political and economic basis of antislavery agitation connected with the Second Great Awakening that from the 1790s swept the American colonies and drew in throngs of African converts. It was an eventful connection with long-range ramifications for the course of the history of Christianity in Africa. The evangelical awakening brought about an African mass movement in Christianity that was the first of any such movement among non-European populations, and in scale and effectiveness it went beyond anything that had impacted Africa, before or since.
Long before the American Revolution there had been a movement among New England puritans to suppress the slave trade. In 1640 in the Puritan colony of Massachusetts a slave captain had been arrested and his slave cargo confiscated and ordered to return to Africa at the colony's expense. When later the slave trade gained enough support that it could defy Puritan strictures, it was justified on grounds of economic expedience, not on religion.3 In 1773,
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