Up From Slavery

Up From Slavery


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes




Up From Slavery: A Documentary History of Negro Education

Compiled By Rudolph Lewis




John-Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor  (2001)  / John Chavis: To Teach a Generation (1997)


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Rev. John Chavis (1763 – 1838) Pioneer Educator

The Presbytery of Lexington (Virginia) Licenses John Chavis as Preacher, 1800

First Black Ordained Presbyterian Minister in America


Presbyn. had an interloquitur to consider the popular discourse of Mr. Chavis & after some deliberation thereon agreed to sustain it as a satisfactory part of trial & to licence him to preach the Gospel. Mr. Chavis was accordingly licensed & record thereof was ordered to be made in the following words, viz. at Timber Ridge Meetinghouse, the 19th. day of November, 1800, the Presbyn. of Lexington having received sufficient testimonials in favor of Mr. John Chavis, of his being of good moral character, of his being in full communion with the church & his having made some progress in literature, proceeded to take him through a course of trials for licensure & he having given satisfaction as to his experimental acquaintance with religion & proficiency in divinity, Presbyn. did & hereby do express their approbation of these parts of trial & he having adopted the Confession of Faith of this church & satisfactorily answered the questions appointed to be put to candidates to be licensed the Presbyn. did & hereby do license him the said Jno. Chavis to preach the Gospel of Christ as a probationer for the holy ministry within the bounds of this Presbyn. or wherever he shall be orderly called, hoping as he is a man of colour he may be peculiarly useful to those of his own complexion. Ordered that Mr. Chavis receive an attested copy of the above minutes.

Minutes, November 19, 1800

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John Chavis, Negro, Is Engaged as Missionary by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1801

That.. . Mr. John Chavis, a black man of prudence and piety, who has been educated and licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Lexington in Virginia, be employed as a missionary among people of his own colour, until the meeting of the next General Assembly; and that for his better direction in the discharge of duties which are attended with many circumstances of delicacy and difficulty, some prudential instructions be issued to him by the assembly, governing himself by which, the knowledge of religion among that people may be made more and more to strengthen the order of Society: And the Rev. Messrs. Hoge, Alexander, Logan, and Stephenson, were appointed a committee to draught instructions to said John Chavis, and prescribe his route.

—Acts and Proceedings, 1801, p. 7. It has commonly been said that this remarkable man was a full-blooded, free-born Negro, that he was educated at Princeton, had an unusual mastery of the classics. was a very effective teacher and Presbyterian preacher, and that he was received as an equal socially and was asked to table by the most respectable white people in the neighborhoods in which he lived in North Carolina in the early part of the nineteenth century. He had a school in Raleigh in which he taught white boys and the sons of prominent families were among his students.

Most of the earlier writers on Chavis said that he went to Princeton, and a letter from V. Lansing Collins, Secretary of that institution to Edgar W. Knight, September 14. 1929, said that although there were no known official records to verify Chavis’s attendance at Princeton, the tradition or belief that he was a student there was so strong that Chavis was listed among the non-graduates of the institution. As the court record below shows, it was believed that Chavis attended Washington Academy which developed into Washington and Lee University.

For a partial bibliography on this man, see Edgar W. Knight, “Notes on John Chavis,” The North Carolina Historical Review, VII (July, 1930), pp. 326-45, and his “A Negro Teacher of Southern Whites,” The Baltimore San, December 8, 1929. Chavis had to discontinue preaching in North Carolina as result of a statute of 1832 forbidding slaves and free Negroes to preach or exhort in public. It has been said that Chavis himself owned slaves. Many Negroes did. See Popular Science Monthly, LXXXI (November, 1912). pp.483-94.

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The Court of Quarter Sessions of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Certifies to the Freedom of John Chavis, 1802—

On the motion of Rev. John Chavis, a black man, It is ordered that the clerk of this court certify that the said Chavis has been known to the court for several years last past and that he has always, since known to the court, been considered as a freeman and they believe him to be such, and that he has always while in this county conducted himself in a decent orderly and respectable manner, and also that he has been a student at Washington Academy where they believe he went through a regular course of Academical Studies.

Order Book No. 6, p. 10. See also J. C. Ballach, A History of Slavery in Virginia, p.110.

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Joseph Gales, Whig Editor of a Raleigh Newspaper, Praises Chavis ond His School, 11130

On Friday last, we attended an examination of the free children of color, attached to the school conducted by John Chavis, also colored, but a regularly educated Presbyterian minister, and we have seldom received more gratification from any exhibition of a similar character. To witness a well regulated school, composed of this class of persons-to see them setting an example both in behavior and scholarship, which their white superiors might take pride in imitating, was a cheering spectacle to a philanthropist. The exercises throughout, evinced a degree of attention and assiduous care on the part of the instructor, highly creditable, and of attainment on the part of his scholars almost incredible. We were also much pleased with the sensible address which closed the examination. The object of the respectable teacher, was to impress on the scholars, the fact, that they occupied an inferior and subordinate station in society, and were possessed but of limited privileges; but that even they might become useful in their particular sphere by making a proper improvement of the advantages afforded them.

The Raleigh Register, April 22, 1830



Chapter VI. “The Instruction of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight.. A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953

Chapter 10 “Up From Slavery: Educational and other Rights of Negroes.” In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1951.

Many states had laws prohibiting the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the school door

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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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10 January 2012  




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