April 15, 2019
John got up off his knees as the guard approached his door. His endless fervent praying throughout the night led him to feel the very presence of Jesus with him, similar as to Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. John believed he would not escape his execution as those young men had. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason, but God was conducting the concert of his life.
A son of free black parents, John Marrant was born in the colony of New York on June 15, 1755. Following his father’s death four years later, the family moved to St. Augustine in Spanish Florida, where John learned to read and write in school. After 18 months, the family settled in South Carolina when John was 11 years old.
Desiring for her son to learn a trade, John’s mother sent him to live with his sister in Charles Town (Charlestown), where he would be apprenticed to a master craftsman. As John passed a school one day, he was seized by the sounds of music and dancing flowing from the building. He raced home to inform his sister of his new yearning to become a musician. Unable to persuade her brother away from his new aspiration, she wrote to her mother about the situation.
John’s mother arrived determined to change his mind, yet to no avail. Defeated, John’s mother accompanied him to the school where an arrangement was made for him to study at the facility for 18 months. From the moment a violin was placed in his hands, John realized he made the right choice. Within a year, John not only mastered the violin, but dancing and the french horn as well. News of his talent quickly spread as his presence was requested at balls and assemblies all throughout town. By thirteen, John was earning very good money. However, the atmosphere also enveloped the young boy in sin and pleasure. John was not born into slavery, but he now was “a slave to every vice suited to my nature and to my years.”
Following his time at the school, John arranged to learn a trade, yet the town continued to call on him for his music. On his way to an engagement one night, he and a companion stumbled upon a meeting house filled with people. Being informed a crazy man was inside hallooing, or shouting to gather people's attention, John decided to go in. His friend agreed to go with him on one condition, if he would "Blow the French horn among them.” Amused by the proposal, John agreed unknowing he was about to have the fear of God thrust upon him by one of the most prominent preachers of the time.
As John was preparing his horn to disrupt the meeting, evangelist Rev. George Whitefield turned around, pointed directly at John, and shouted, “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” (see ) Immediately collapsing on the floor, John was incapacitated for a half hour. Upon his revival, he was taken to the vestry where Whitefield came to see him after the meeting stating, “Jesus Christ has got thee at last.”
For several days, John remained ill at his sister's house unable to eat, with only a little water sustaining him. After returning from a short trip out of town, Whitefield visited John, praying earnestly over the boy several times, refusing to give up. During the third prayer, John felt the weight of his sin leave his body, responding in shouts of joy and praise. Replacing his violin and French horn with reading the Bible, John refused to play even at the request of his sister. Little did he know, he was now an instrument of God.
John’s sister could not understand his changed spirit, so he soon left her home to return to his mother. However, his family there did not respond well to his conversion either. Fortunately, the persecution from his friends and family only increased his grace. He sought solace in the fields, spending every lightened hour there. At times he struggled with continuing his walk with God or returning to his vices, yet most moments were spent in praise and worship of Christ Jesus. One day he walked out of his mother's house with his Bible and Dr. Watts' Hymnal resolved not to return. (see)
For nearly two weeks, John stumbled through the land, sustaining himself on grass and water the Lord provided him, all the while asking God to deliver him from this earth. Over 55 miles from home, he encountered an Indian hunter, who he traveled with for two and a half months, hunting deer and preparing deer skin. During this time, John also gained an understanding of the Cherokee language.
The hunter persuaded John to accompany him back to his village, which John reluctantly agreed, and was promptly seized and sentenced to death upon his arrival. Scheduled for execution the next afternoon, John spent the night in prayer and praise. John's cries to the Lord Jesus during these events peaked the interests of the natives, causing them to inquire about who he was talking too. With each question, John witnessed of his Savior.
At the time set for his execution, John was informed of the slow and inhuman method they were to use. "The executioner showed me a basket of turpentine wood, stuck full of small pieces, like skewed; he told me I was to be stripped naked, and laid down in the basket, and these sharp pegs were to be stuck into me, and then set on fire, and when they had burnt to my body, I was to be turned on the other side, and served in the same manner, and then to be taken by four men and thrown into the flame, which was to finish the execution."
Through his tears, the young 13-year-old asked for a time to pray, requesting they all join him. While on his knees baring his soul and remembering Daniel and the three young men God saved from the furnace, John felt on overwhelming urge to speak in the native's tongue. Several listeners were moved by John's words, including the executioner, who called off the punishment and took John to see the Cherokee king.
Before the king, John witnessed again to the multitude, reading them Isaiah 53 and Matthew 26. John eventually changed the king's heart, earning his respect and affection. Treated like a prince, John wanted for nothing as he continued to share the Gospel with the Cherokee. After roughly two months, he had mastered the Indian language and began journeys to visit and minister to the Creek, Catawar, and Housaw tribes. (see )
Puritan Calvinists organized in 1636 to establish Harvard College for the specific purpose of training clergy to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the New World. Likewise, the Church of Virginia established the College of William and Mary in 1693 “that the Christian religion may be propagated among the Western Indians to the glory of Almighty God.” (see ) Harry Hoosier, a black evangelist right after the Revolutionary War, was highly revered and followed by blacks and whites alike. (see ) Yet John Marrant was the first black evangelist among the Native Americans.
After a short time, John decided to return home, a desire he had not had for quite a while. However, when he arrived in all native garb, not even his only family recognized him. As he sat in his mother's living room while family and friends gathered to see who this stranger was, John learned his mother's health had not been well since bones were found in the fields believed to be John's. His little sister finally arrived home and persisted that the stranger was her lost brother. Upon asking him outright if he was John, the two collapsed in each other's arms as the others rejoiced that John was alive.
John continued with his family and hearing the word of God and preaching it to slaves until the outbreak of the American Revolution. The British impressed him into the Royal Navy as a musician where he served for just shy of seven years. During this time, his faith and vigor for the Lord dimmed. While in a terrific storm at sea, John cried out to the Lord for salvation. Upon receiving it, his life was renewed to once again embrace the Gospel.
Wounds he received during battle eventually forced his withdrawal from the Navy. John was discharged in London where he found work with a merchant. During his three years there, his heart called him to the ministry. John reconnected with Whitefield, who introduced him to one of his parishioners, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. Lady Hastings’ life was devoted to mission work, building multiple churches, a hospital, a college, and financing missionaries, especially in the New World. She also funded the printing of Phillis Wheatley’s first book in 1773, making her the first black American woman to be published. (see )
In 1782, John began studying with a minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, a Calvinist sect within the Methodist church. Following the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the American Revolution, blacks who fought for the British as well as escaped slaves, headed towards Nova Scotia and other British areas to escape slavery. When the war started, the British offered freedom to any slave who came to fight for them, recording their names in The Book of Negroes. This was done to not only increase their fighting force, but to harm American industry that relied heavily on slave labor, especially in the South. (see & ) Likewise, Nova Scotians who supported the revolution and fought for the colonists traveled southward to the states where they were promised land for their help in winning freedom. (see )
In correspondence between John and his brother, John was asked to join him in Canada where a group of Black Loyalists resided to minister to them. Upon learning of the request, Lady Hastings believed it was Divine Providence calling him. (see ) She had John ordained a minister in Bath on May 15, 1785, and sent to Nova Scotia. Before leaving, John wrote A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black, (Now Going To Preach the Gospel in Nova Scotia) Born in New York, In North-America, of which Lady Hastings helped publish.
In August, he set out for the town of Birchtown, Nova Scotia, for a three-year mission. His mission field consisted not only of blacks, but poor whites and Micmac Indians as well. During his time in Birchtown, John founded a church, organized a school, and appointed several pastoral assistants. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave in January of 1788 due to illness and depleted funds, as an ailing Lady Hastings was unable to provide assistance.
John traveled to Boston, where he was introduced to Prince Hall a year later. So impressed by John, Hall made him a chaplain in his Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons. Due to Hall’s work with the organization, and Elizabeth “Mum” Bett’s victory in winning her freedom in 1781, slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1788. (see ) Hall appointed John the sermon for St. John the Baptistʼs Day, on June 24, 1789, while assigning to white masons to print and distribute the address, his second published work.
From the time he left London for Nova Scotia until he returned in 1790, John kept a journal of his activity entitled A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, from August the 18th, 1785, to the 16th of March, 1790. It is comprised of his preaching and missionary endeavors, especially around Halifax. John died a year later at the age of thirty-five on April 15, 1791, in London where he was laid to rest.
Very little is known about John Marrant outside of his three publications. His Narrative, which received 17 printings, is by far the most popular and the most informative. While many criticize it as being too incredible to be truthful, to automatically assume that would be to deny God's awesomeness. One historian laments that John did not talk about his race, instead being “blindly intent on bearing witness to the Christian World.” This statement actually says more about the commentator than it does John. As an egalitarian, John believed everyone is equal, deserving the same rights and opportunities, therefore race was irrelevant for him and entirely consistent of his ministry. If only we all could be so color-blind and focused on the Word of God today. Unfortunately, it also resulted in him being omitted from early Negro biographies, collections, and abolitionist references.
The New York City Inspection Roll of Negroes, or The Book of Negroes, records a Melia Marrant and two children as slaves of John. Most historians surmise they were family members of John, with Melia either a wife or sister. The designation may have been used to protect the individuals and not the true description of their connection. John’s only marriage was recorded in Nova Scotia in 1788 to an Elizabeth Herries.
Liberty, John was a musician proud to blow his own horn. However, God called him to be a clarion for the Lord. Throughout history God has used the most unlikely people to be His witnesses as they can reach people and events you can't plan. Age, gender, and depths of personal sin do not hinder God. In fact, they may be the reason he chooses people as his instruments. God needs us all playing our part to bring the whole orchestra together. Therefore, make sure you are always ready and in tune when God calls.
That’s my 2 cents.
INSTRUMENT OF GOD