Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

064: The Black Preacher, 1885-1886

From June 1885 into January 1886 numerous Christians around Britain had thrilled to the talks in churches and their homes given by the Revd David Nero, a very tall black missionary. His impact in Glasgow was the greatest, and readers of the Glasgow Herald of 2 February 1886 were surely incredulous when it said his missionary project was “pure invention”. Ever since he arrived in their city he had told people he was from West Africa, had been taken to Martinque (French West Indies) as a child and sold as slave, and had been educated in Canada. He had returned to Glasgow in October 1885.

The Dundee Courier of the next day noted “Serious Charge Against a Negro Preacher” following Nero’s appearance at Glasgow’s police court on 2 February accused of fraud. He had obtained money “from prominent citizens” and from congregations  in nearly every Glasgow Free and United Presbyterian Church in Glasgow to which he preached, obtaining some £400. He pretended to be the principal of Sumner College, Kansas collecting to evangelise Africa. He had been in Edinburgh, too, noted the Belfast Newsletter (5 February) which indicated that when a dress ordered for Mrs Nero had not been paid for, enquiries were made and his bogus status discovered – along with numerous love letters from “highly-respectable ladies in Glasgow, Liverpool, and elsewhere” disclosing “remarkable indiscretions and folly” as the Dundee Courier (3 February) described them.

His “wife” was from Liverpool: the North British Daily Mail said he was a “lion among the ladies” and seemed to have been in Paris. The Dundee Courier (6 February) added he had been in Carlisle, Manchester, Liverpool and Eastbourne. One fellow brought a private charge against the “negro imposter” to get back the £10 he had given for Sumner College (Dundee Courier 12 February). Others told their stories to the police, and he was duly charged with obtaining £55-7s-0d by “falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition” and a second charge for obtaining £52-13s-0d through a fabricated letter. The Glasgow Herald reported this on 22 February, adding that he was in prison but would be moved to Kilmarnock to be charged with obtaining £20. Bail for the first two charges was set at £150.

Days before, the Aberdeen Weekly Journal (18 February 1886) published a report dated St Louis, Missouri 3 February that had appeared in the New York Times. Nero, a “native of Demerara, British Guiana” had taught