John Marrant was a black man born free in 1775 in New York. His father died when he was very young, and after his father's death he was relocated to St. Augustine, Florida. There he began his education and was taught to read and spell. He later moved to Georgia where he continued his education until he was eleven. After Georgia they moved to Charlestown where it was assumed John would start his apprenticeship.
Before Marrant could begin learning a trade he had the experience of hearing music. From then on he decided that he wanted to become a musician instead of a tradesman. The terms of his contract to learn music were negotiated and he stayed with his music teacher for a year and a half. During that time he learned to play the violin and the french horn. He was so skilled that he was invited to many social gatherings.
He left his music and decided to work at a trade. While he was working he was still asked to many different social events to play music. It was on his way to an outing that he was first introduced to the Lord. He and a friend entered a hall where the celebrated Methodist George Whitehead was preaching with the intention of disrupting the meeting. Marrant was converted on the spot. He fell sick with sin and healed himself by reading the bible and studying.
Around the time that he accepted Jesus as his saviour he had a falling out with his family. They felt that his behaviour was bizarre and began treating him like he was crazy. He decided to leave home and began wandering around the countryside.
He met a native man with whom he traveled and worked with for a while. Then he went to the native settlement and had the chance to meet and convert some members of the Cherokee community. He was respected in many native communities and lived with them for a while, spreading the Gospel and winning some converts. Some historians have suggested that this first missionary encounter created lasting bonds between the blacks and the Cherokee people.
By this time war had broken out and he was pressed (kidnapped) into the Royal Navy as a musician. Marrant survived several battles and was eventually discharged in London. Marrant tracked down the preacher who had converted him and told his remarkable story. Through this friendship he was introduced to Whitehead's patron, Lady Huntingdon, who encouraged him to preach to the community. While in England he received a letter from his brother in Nova Scotia expressing the need for a preacher, so he decided to go there as a Methodist minister. He was ordained at Bath as a minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, and the Countess's friends arranged the publication of his story as A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. It was published in 17 different editions and was incredibly successful.
While traveling he had many adventures, converting many of his fellow passengers on the trip. As soon as he boarded the ship he told the people on the boat that their behaviour was sinful. They should not play cards and use profanities. The passengers ignored him, but when there was a storm they turned to this man of God. Fearing for their life, a group of the passengers came and asked him to pray for them. The storm calmed immediately, and after their prayer session most of them were converted.
Upon his arrival in Shelburne he traveled to Birchtown where he established a religious community. He also expanded his preaching to communities surrounding Birchtown like Cape Negro and Jordan River. He had much opposition from the already established religious community - especially the followers of John Wesley. At one point Marrant and his followers were locked out of the Methodist meeting house. Marrant and his followers persisted and were able to hold their services. The dissension between the different Methodist groups continued and the denominations became quite hostile to each other. Marrant believed what he preached and became very emotional while spreading the word of God. This helped him connect with people and he won many followers.
After his time in Shelburne Marrant returned to England. For years before his death he was a member of the Free and Accepted Lodge of Negro Freemasons, a branch of the international secret fraternity. Marrant gave a sermon before the lodge in Boston in 1789 on his way back to England. He died within a year of his return.