Smith Publishes Article Concerning a Missionary Put on Trial for Cannibalism

Dr. Tim Smith, professor of history at Huntington University, has published an article concerning the strange story of a United Brethren in Christ missionary who was put on trial for cannibalism.

In his new peer-reviewed article, Smith considers the 1906 trial of the UB missionary Daniel Flickinger Wilberforce, who was prosecuted by British colonial forces within Sierra Leone for practicing cannibalism. Wilberforce, a Black African, held dual positions within Sierra Leonian society as both a UB missionary and the Paramount Chief of the Imperri. However, Wilberforce was also a naturalized American citizen, which posed additional problems for the British colonial authorities. As the episode unfolded, the British colonial system in Sierra Leone, especially British justice, came under attack from a friendly foreign nation. In the end, the Wilberforce trial drew the attention of the British Government in London as civil servants and senior members of the government sought to avoid American allegations of British foul play.

When asked why he chose this rather unique subject matter as an area of focused study, Smith pointed out that COVID-19 lockdowns prevented international travel and archival access he had planned during his sabbatical leave in the fall of 2022. Thus, he had to look for a new project.

Randy Neuman, associate director of library services and assistant professor of library science at Huntington University, had walked Smith through the University’s UB archival collection. So, encouraged by Neuman and Dr. Luke Fetters, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, Smith began to look at the UB papers concerning the UB missionary Daniel Flickinger Wilberforce.

“Although the Wilberforce story has been covered before by several church historians, no one appeared to have looked at the British Foreign Office papers concerning the 1906 trial of Wilberforce,” said Smith. “This greatly interested me as the case resulted in an Anglo-American fracas and ultimately was brought to the attention of Grey and Elgin (two of the most senior and high-powered British politicians of the age — Sir Edward Grey being the British Foreign Secretary 1905-1916 and Lord Elgin the Colonial Secretary 1905-1908).”

Dr. Tim Smith, FRHistS, joined the University faculty in 2007. He previously taught history at the University of East Anglia in the UK. He has produced four books concerning imperial and diplomatic history in Asia. 


Citation: Smith, T.O., ‘The Anglo-American Dispute about the 1906 Trial of Daniel Flickinger Wilberforce for Cannibalism’, Historical Yearbook, XVIII, (2021), 97-107.