Johnson, Samuel

1846–1901
Yoruba historian

Samuel Johnson was the author of the first important history of the YORUBA people. The son of a liberated slave and descendant of African kings, Johnson was born in SIERRA LEONE. At the age of 11, he and his family moved back to Yorubaland in what is now NIGERIA. Educated in schools run by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), Johnson was eventually appointed schoolmaster of CMS schools in Ibadan. He later became the pastor of a CMS church in Oyo.

During the Sixteen Years’ War (1877–1893), Johnson served as gobetween in negotiations with warring Yoruba chiefs and helped to establish the British protectorate over Yorubaland. Over the years he collected oral histories from Yoruba elders and combined their stories in an extensive written history of the Yoruba people. The manuscript, titled The History of the Yorubas: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate, was lost when it was sent to a publisher. But after Johnson’s death, his brother Obadiah rewrote the history from Samuel’s original notes and drafts. The work was finally published 20 years later, and it remains one of the most complete sources of information about Yoruba history.

Johnson, Samuel