November 13, 2020

Francis I. U. Dolphijn: The First Indigenous Adventist Missionary in Ghana

Francis I. U. Dolphijn was from Apam, a coastal town in the Central Region of Ghana. It’s believed that his grandfather was a Dutch soldier who worked in what was then the Gold Coast colony. Very little is known of Dolphijn before his conversion into the Adventist faith in 1888 except that he was a trader dealing in rubber, palm products, gold, cotton goods, and hardware. 

Dolphijn’s first contact with Adventism was through his friendship with William Dawson. Both were descendants of Europeans who worked in Ghana, former Methodist Christians, and traders. Dawson had earlier traveled to America, where he found this new faith. He shared his faith with his friends, including Dolphijn. Initially, Dolphijn was not convinced. He didn’t see why he should leave the well-established Methodist Church to embrace a one-man church until he received a tract about the Sabbath from a sea captain in 1888 along the shores of Apam. Dolphijn corresponded with the source of the tract through the address printed on it. He decided to share his newfound faith throughout the Gold Coast.

A monument called “Dolphijn’s Hand” on the coast of Apam commemorates the origin of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ghana (c. 1888). [Courtesy of Kwame Boakye Kwanin]Zealous and committed to his new faith, Francis Dolphijn displayed a special interest in literature evangelism. From 1890, he corresponded with the International Tract Society of the Seventh-day Adventist Church through Mrs. S. L. Strong, Mrs. Jessie Waggoner, and Pastor Lawrence C. Chadwick, who sent him tracts, magazines, and booklets. Their support helped him teach biblical truths to his family and neighbors, who gathered to study on Sabbaths. His request for someone to be sent to teach them led to the first missionary visit by Pastor Chadwick to the West Indies, South America, and the West African Coast from Dakar to Accra in 1892.

In November 1896, Pastor Dudley C. Hale visited Dolphijn in Apam and spoke to him about joining the Adventist workforce. Dolphijn accepted the invitation and officially became a full-time worker for the Adventist Church on January 1, 1897, together with George Peter Grant. Dolphijn and his two sons, together with Grant, were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Pastor Hale on March 27, 1897, during Hale’s 10 months in Ghana—the first Adventist baptisms in West Africa.

Pastor Hale’s health forced him to leave the Gold Coast for a time, and Dolphijn was sent to Sekondi, where he worked tirelessly proclaiming his faith with almost no assistance until Pastor Hale was able to return in March 1903. He also managed the mission farm that Hale had secured before he left, located northeast of the Cape Coast Castle. The farm produced corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, other vegetables, plantains, bananas, palm nut, pineapple, pawpaw, yams, and other native fruits. When missionaries came to Ghana, he served as a translator for them as they spread the gospel message.

In January 1906, Dolphijn went to Sierra Leone, West Africa, to assist D. C. Babcock in the canvassing work there. Dolphijn had success there but left at the beginning of May.

After his retirement, Dolphijn moved back to Apam, where he lived under the care of his daughter. Dolphijn died in Apam sometime between 1910 and 1914. Modern recounting of the work in Ghana acknowledges Brother Dolphijn’s Sabbathkeeping group stemming from reading Adventist tracts as the beginning of the work in that region.

Nii Lante Thompson, D.Min., is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with more than three decades of ministerial experience. He is currently serving as the Ministerial secretary and Family Ministries director of the Southern Ghana Union Conference in West Africa.