Unfortunately, in recent years Black History Month has progressively drifted away from the earlier tradition of celebrating the incredible achievements of black Americans and honoring their courage. Instead, people are fed a steady diet of victimization, divisiveness, and racial tension. People are told that America is inherently and irreparably racist and that black Americans have largely never been able to achieve anything until very recently. The fact of the matter is, however, that from the earliest days of America this country has been home to amazing heroes of very diverse origins who have overcome incredible odds and paved the way for future generations to enjoy increasingly expanding freedoms.
In fact, back in the Revolutionary period there were hundreds of remarkable African American leaders who achieved extraordinary things. One of the many forgotten black American heroes from this period was a man named John Marrant. Born free in New York in 1755, his father died while John was young. When he was 11, his mother sent him to Charleston, South Carolina, to live with an older sister and learn a practical trade of some sort. However, upon Marrant’s arrival in Charleston he wrote that:
[I] passed by a school and heard music and dancing, which took my fancy very much; and I felt a strong inclination to learn the music. I went home and informed my sister that I would rather learn to play upon music than go to a trade.
By the time he turned 13, Marrant had become known as a virtuoso on the violin and French horn, being hired to perform all around the area. He was so successful that, by his own account, “I was a stranger to want, being supplied with as much money as I had any occasion for.”
His life took a dramatic change, however, when the famous minister from the First Great Awakening George Whitefield came to town on one of his ministry trips. One evening, Marrant was walking through town and noticed “a crazy man hallooing” in a large meeting house and decided to take his French horn and “blow [it] among them” as a joke. He went inside and just as Marrant was going to sound the horn, Whitefield whirled around, pointed at the young boy, and declared, “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” [Amos 4:12]. Marrant was stricken and fell over unable to move for the rest of the service.
Marrant was moved to a house and Whitefield sent another minister to check in on him. This local pastor came and prayed over Marrant, eventually leading him to convert to Christianity. This radically changed the course of his life. His own family practically kicked him out because of his faith and so Marrant ran away to the nearby forest. He soon met and befriended a Cherokee warrior, and the two spent 10 weeks hunting together while Marrant learned to speak Cherokee.
Eventually, the warrior invited Marrant to come back with him to the rest of the tribe. However, when they arrived Marrant was immediately made a prisoner and sentenced to death because that tribe had determined that any outsider to the camp would be killed. Right before his execution Marrant fell to his knees and began powerfully praying to God for deliverance. His prayers were answered when not only the executioner, but also the chief’s daughter, and even the chief himself experienced a radical conversion to the Christian religion. Marrant explained that, “the Lord made all my enemies become my great friends.”
The chieftain asked Marrant to stay among the tribe and teach them more perfectly the way of Christianity and then assigned some 50 of their best warriors to accompany the young evangelist to neighboring tribes to share the gospel with them too. Therefore, Marrant at the age of 14 became one of, if not the first, African Americans to successfully evangelize among the American Indians. After returning to English society Marrant continued to study the Bible and began preaching to the slaves in the Charleston area. The rest of his life was filled with many adventures including being forced to serve in the British navy during the Revolutionary War and writing one of the most successful autobiographies in early American history. This Black History Month don’t fall prey to the narrative of modern progressives or woke professors but instead learn about some of these forgotten heroes such as the incredible John Marrant.
Timothy Barton is the President of WallBuilders, the national organization with the world’s largest private collection of America’s founding documents and artifacts.