Thomas L. Johnson’s Passion for Africa

This is the day that … Thomas L. Johnson was ‘probably’ born, in 1836, in Virginia, USA.

His father was an octoroon (i.e. one-eighth negro) … and his mother a black slave. Thomas was born into slavery. His master refused to sell Thomas and his mother to Thomas’ father, so he spent 28 years as a slave.

It was 21 years later that revival fires swept through Virginia, great camp meetings were held, and thousands professed conversion. Among them were Thomas and his mother.

In 1863 he married Henrietta Thompson. The Civil War resulted in his Emancipation, and he pastored a small black congregation in Denver, Colorado, where he even preached some of Spurgeon’s sermons! His passion was to be a missionary to Africa and so that led him, in his 40’s to London – a student in Spurgeon’s College. And on 6 November, 1877, he and his wife sailed as missionaries to Africa.

In a village in Fernando, Poo Johnson preached the gospel. The tribal king was converted. “Soon nakedness, violence, ignorance and indifference to the Sabbath began to disappear” (Evangelical Times, February, 1988).

Mrs Johnson died in June, 1879, and a sick Thomas Johnson found it needful to be carried 80 miles to the coast.

Back in America he re-married … and was nominated as U.S. Consul to Liberia. In 1892 he released the sixth edition of his autobiography, which he titled “Africa for Christ, 28 Years a Slave”. This title celebrated his passion for mission endeavour in Africa.

“He continued to serve the Lord into his 70’s, speaking about Africa and conducting evangelistic missions in many churches,” in America and Europe.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at

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