THOMAS BIRCH FREEMAN

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Born in 1809
Thomas Birch Freeman was a Methodist missionary and colonial official in West Africa who worked as gardener & botanist for Sir Robert Harland at Orwell Park near Ipswich until dismissed for abandoning Anglicanism for Wesleyan Methodism. He was sent by God to West Africa, founding Methodist churches in the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nigeria. After resigning as a missionary in 1857, he was employed by the colonial government as civil commandant of Accra district from 1857 to 1873. What a great missionary to learn from. in October 1837, Thomas Birch was appointed as minister, on a trial basis, at Cape Coast. He had been ordained in Islington Chapel, London, on October 10, 1837. A few days later he married Elizabeth Boot, Sir Robert and Lady Harland’s housekeeper & sailed with her for Cape Coast on November 5, arriving on January 3, 1838. But Thomas fell ill and had to be nursed by his wife, who then died suddenly. Thomas recovered from his illness and from the blow of his wife’s death, and started work. 16 years later (in 1854), Freeman again visited Dahomey and Abeokuta, Nigeria & on his return home married an educated African woman who bore him 4 children. His wife helped him with his work, and he enlarged the Cape Coast church in 1855, and built 6 new churches in his district in 1856.
Freeman was the first Methodist missionary to arrive at Badagry in Nigeria on September 24, 1842, accompanied by William de Graft and his wife. They were permitted to establish a mission there, and had completed a mission house and chapel by the end of November, and William de Graft was put in charge. Thomas made friends with Captain George Maclean. British governor from 1830-43, who gave him encouragement. He also took advice from those who knew the country. He built the first Methodist Church at Cape Coast, opened on June 10, 1838. He trained two Fante youths, William de Graft and John Martin, for what was called the “native” ministry, since he himself was regarded as an Englishman. He made friends with several chiefs.” Between 1843 & 1854 Freeman tried to extend the work of both the mission in Ghana & that of Nigeria, thereby spent enormous sums on traveling and other items. He did not keep proper accounts, and ran a heavy deficit. A committee was set up by the Missionary body to examine and report on his financial administration. The report was adverse, and as a result Freeman wrote to the committee in England to ask to be relieved of his post as chairman and general superintendent of the mission. He left without bitterness, and promised to work for the mission in any capacity. But he had incurred a debt as a result of financial maladministration, and had to pay it. After his resignation, he therefore accepted the post of administrative and civil commandant of the Accra district between 1857 & 1858.
September 1, 1873 he returned to the service of the Methodist Mission, and worked for another 13 years before retiring.
He supervised the building of churches, held religious revival camp meetings, and made the church very popular in Fanteland. Among other things, he had to face opposition from a Muslim sect which came to the Fante area from Lagos, but neutralized its influence by opening a school in the area. He also opened a new chapel at Mankesim, and baptized several converts with the aid of his son, Thomas Birch Freeman Jr., who had also been ordained a Methodist minister.

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