James E. Patterson (1857-?)

James Elijah Patterson is considered to be the first black Seventh-day Adventist missionary. Patterson was born on the island of St. Vincent, British West Indies, November 15, 1857. He sailed to the United States in 1874, became naturalized and married, and then migrated to California. He became a colporteur and left California as a self-supporting missionary to Jamaica in 1892. Patterson was very resourceful and usually got where he was going by being employed as a cook or steward on a sailing vessel. He sold many books, especially Bible Readings for the Home Circle, all over Jamaica. Nine months after Patterson’s arrival in Jamaica B.B. Newman followed him and later William Arnold who had sold books in Antigua.

A year after Patterson first came to the island, in May, 1893, the General Conference sent a young minister, Albert Haysmer and his wife to follow up on the work of the colporteurs and begin permanent work in Jamaica. Patterson’s pioneering efforts in Jamaica were the foundation for the rapid explosion of Adventism where today one in twelve Jamaicans is an Adventist.    

Leaving Jamaica, Patterson moved on to Haiti and Barbados selling his books. In 1896 Patterson was a cook and steward on the fifth voyage of the missionary ship Pitcairn that sailed to the South Pacific. In 1897 the Foreign Mission Board voted to send Patterson to Panama where he continued to sell books in Spanish. From 1899 to 1902 he worked as a chef at St. Helena Sanitarium and a number of his recipes were printed in the Signs of the Time and the Pacific Health Journal. The last record we have of his missionary activities is in Columbia. Patterson later suffered from tuberculosis and lived in the United States Marine Hospital in San Francisco. His 1918 passport shows that he returned to St. Vincent where we lose track of him and his family.

-Excerpted from Precious Memories of Missionaries of Color, Volume 2, by DeWitt S. Williams, 2015, Teach Services, (