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Knox Missionaries: Barnabas Root
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TitleKnox Missionaries: Barnabas Root
DescriptionAn entry about Barnabas Root (1847-1877) in "Knox Missionaries, " a pamphlet prepared by Jessie R. Holmes and privately printed at Knox College (Galesburg, Ill.). Barnabas Root was a member of the Sherbro cultural group in what is now known as Sierra Leone in West Africa. He was brought to the United States in 1859 by American missionaries; he later studied at and was graduated from Knox College in 1870.
Named PersonRoot, Barnabas; Yahny, Fahma;
AuthorHolmes, Jessie R.;
Time Period1900s
Date Created (original)1901
IdentifierStudent Series - General - Missionaries
CollectionStruggle and Progress-African Americans in Knox County, Illinois (Knox College)
TranscriptKnox Missionaries. 23


Former name Fahma Yahny, a native of Sherbro, Africa,
the seat of the Mendi Mission. His mother's uncle was king
of Sherbro; maternal grandfather born in America and of
the first company sent out by the Colonization Society. At
seven years of age (1854) admitted to Good Hope station
by D. W. Burton; came to America in 1859 with Rev. John
White; returned to Africa; brought back by C. F. Winship
in 1863; graduated from Knox in 1870; graduated from
Chicago Theological Seminary in 1873; ordained in 1874;
died June 10, 1877.
It was in 1854 that Barnabas Root was first admitted to
the school connected with the Mendi Mission, a mission of
the American Missionary Association. He was the son of
the chief of one of the tribes of Western Africa, and at
that time was about six years old. Five years later he came
to America with Rev. John White to assist him in the con­
tinuance of his study of the Sherbro language. There were
many, both in the East and in the West, who remember
the interest created at that time by this bright African boy,
who sang hymns in Mendi and in English, and astonished
the elders by his wonderful answers to Biblical questions
and his apt and accurate scripture quotations, till he drew
forth the exclamation, "That boy knows the Bible clean
through !"
Returning to Africa, he went on with his studies, joined
the Mission Church, acted as interpreter for the mission
until in 1863, when he came again to America, this time
with the determination to study for the ministry. He was
graduated at Knox College, Galesburg, Ill., in 1870, and at
the Theological Seminary, Chicago, in 1873. In both these
institutions he won the affection of classmates and teachers
in an unusual degree and gained a fine reputation for schol­
arship, so that at the graduating exercises of the Seminary,

24 Knox M issionaries.

he was one of six, out of a class of twenty-one, chosen to
deliver orations; and a report in the "Advance" said: "The
oration which showed the most thought and the finest cul­
ture was by a native of Africa, Mr. Barnabas Root, who
was brought to this country when a young boy by one of
our missionaries. "
But one thing even then cast a shadow over his fair
prospects and saddened the hearts of his many friends. A
throat difficulty, which gave signs of being permanent,
hindered him much from public speaking. It was hoped
that a return to the land of his birth might arrest the dis­
ease and enable him to carry out his long cherished plan of
preaching the Gospel to his own people. With this in
view, in November, 1874, he was publicly examined in the
Broadway Tabernacle Church, New York, Rev. Dr. Taylor
preaching the sermon. His examination was very satisfac­
tory, so much so that Dr. Taylor remarked that he had never
heard a candidate acquit himself more creditably.
Obeying the command of the text "Go home to thy
friends and tell them how great things the Lord has done
for thee, " he entered upon the work in Africa with great zeal. Visiting his relatives, a site was given him for a house.
Upon this he built a school house and established the
Debia School. He preached as he was able, guided the
school work, and gave the rest of his time to the revision
of a Mendi dictionary, and to the translation of the Scrip­
tures. For a time his health improved, afterwards the sure
signs of consumption were visible. Longer than he should,
he kept at his work, and only a short time before his death
did he lay down his pen. Of his last hours we have but
brief record. He was taken alarmingly ill on the 3rd of
June. He died on the 10th of June, 1877. He was buried
in the Mission graveyard at Good Hope. We sadly think
of the work left undone, that added years and stronger con­
stitution might have accomplished, but "We know not."

Knox Missionaries. 25

The simple words of our precious Gospel, put into Mendi,
by one weak in body but strong in heart, and left on printed
sheet as a touching memorial, may reach farther and pen­
etrate deeper than could ever have done the living voice.
--From the American Missionary of 1877·

"Barnabas Root was named in honor of a large ben­
efactor of the American Missionary Association from
Connecticut. "
--Mrs. Ruth P. Bascom.

"His mother, who is fond of him, is a worshipper of
heathen gods and is clad in native costume. She feared at
one time that the people in this country had made a savory
meal upon her dear boy, but a present from him reassured
her that the Christians had spared her son."
--Mrs. Swift's Scrap Book, 1870.
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