Samuel David Ferguson was born in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 1, 1842. He grew up in Liberia, West Africa, having moved there with his family at the age of 6. He attended mission schools that were sponsored by the Episcopal Church and eventually became a teacher.
Ferguson was ordained to the diaconate in 1865 and to the priesthood in 1867, serving first as curate and then as rector of St. Mark’s Church, Harper, Liberia.
Perhaps due to his own upbringing and his first vocation as a teacher, Ferguson emphasized the importance of education throughout his ministry. He was the founder of schools throughout Liberia and his passion for education influenced other parts of West Africa. His efforts at starting schools were supported through funds given by the Women’s Auxiliary [later to be the United Thank Offering (UTO) of the Episcopal Church Women] under the leadership of Julia Chester Emery.
Ferguson was called to be the fourth bishop of Cape Palmas, later the Diocese of Liberia, in 1885. His ordination to the episcopate took place at Grace Church in New York City. He was the first American-born black to become Bishop of Liberia. Although not the first Episcopal bishop of African-American heritage, he was the first to sit in the House of Bishops.
With the generous support of Robert Fulton Cutting, a wealthy New York financier who served for a time as the treasurer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, Bishop Ferguson founded Cuttington College in 1889. In addition to basic studies, theological, agricultural, and industrial education were emphasized. Ferguson believed that establishing a strong spiritual and educational foundation was the best way for Liberia’s young people to transform society. Although closed for two decades during the Liberian civil war, the college, now Cuttington University, continues to serve the people of Liberia thus fulfilling Bishop Ferguson’s vision.
Bishop Ferguson remained in Liberia for the rest of his life. He died in Monrovia on Aug. 2, 1916.
Almighty God, we bless you for moving your servant Samuel Ferguson to minister in Liberia, expanding the missionary vision of your Church in education and ministry. Stir up in us a zeal for your mission and a yearning for your holy Word; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
For those who don't know, Liberia was colonized by freed American slaves beginning in 1820 with the help of the American Colonization Society, a private organization that believed ex-slaves would have greater freedom and equality in Africa. (Slaves freed from slave ships were also sent there instead of being sent home.) In 1847, these colonists founded the Republic of Liberia, establishing a government modeled on that of the United States and naming the capital city Monrovia after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and a prominent supporter of the colonization.
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