(“Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May 2015, No. 124)
Kaboo the African Missionary
One of the most remarkable persons to grace the
region was an African male student born in 1873 who took the name Samuel Morris
when he came to the Fort Wayne in 1892. Here he entered the United
States to study to
become a missionary. Born in Fort Wayne Methodist
College , he was
known as Prince Kaboo from the tribe of Kru and had become a Methodist convert.
He was known to have a charming personality and a zealous religious vocation
that endeared him to his classmates quickly making him one of the best-liked
students at the college. However, Samuel
Morris became ill in 1893 and died. Prince Kaboo was so loved and respected
that his touching story of conversion, his enthusiasm for education and his
untimely death was widely told and attracted many new students who enrolled in
the Liberia . Methodist College
His life’s journey was a difficult one as well as one filled with discovery, great faith and charity. As the son of the tribal chief, Kaboo’s father had lost a battle with an opposing village. Following some ancient custom, the victorious chief demanded the defeated chief’s son to hold as a hostage until certain tributes were paid. The demands were unreasonable and virtually impossible to pay. Kaboo remained a prisoner and suffered difficult torturers including beatings with poisonous vines. He nearly lost his life even refusing to lessen his plight when the cruel master offered to exchange him for his sister.
One night after being severely beaten and passed out, he awoke to a bright light and heard a voice say, “rise and flee.” Confused and probably in pain and dazed, he ran off into the jungle. For days he moved through a vast and dangerous country, with no conception of where he might be but guided by a light. Lindley Baldwin writing Morris’ biography wrote, “Whether it was an external light or mental illumination that guided Kaboo, his pathway was made clear.” After experiencing one hazard after another, he stumbled onto a missionary camp the only important stronghold of civilized law.
Here he found refuge. Also, he was taught the English language and gradually learned he wanted to become a missionary. Subsequently, Kaboo’s name was changed when he was baptized as “Samuel Morris” a name chosen for him honoring a benefactor banker from
. Sammy was told he must go to Fort
Wayne, Indiana to
receive an education and was told to seek out Rev. Stephen Merritt in America . New York
Without funds Sammy somehow managed to reach the
. After an arduous ocean crossing, he found
Merritt, a wealthy soul, who took Sammy in, fed him and clothed him. Sammy
repaid Merritt by surprising him with his convictions and according to author
Baldwin, Sammy’s ability to communicate in a matter of fact tone never using
“oratorical tricks of professional revivalist.”
Shortly thereafter, Sammy was sent by train to United States to enroll at the Fort Wayne . President Thaddeus C. Reade was hesitant to
accept this poor, black boy, whose academic training had been sadly
neglected. The school was in severe
financial trouble facing closure, yet Dr. Reade enrolled Sammy. On the
following Sunday he told about Sammy who had arrived with no money and how he
had accepted him on faith. Although only a little was first collected it
spawned the idea of creating a “Samuel Morris Faith Fund” that continued to
grow. It is that fund with the infectious faith of Samuel Morris that made it
possible to move the school to Methodist College . Upland,
Although Sammy dreamed of returning to his homeland as a missionary, in January 1893, he caught a severe cold and later developed symptoms that could not be overcome. He told his friends “I am so happy. I have seen the angels. They are coming for me soon.” Admitted to
, On St. Joseph
Hospital May 12, 1893, a nun of the Poor
Handmaid of Jesus Christ, Sister Helen summoned Dr. Stemen who found Sammy had
died in his chair.
When Fort Wayne Methodist College closed in 1894 and moved to Upland to begin a new life as Taylor University, one of its first two buildings was named Samuel Morris Hall and nearby a reflecting pool with lifelike statues all commemorate the spirit of Prince Kaboo.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio.
106.3 FM and South Bend 95.7
FM. Enjoy his previously published
columns on the Ft. Wayne ’s blog, “Our
Stories,” at history centerfw.blogspot.com. History