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Scipio Africanus (fl.1739)

Scipio Africanus was a correspondent of William Seward (1703-40) who was a friend of George Whitefield and an active promoter of Methodism in Britain and Georgia. Seward write several times to Africanus during 1739, when Africanus was living in London, describing his experiences of travelling around the country in the Methodist cause.

The name Scipio Africanus and other internal evidence from the letters show beyond reasonable doubt that he was a black man. The tone and content of the letters suggest that he was either a slave of the Seward family, or more likely, a free servant. Seward refers several times to Africanus attending meetings of the early evangelical societies in the capital, although it is not clear if he could be regarded as a convert. There are unfortunately no extant letters from Africanus to Seward.

Africanus' connection with the evangelical movement is of symbolic significance even if his involvement was only peripheral, as it represents the earliest documented involvement of black people in the very beginnings of what became Methodism. The first surviving letter from Seward to Africanus was sent in February 1739 before John Wesley's first ventures into open-air preaching. It is a great pity that nothing further is known about this man outside of the William Seward correspondence from that year.

Source: William Seward Letter book (DDSe)

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