A Slave who was free
1901 – On this day, the “Onesimus of Colonial America”, John Jasper, went to be with the Lord Jesus, whom he loved with all of his heart. John was a black man, born into slavery on July 4, 1812, and though never able to attend school, used his God given gift of oratory to see multitudes, both black and white, brought to eternal salvation. His father, a slave Baptist preacher, died before John was born, but his Mother, Tina, dedicated him to the Lord with this prayer, “Lord, if dis chile you’s sendin’ me is a boy, doan’ let him do nuthin’ else but sing de praises of Jesus!” His mother’s prayers brought him to conviction and his testimony was, “I was seekin’ God six weeks – jes’ cause I was sich a fool I couldn’t see de way.” On July 25, 1839, John was gloriously saved at the tobacco stemmery where he worked for “Mars’ Sam – Mr. Sam Hardgrove, the owner of the stemmery and a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. He had belonged to the Widow Mary Belle Peachy, but upon her death, her son John sold him to Mr. Hardgrove. Jasper’s love for Mars’ Sam and Dr. William Hatcher, a local Baptist pastor was beyond question and Mr. Hardgrove allowed John time off to preach whenever he wished. Almost immediately after his conversion he began to preach the funeral of slaves, and God’s power was evident upon him. It wasn’t long until both whites and blacks were flocking to his orations. He became used in pulpits and open air meetings all over. After Praying to learn to read, another slave, William Johnson, labored for seven months with a tattered copy of the New York Speller and John became an avid Bible reader. John Jasper founded the 6th Mount Zion Baptist Church which had two-thousand members when he died.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson /, pp. 126.
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Ordination of “Colored” Billy Harriss
The history of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, records the fact that “colored deacons were elected, whose duty it was to watch over slave and free Negro members. According to custom, the church licensed certain colored men who, by consecration and aptitude, seemed best fitted to ‘exercise their spiritual gifts in public.’ “ At least fifteen years prior to William Carey’s sailing for India, George Lisle, the “first ordained Baptist Negro in America,” went to Jamaica as a missionary. Lott Carey, member of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, purchased his and his children’s freedom for eight hundred and fifty dollars in 1813. Carey, along with Collin Teague, sailed in 1821 for Liberia and established the First Baptist Church in Monrovia. Prior to the Civil War, Abraham Marshall, pastor at Kiokee, ordained Andrew Bryan in Savannah. It was prior to the Civil War that John Jasper was saved and sent by his “master” to preach the gospel. However, the church minutes prior to the Civil war always alluded to blacks as “belonging to . . . “ and the name of the “master” followed. After the Civil War, the minutes named the black and then stated, “formerly the property of . . . .” Following the Civil War, as before, blacks were still ordained into the gospel ministry. On April 21, 1867, we read from the Kiokee minutes: “The Baptist Church of Christ at Kiokee met and proceeded to the ordination of Brother Billy Hariss, colored, to preach the Gospel.
Dr. Dale R. Hart Adapted from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, p. 162
“[a] Primitive Baptist preacher of much force and usefulness.”
Jan. 20, 1788, the first black Baptist church in America was established at Savannah Georgia by Abraham Marshall who was white, and Jesse Peter a black man, at Brampton’s barn, three miles west of Savannah. Its first pastor was George Lisle, who was liberated by Mr. Henry Sharp of Burke County, GA, and afterward became a pastor at Kingston, Jamaica. He was one of four outstanding black preachers of that time, along with John Jasper, Lott Carey, and Colin Teague. There were no doubt many others, but good records were not kept of those times. But one other was Ralph (Rolf) Freeman of Anson County, N.C. Soon after his salvation and baptism, he expressed a desire to preach the gospel of Christ. In time he was licensed by his home church. His owner decided to sell him, but his brethren raised the funds and purchased his freedom. Ralph began to travel and preach and was soon ordained. He was often called on to preach funerals and was asked to preach the funeral of a fellow evangelist (white) who bequeathed Ralph his horse, overcoat, Bible, and $50 cash. The evangelist, Elder McGee’s brother collected an offering for Ralph at the graveside of another $50. Shortly after that the N.C. legislature passed a law forbidding black men from holding public services. Ralph was mortified and his ministry curtailed. At his death he was buried in the churchyard of the Bethlehem Baptist Church and in 1907 the Honorable Eugene Little erected a gravestone with these words: “He was a Primitive Baptist preacher of much force and usefulness.”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. IIII: Cummins, pp. 41-42.
Some of these pastors were former slaves
The Ogeechee Baptist Church was formed in Savannah, Georgia on Jan. 02, 1803 with 250 members which was the third black Baptist church instituted in America. The first black Baptist church in America was the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, the results of the ministry of Abraham Marshall and Jesse Peter ((black), who instituted the Kiokee Baptist Church in Appling, GA. The pastor at Savannah was George Lisle (black), who eventually went as a missionary to Jamaica. Some of these pastors were former slaves, like Lisle and John Jasper who had been given freedom by their masters. However, when Rev. Henry Cunningham was called to the First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia (the sixth black church in America), his master wouldn’t release him. Henry had been a deacon in the 2nd Baptist church in Savannah (black) and later served as its pastor before being called to the Philadelphia church. Some members asked his master to let him go north to raise money to purchase his freedom but his master refused without surety, but there was no way that Henry could provide such a sum. But thank God, two faithful members of 2nd church, who were free-born, stepped forward and gave themselves into servitude as surety for Henry. The money was raised, the men were released and joined their beloved pastor in Philadelphia and formed the nucleus of the First African Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “Greater love hath no man than this…”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. IIII: Cummins /, pp. 3-4.