LIFE AND TEXTS
The Life of John Marrant (1755-1791)
John Marrant was born free in New York and grew up in South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. He fell out with his family after converting to Methodism when he was thirteen. A year later, he was captured by a Cherokee band. According to his autobiography, he converted captors to Christianity. He remained with the Cherokees for two years before returning to his family.
During the American Revolutionary War, Marrant was possibly kidnapped or pressed into the Royal Navy. After the war, he lived in London, where he gained the patronage of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Christian abolitionist circle. In 1785, Marrant was ordained as a minister in England.
Shortly thereafter, he sailed to Nova Scotia, Canada, to serve Black Loyalist congregations. According to his journal, he also ministered to white and indigenous residents of the province. In 1787 he settled in Boston, where he married a year later. However, in 1789 or 1790 he returned to London, the last station of his life.
The Journal of John Marrant
Marrant’s journal is an autobiographical account of the five years that he spent in Canada. It was published in 1790 as A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, it presents a very detailed portrayal of 18th century black evangelism. The text focuses on Marrant’s travels through Nova Scotia where he preached to and baptized believers in Black, white, and indigenous communities. It therefore testifies not only to the physical hardships Marrant shared with the congregations he served, but also to people’s spiritual needs in a sparsely-settled British colony.
In his narrative, he describes religious rivalries among diverging branches of Methodism as well as his struggles to reach non-religious communities; this was probably because he needed to justify his activities to his white funders in England. Marrant also showcases his learning by meticulously listing the topics of his sermons, and bolsters his authority as a black missionary by pointing out how his prayers and sermons drew his audiences closer to God.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
There are several editions of Marrant’s journal and his autobiography. Scholarly editions are these:
- Marrant, John. A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, from August the 18th, l785, to the 16th of March, 1790. 1790. Face Zion Forward: First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785-1798. Ed. Joanna Brooks and John Saillant. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2002. 93-160.
- Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. Transcr. William Aldridge. 1785. Face Zion Forward: First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785-1798. Ed. Joanna Brooks and John Saillant. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2002. 47-75.
Online editions of the texts accessible for free are these:
- Marrant, John. A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, from August the 18th, 1785, to the 16th of March, 1790. State Library of Pennsylvania. http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/slpmiscella/id/450
- Marrant, John. John Marrant’s Narrative. 1785. Canada’s Digital Collections: Black Loyalists Digital Collection. Ottawa: Industry Canada, 1996-2004. Marrant_Narrative
Selected Research Literature
- Andrews, Edward E. Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2013.
- Brooks, Joanna. American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
- Siemerling, Winfried. The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2015.
ONLINE RESOURCES AND LINKS
Diary and Biography
- “John Marrant.” Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People. Canada’s Digital Collections. https://blackloyalist.com/cdc/people/religious/marrant.htm
- Walker, James W. St G. “Marrant, John.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 4. Toronto: University of Toronto / Université Laval, 2003. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marrant_john_4E.html
- In 1787, Marrant gave a sermon at Ragged Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. http://digitalcollections.powerlibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/slpmiscella/id/450
- In 1789, Marrant gave a sermon in Boston on the festival of St. John the Baptist, at the request of the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N17016.0001.001?view=toc