William Raymond was a man filled with a burning desire to bring the light of Christianity to sub-Saharan Africa. When Lewis Tappan issued a call for clergy to accompany the Amistad Africans on their voyage back to Sierra Leone, Raymond did not let even a pregnant wife prevent him from jumping at the chance.
Raymond was hired to teach the Africans while Tappan and other Amistad Committee members planned for the trip and the new African mission. Raymond was not the Committee's first choice to head the mission. Some members thought him distinctly lacking in leadership qualities. However, when the Committee's first choice to head the mission had the temerity to ask for an increase in his $20 per month salary, Raymond moved to the top of the list.
When Raymond and two other missionaries arrived with the Amistad Africans in Freetown in January, 1842, it quickly became apparent that they had their work cut out for them. Defections began almost immediately, tribal warfare was raging in the region identified as the site for the mission, and British missionaries were decidedly pessimistic about prospects.
Raymond and the remaining Africans stayed several weeks in Freetown before selecting a new site for the mission about 100 miles to the south. Life in a temporary mission along the Boom River was not easy. Mangrove swamps made travel difficult, malaria was prevalent, and there was rarely enough money to cover operating expenses. By April, most of the Amistad Africans had scattered across the country. In a letter to Lewis Tappan, Raymond truthfully reported the disillusioning news.
In 1843, William Raymond and his wife (their infant child had died soon after arrival in Africa) returned to the United States to regain their health and go on a fund-raising lecture tour. Raymond put a positive spin on the defection of so many Amistad Africans: "They have gone through the country as so many living recommendations to me--by their means I am known all along the coast and as far into the interior as Cinque has travelled...." The tour was a modest success, bringing in donations ranging from umbrellas to fishing lines, plus a new female missionary recruit.
A measure of optimism returned to Raymond once back in Sierra Leone. He wrote to Tappan of his hopes: "Of those that are now with with me I have more hope of making something than ever I have had since we first landed in Sierra Leone. If I can only induce them to marry and settle down by the side of me I think they will likely to make something. As long as they remain without wives they are too licentious."
Soon, however, problems mounted. Raymond's new missionary recruit died of malaria, a constant battle with rats (Raymond killed 164 in a single day) took its emotional toll, and his wife became delusional and had to be sent back to the United States.
Over his four-year tenure as head of the Sierra Leone mission, Raymond grew more tolerant of the African tendency toward "licentiousness" that had distressed him so much early on. Efforts to spread the Gospel, however, were often thwarted by tribal chiefs concerned that the Christian message of love and forgiveness would have an adverse effect on the willingness of tribal members to wage war.
Raymond died in 1846 in Freetown of "black vomit" (yellow fever). His replacement to head the mission was a stern, fire-and-brimstone missionary named George Thompson.