His Free Will Baptist friends in the United States knew him as Lewis Penick Clinton. But in Africa, he was known as Prince Somayou Zea Clayou, heir to the throne of the Bassa kingdom.
Somayou was born 200 miles in the interior of Africa “behind Liberia.” His grandfather, Zea, was king over the 2 million-strong Bassa tribe who occupied a territory that stretched 400 miles from the Gulf of Guinea. Somayou was in line to inherit the throne. He was trained in secret because an uncle also wanted the throne.
At age 12 or 14, Somayou became a hunted man when his father died. He escaped to the coast of Liberia where he learned the language and ways of the white man. An Episcopal bishop employed Somayou at his mission for five years.
Somayou wanted to learn more so he could free his own people of their superstition and degradation. The bishop arranged for Somayou to study at Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, a Free Will Baptist college established to educate freed slaves. He spent five years at Storer, then attended two other Free Will Baptist schools, Bates College (Maine) and Cobb Divinity School.
Those who knew Somayou said he would stand looking toward Africa with tears in his eyes saying, “Africa calls me. I must go to my people.” Prince Somayou did return to Africa in 1899. The Free Will Baptist people supported him. He built a mission in Liberia to train men and women. Somayou gave up his claim to the Bassa tribal throne in order to receive a greater inheritance with Christ.
About the Writer: Jack Williams is a member of the Free Will Baptist Historical Commission