Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr. (Ted) served seven missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The most historic of these missions had a geographic tie to another Cannon visit to Africa in the 1790's. The Cannons and the Mabeys were the first two couples to open missionary work in West Africa immediately after the June 1978 Revelation which extended the Priesthood to all worthy males. Recent research now shows that the areas that had been so fertile for the early missionary work in Ghana and Nigeria were the same locations that Ted Cannon's great, great grandfather traded English goods for slaves from 1790 to 1807.
George Cannon was born in 1766 on the Isle of Man, a small sea-faring island located in the Irish Sea. After attending the Peel Mathematical School to learn the mathematics of sailing, George became third mate on a slave ship, the Eliza, which left Liverpool in 1790 with trade goods for Africa. The Eliza sailed to the Gold Coast of Africa, today’s Ghana, and there the Eliza and its crew went to the English trading forts at Anomabu and Cape Coast to exchange their English goods for African slaves.
We know from ship logbooks that additional slaving trips were taken to Africa with George as the captain of the Iris. The slave trade was abolished in England in 1807 and Captain Cannon eventually died on a mutiny on his own ship on July 19, 1811.
After the Proclamation on the Priesthood on June 9, International Mission President James E. Faust assigned Ted Cannon and Merrill Bateman to visit Africa and try to locate the various groups and their members. Ted and Merrill Bateman departed for Accra, Ghana on August 12, 1978. One of the first groups they visited was in Cape Coast, Ghana where Captain George Cannon had twice obtained African slaves 185 years earlier.
In Calabar, Nigeria near where Captain Cannon had obtained slaves on several occasions, Ted and Brother Bateman were miraculously led to Ime Eduok who introduced them to many of the leaders they were seeking. After two weeks in West Africa, Ted and Brother Bateman agreed that their recommendation to the First Presidency would be to send missionaries.
After many baptisms in Nigeria, the Cannons and Mabeys made their way to Ghana where they met with leaders of congregations that had already been preaching from the Book of Mormon and meeting in organized congregations for over a decade. The Cannons and Mabeys taught lessons to groups organized by Dr. R.A.F. Mensah, Clement Osekre, and Joseph Billy Johnson.
The first official baptisms in Ghana took place on December 9, 1978 at a beach just east of Cape Coast. This historic baptism of 89 people took place on a beach that Captain George Cannon may have walked as a slave trader. Confirmations took place at water’s edge. The confirmations continued into the night, under the glow of the moon.
Back in Nigeria, at Ikot Ekong, near where Captain Cannon had obtained slaves on several occasions, they interviewed and baptized 182 people, confirmed them, and organized them into four branches, all in one day.
By the time they left Africa, the Cannons and Mabeys had baptized 1,725 people, and organized 35 branches and 5 districts.
During his lifetime, Ted Cannon knew that Captain George Cannon was a slave ship captain, but he had no detailed knowledge about where Captain Cannon had been or that they walked common ground in Africa. This is all information that has come to light more recently through the work of Ted's nephew, Bob Cannon.
It is significant that the strongholds of early church activity in West Africa were areas where Captain Cannon did slave trading. Captain Cannon’s first slave voyages were to Cape Coast, the same area where his great great grandson, Ted, helped perform the first baptisms, first conferral of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and established the first branch. Bonny, where George Cannon first became captain of a slave ship and the area he last visited for slaves was in the vicinity where Ted helped organize the second, third, fourth and fifth branches of the Church in Nigeria, and also where the Melchizedek priesthood was first conferred on a black man in West Africa.
Captain George Cannon was a slave trader who enslaved many Africans and took them far from the homes and families to a new land. There is something almost redemptive about a descendant of that slave trader traveling far from his home and family to bring the restored gospel and the keys for eternal life to the same shores that Captain Cannon plied his trade almost two centuries earlier.