From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Jones, Nancy "Nannie" and The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

(born: 1860) 

Nancy "Nannie" Jones was born January 8, 1860, in Hopkinsville, KY, and raised in Memphis, TN, where she attended school at Lemoyne Institute (now Lemoyne-Owen College). She was an 1886 graduate of Fisk University and had taught in Alpika [now Walls], MS while also a college student [source: Western Women and Imperialism: complicity and resistance, by N. Chaudhuri and M. Strobel]. She was also a member of the First Colored Baptist Church in Memphis. Nancy Jones is remembered as a missionary with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).

The ABCFM organized in 1810 and incorporated in 1812; board members were from the National Council of Congregational Churches in the United States. The organization had a rule that single women could not be missionaries, but that rule obviously changed. Nancy Jones was the first unmarried Negro woman to be commissioned by the ABCFM and the last Negro missionary the ABCFM sent to Mozambique, Africa. The pattern had been for American Negro women to accompany their minister husbands as missionaries to Africa, and all were sent to bring "civilization" and "Christianity" to the Africans.

Mozambique was under Portugese rule, and the missionaries had to abide by the restrictions placed on foreigners [more information on Mozambique at The Homepage]. These rules and restrictions had not mattered to Nancy Jones; she was single and she wanted to be a missionary in Africa. She was willing to work on behalf of any missionary organization connected to any denomination, and she would accept any mission location in Africa. The president of Fisk University directed her to the Congregational American Board, and she and Dr. Judson Smith, Correspondence Secretary of the ABCFM, exchanged letters about her interests [source: We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible: a reader in Black women's history, edited by D. C. Hine, W. King, and L. Reed,; see chapter 7, "Give a Thought to Africa; Black women missionaries in southern Africa" by S. M. Jacobs].

The ABCFM was the first American board to send missionaries to Africa. Nancy Jones would serve as a missionary of the ABCFM in the Kambini mission in Inhambane, Mozambique, from 1888 to 1893. She arrived at the East Central African Mission to join several others: at Kambini - Benjamin F. Ousley (the first ordained Negro minister of the ABCFM) and Mrs. Henrietta F. Ousley (first Negro woman the ABCFM sent to Africa); at Bembe - Francis W. Bates and Mrs. Laura H. Bates; at Makodweni - J. D. Bennett, Mrs. Bennett, and Miss Allen, who were formerly connected with the Free Methodist Mission in Inhambane; at Mongwe - Erwin H. Richards and Mrs. Mittie A. Richards [source: Annual Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1888-1892].

The missionaries and ministers were to setup churches and schools. Benjamin and Henrietta Ousley had arrived in 1884, and Nancy Jones arrived in 1888. Nancy Jones had requested to work with the Ousleys; all three were graduates of Fisk University, and Henrietta Ousley and Nancy Jones had known each other in school. While at Kambini, Henrietta was an interpreter and Nancy Jones taught school and would open a school for the area children. The children received a Christian education, and they were required to work two hours each day to compensate for their food and clothes.

The Ousleys returned to the United States in 1890 due to Benjamin's health. During their absence, Nancy Jones was joined in Kambini by the Bennetts, who were white. Benjamin and Henrietta Ousley would return to Kambini, but they were forced to leave in 1893 again because of Benjamin's health; this time they would never return to Africa. When the Ousleys left, Nancy Jones was transferred to a mission in the Gazaland of Rhodesia where she stayed from 1893 to 1897. She was again helping to establish a school and teaching children. The Gazaland Mission in Rhodesia was under British Rule.

The Kambini Mission and other missions in the Inhambane Station under Portuguese Rule were closed. Nancy Jones was the only Negro at the Gazaland Mission, and she faced prejudice from her co-workers: she was removed as a teacher and could no longer work with the children; her fellow missionaries did not want to live in the same housing with her; and she was relegated to doing chores such as cleaning, gardening, cooking, and shopping.

In 1897, Nancy Jones resigned from the Gazaland Mission in Rhodesia and returned to Memphis, TN. According to the announcement in the annual report, Nancy Jones was home for a much needed rest [p. 28 in the 1896-97 Annual Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions]. In Memphis, Nancy Jones was a school teacher and is listed on p. 527 in the R. L. Polk & Co.'s Memphis City Directory 1899. She is also listed in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as head of a household that included a 17 year old African girl named Mary Jones (who had come to the United States with Nancy Jones); also in the house was Nancy Jones' stepfather, John Harris, and four boarders. The family lived at 400 Broadway, which had been Nancy Jones' home address when she applied for a passport in 1887 [source: U.S. Passport Application No.15025, November 25, 1887, in].

Nancy Jones was still listed as a teacher in the 1901 Memphis directory (p. 579), and both she and Mary Jones were listed in the 1903 Memphis directory (p. 575 & p. 574). Not much is known about Nancy Jones' family or her life after her missionary work in Africa. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, both of her parents were born in Kentucky, and John Harris was her stepfather. Mary Jones is sometimes noted as her daughter, and perhaps she was an adopted daughter; however, Nancy Jones had not left the United States when Mary Jones was born in Africa in 1883. Also, in the "Recent News" article in Mission Studies: woman's work in foreign lands, January 1898, p. 18 [online at Google Books], there is mention that Nancy Jones' only brother died in St. Louis, MO, shortly after her return to the United States in 1897. The brother's name is not mentioned in the article. For more see "Nancy Jones" in the Dictionary of African Christian Biography [online]; and "On the Dark Continent. Ten Years-Miss Nancy Jones Returns with an Interesting," The Freeman, 02/05/1898, p. 2.

Kentucky County & Region

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Jones, Nancy "Nannie" and The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 19, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-05-26 00:29:19