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Biography of Daniel Coker

In view of conditions associated with human slavery it is not at all strange that definite data with respect to the birth of a number of colored men, who afterwards became distinguished, is most difficult to obtain. However, there can scarcely be any doubt that Daniel Coker was born in Frederick County, Maryland during the latter part of the eighteenth century. He was on hand in sufficient time to be identified with the very ''fathers of Methodism," in this country. It so happened that a widowed white woman, Susan Coker, having already a son by her first husband, took for her second husband a colored slave. From this "union there was born a colored boy, who was known, for a long while, as "Isaac Wright." There grew up an affectionate fondness between the white and the colored boy, half-brothers. The white son of Susan Coker positively refused to go to school unless Isaac accompanied, him.

So Isaac had to go as his "valet." In the long run, Isaac got more out of the schooling than his white half-brother. Isaac was very studious, and wonderfully improved the opportunity. He mastered the higher branches, as well as the classics. As a result of this remarkable achievement Isaac became a little seminary of learning in himself. He ran off and got to New York. He soon came into contact with Bishop Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In course of time, Bishop Asbury ordained him. Aft spending some time in New York, he finally made up his mind to come to Baltimore. But, in the eyes of the lay of Maryland he was still a slave. He kept in secret in Baltimore until friends had raised sufficient money with which to purchase his freedom. With freedom came creased activity and boldness. For a long while he taught school in connection with Sharp St. Church. His school increased from a few pupils, when he began, until it reached more than one hundred and fifty previous to his closing of the same. While in this work he became the author of a financial plan which raised a considerable sum for Sharp St. Church. He educated a score of the best educated colored men of that early day, conspicuous among the number was the Rev. William Douglass, afterwards rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Philadelphia. But, his real work, that by which his name will be perpetuated, was the organization of "Bethel African Church" Baltimore, and, later, the conspicuous part he took in the organization of the connection of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816.

It was upon the advice and encouragement of Daniel Coker that a number of persons drew out of Sharp St Church, and under his direction, organized "Bethel." But we should have stated that when he ran away to New York in order to evade slave-hunters, and being returned into slavery, he discarded the name of ''Isaac Wright" and assumed that of Daniel Coker. By this he was ever afterwards known. When the 16 persons assembled in April, 1816, in the city of Philadelphia to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Daniel Coker was the "brain" of that historic convention. All the rest were, practically, illiterate Coker had the distinction of being the first colored man ever elected as a Bishop in America. He was elected Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church immediately following its formation. But, the next day he declined the election, and Richard Allen was thereupon elected to the same office. While Coker was a brainy man, there was hardly a comparison of him with Richard Allen along the line of piety and strong character. As far back as 1810 Daniel Coker published, in the city of Baltimore, a booklet on the Slavery Question. The title page runs in the following language:

A Dialogue between a Virginian and an African Minister

Written by the Rev. Daniel Coker, a Descendent of Africa, Minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Humbly Dedicated to the People of Color in the United States of America.

This little volume contains about forty-three pages. After the slavery argument is finished, the writer gives a ''List of the Names of African Local Preachers" at that time in the United States. The author also informs us that the number of African Methodists in the United States at that period was 31,881.

Dr. Martin R. Delaney gives Coker the credit for originating the plan followed later by Garrison in the Abolition Movement.

In 1820, Daniel Coker left the country, among the first band of emigrants, to find a home and untrammeled freedom in Africa. In one of the early epistles coming from Liberia, Daniel Coker writes: ''We have met trials; we are but a handful; our provisions are running low; we are in a strange, heathen land; we have not heard from America and know not whether provisions or people will be sent out yet thank the Lord, my confidence is strong in the veracity of his promises. Tell my brethren to come; fear not; this land is good; it only wants men to possess it. I have opened a little Sabbath-school for native children. Oh, it would do your hearts good to see the little naked sons of Africa around me. Tell the Colored People to come up to the help of the Lord. Let nothing discourage the Society or the Colored People."

Upon the death of the regular officer of the colonists, Mr. Coker was in charge of affairs. Sometime after he had given up this work, he emigrated from Liberia to the British colony of Sierra Leon. There he planted a church; and reared a family. The late Bishop Payne says:

"The building in which his congregation worshiped is still (in 1852) standing; it is built of stone, and is one of the largest in the city of Freetown. Besides the pulpit is a tablet bearing a memorial of his life and death. Two of his sons grew up to manhood. One of them became a successful trader with the natives of the interior, and at his death endowed his father's church; the other was living as late as 1861, and was then inspector of police at Sierra Leon."

 Maryland Biographies | Maryland AHGP

Source: Gazetteer of Maryland, by Henry Gannett, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904.

 

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