north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     Andrew J. Cartwright (1835-1903) was a religious leader who worked to establish African American churches in northeastern North Carolina. As agent of the American Colonization Society, he also became the first foreign missionary to Liberia. Cartwright was born in northeastern North Carolina (probably in Elizabeth City) under circumstances that remain unclear. He may have been born a slave. As a young man, however, he learned to read and write without the benefit of a formal education. By the time of the Civil War, Cartwright resided in New England where he prepared himself for the ministry. By 1860 he was an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) church and served as a regular circuit minister to the New England Conference. He married a local woman and fathered four children.

     During the war, with eastern North Carolina occupied by Union forces, Cartwright returned to his native state and preached to the freedmen in the Albemarle region. He settled in Manteo and, in 1865, established the first AME Zion church in northeastern North Carolina. St. Peters was the first in the state, having been established at New Bern the year before. Cartwright founded numerous churches in Pasquotank, Perquimans, Currituck, Camden, and Hertford Counties and was soon appointed as presiding elder for the northeastern district of North Carolina. His status as assistant bishop gave him supervisory power over the resident ministers in the district counties.

     Cartwright preached in the “camp meeting” tradition, with sermons steeped in early nineteenth-century revivalism. He was chosen to represent the American Colonization Society in North Carolina, and over the next decade he preached spiritual salvation and fulfillment of Negro destiny through transport to Liberia. Many African Americans accepted the challenge after hearing Cartwright speak. In 1876, the minister and his family joined the flock and sailed for West Africa, where Cartwright became the first missionary to Liberia. Cartwright was confronted by immorality and religious indifference among the natives and recent emigrants from America, but the undaunted minister slowly won converts to the A.M.E. Zion church. His congregation numbered forty-nine by 1878 and had its own building by 1892.

     In America, the General Conference of the AME Zion Church accepted the establishment of Cartwright’s church in Liberia. Having gained social and political status in the society, Cartwright was named the official representative of Zion in Liberia and was appointed as presiding elder. Ultimately, the work of supervising the growing missionary movement in West Africa proved a challenge for the aging Cartwright. He died in Brewerville in 1903 at the age of sixty-eight.


References:
William S. Powell, ed.,Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 336-337—sketch by Jerry L. Cross
(Raleigh) News and Observer, June 19, 1984
Walter L. Yates, “The History of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in West Africa, Liberia and Gold Coast (Ghana), 1880-1900,” M.A. thesis, Hartford Seminary (1963)

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