The Rev. Father James David Kwee Baker was one of the nation’s most outstanding clergymen and founder of St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road, Monrovia.
Fr. Baker, as he was affectionately called, was born to Grebo parents at Hoffman Station, Maryland County on June 17, 1893. He received his early education at St. Augustine’s Boarding School at Cuttington Collegiate Divinity School (the primary division of Cuttington College and Divinity School). Cuttington College was established in 1889 by the Protestant Episcopal Church, during the episcopacy of the church’s great Education bishop, Rt. Rev. Samuel David Ferguson. This visionary bishop, as a young priest in 1881, also established the YMCA of Liberia in Cape Palmas, Africa’s first YMCA.
Father Baker later entered the College of West Africa (CWA), where he graduated summa cum laude in 1916.
He first became interested in diplomacy and shortly following his graduation he was employed at the State Department (now Ministry of Foreign Affairs), where he served for a few years. But the highly intelligent, serious-minded and studious young J.D. Kwee soon discovered he had a far higher calling.
By the mid-1920s he completed apprenticeship training in Theology and was ordained priest in 1926. Over nearly 40 years of priesthood he served the Episcopal Church in many parts of Liberia. These included the Trinity Church (now Cathedral), Monrovia, St. John’s Episcopal, Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, St. John’s Episcopal, Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, and finally St. Thomas Episcopal, Monrovia. He was also an itinerant priest at Christ Episcopal Church, Crozierville, where he and his family befriended the Porte, Best and other families. The year he was ordained was when Christ Church’s rector, Conrad C. Porte, father of Albert Porte, died—January, 1926. Fr. Baker’s children fondly recall their weekends in Crozierville and Albert and Lilian Porte (Best’s) younger brother Christian Porte and his many jokes, that always had them laughing.
St. Thomas was originally located at the top of Water Street on rocky Snapper Hill, immediately behind Front (now Sao Boso) Street. But the well known and respected Fr. Baker contacted a few prominent Monrovia families with whose support he built St. Thomas Church at Camp Johnson Road. The land on which St. Thomas was built was donated by former Liberian Ambassador to Washington, D.C., George A. Padmore, whose parents hailed from Crozierville. St. Thomas became and remains one of the nation’s leading Episcopal parishes.
In addition to his priesthood, Fr. Baker was an ardent teacher, who spent many years teaching at his alma mater, CWA, where he molded many young people into national prominence. CWA, established by the Methodists in 1839, was where most Liberian leaders received their secondary education. Fr. Baker also taught at the Episcopal schools in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County and in Grand Bassa County.
He once served as chaplain at the Executive Mansion under President W.V.S. Tubman. The Reverend Father was, in times of stress, a confidant of many and a trusted intermediary between ordinary citizens and the powers that were, especially President Tubman.
Fr. Baker and his wife Marguerite Klade (nee Calor, changed to Carter by the missionaries) were the parents of several outstanding children. They were Dr. Christian E. Baker, Liberia’s first veterinary doctor and former president of Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University); Bertha Baker Azango, an educator; Goda, a geologist; Nyema, public affairs director at the Liberia Mining Company and real estate developer; Grace, an educator; Yede, a dentist and wife of University of Liberia president Emmet Dennis; and Lydia, a nurse and mother of Ms. Fatu Freeman, daughter of B.G. Freeman, former Liberian Ambassador to La Côte d’Ivoire.
Mother Klade Baker’s two sisters were Alma Quideyou (daughter of Quide—the mother) and Jane Diodeh (Dio’s Mother) Carter. Quideyou was the mother of Carlos Ajavon and Dr. Ayele Ajavon Cox, head of the Dental Department of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center. Dr. Cox and Dr. Yede Baker Dennis were first cousins of about the same age and grew up as sisters—and classmates, Cuttington’s Class of 1960 (Suacoco, Liberia).
Mrs. Baker’s younger sister Jane Diodeh Carter-Davis, was the mother of Nathaniel Davis, a former Liberian diplomat, now a noted clinical psychologist in Monrovia. The Carter sisters’ youngest sibling was Nyema Carter, for whom Fr. and Mother Baker’s youngest son is named.
Fr. Baker died on February 8, 1966. A prominent Monrovia woman, on learning of his passing, wept during a Palm Magazine interview as she exclaimed, “father of many, father of many—that’s what Fr. Baker was!”