committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs







Negro Baptists of North Carolina


        While this work is by no means intended for biography it seems befitting that the readers may get some idea of the struggles of the pioneers of our cause that a short sketch should be given of a few of them. We begin with Rev. Harry Cowan, who might fitly be called the father of the Baptist preachers of North Carolina. He was born two miles west of Mocksville, N. C., January 20, 1810. He united with the church at the age of sixteen and was granted such licenses as was granted to Negro preachers of that period, at the age of eighteen. His master, Thomas L. Cowan, of Salisbury, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, heard him speak for the first time at a funeral, and was so struck with his gift granted him his "four plantations" as his "field" for the ministry. His license was drawn up by a lawyer and read thus: "This is to certify that whosoever is interested about my man Harry he has the privilege to preach and to marry; also to baptize any one who makes a profession of faith." His master made himself responsible for his protection, and allowed him to go anywhere the proper protection was guaranteed to him. God wonderfully blessed his labors and often thousands gathered in single congregations to hear him. When the war broke out he was made the body servant of General Joseph Johnston. He continued to preach the gospel throughout the war, preaching every night of that memorable struggle except the night when Stonewall Jackson fell. Seventy years of the life of Rev. Harry Cowan were given to the preaching of the gospel. In that time he organized forty-nine churches. This work was done following the emancipation. Eight thousand five hundred souls were baptized. Full of years and glorious service he came to the home of Mrs. H. H. Hall, his adopted daughter, of Winston-Salem, N. C., where he spent his last days peacefully and joyfully. God sent His messenger and took this faithful servant unto Himself March 11, 1904.


        Rev. Thomas Parker, another pioneer of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina, was born October 14, 1830, Gates County, near Gatesville, N. C. From there he was carried to Fernandina, Fla. He was afterward brought back to Wilmington, N. C. He was converted at the age of thirty and was baptized and united with the Wilmington church 1863. He soon made known his call to the gospel ministry. The First Baptist Church, colored, was soon afterward organized and Rev. Parker became one of its most active members. He was ordained to the gospel ministry at the third annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention, which was held in his church in the city of Wilmington. Rev. Parker has organized during his ministry the following churches: Six Run, Kenansville, Hill Chapel, Little Piney Grove, Pilgrim Rest and Shady Grove. Four thousand seven hundred persons have been converted and baptized under his ministry. Rev. J. O. Hayes, the venerable African missionary, was one of this number; converted, ordained and sent out by the Six Run Church. Rev. Parker was in the organization of the Kenansville Eastern Association, and served as its Moderator for twenty-six years. He was connected with the State Convention in its early struggle, and was one of the old men who followed it until his death. Few men if any have been called upon to suffer more for the preaching of the gospel than Rev. Parker, and yet despite all God permitted him as few men to realize the results of his arduous labors. It may be said of Rev. Parker as of most men of his day he was uncompromising in what he believed concerning the teachings of the Bible. He had just sense enough not to allow any of the Word to be explained away from him.


        Rev. Arnold B. Williams was born in Johnston County 1804. By extra service while a slave he earned sufficient money and purchased his own freedom. He was sent away from the South by the Quakers and remained in the North in and about Boston for sixteen years. He was connected with the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston. It was during that time he accumulated six hundred dollars and undertook the purchase of his wife. When the proclamation was issued her freedom came to her without the purchase. Rev. Williams returned to the South immediately after the war; was ordained to the gospel ministry and took pastoral charge of the First African Baptist Church of Goldsboro, successor of Rev. Charles J. Nelson. Soon after this in the First African Baptist Church under the pastorate of Rev. Williams the Educational and Missionary Baptist State Convention was organized. At this first meeting in 1867 Rev. Williams was elected Treasurer of the Convention, which position he held until his death, which occurred in Goldsboro 1896. It may be truly said of the man of God he did what he could for the cause of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina. He left as his logical successor "My Son in the Gospel," Rev. J. W. Dew, who held the place made vacant by death for many years after.


        Rev. Welborne was born in Randolph County February 3, 1840. He united with the Liberty Grove Church in 1870, was ordained in the white Baptist Church of High Point, and took charge of Liberty Grove. He held successful charge of eighteen churches of the Piedmont section; assisted in the ordination of twenty-one persons to the gospel ministry out of these churches. Twelve hundred persons have been converted and baptized through his ministry. He was one of the pioneers of the Rowan Association; the Moderator of the High Point Association for many years. Although himself comparatively illiterate he stood for education and for everything which meant the advancement of humanity. What Rev. Parker was to Eastern North Carolina Rev. Welborne was to the Piedmont section and to the Baptists of North Carolina.


        Among the very few who composed the first Baptist State Convention was Rev. R. H. Harper, of LaGrange, N. C. Rev. Harper was converted at the age of eighteen. He served twelve months in the Civil War and at its close, realizing his call to the gospel ministry, entered immediately upon the call. The first year of this service was rewarded with the conversion of one hundred and sixty-five persons. In the sixty-five years of his ministry he baptized four thousand two hundred and twenty-five. When the work of these pioneers is considered it is not surprising that North Carolina was so largely Baptist. Not only did Rev. Harper take part in the organization of the Baptist State Convention but three associations and thirty-seven churches. He was pastor of the Mt. Pleasant Church, Wayne County, thirty-eight years; of another church twenty-seven and still another twenty-five. Truly it may be said of this servant that he carried out the injunctions of the Saviour to the letter when He said "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost."


        Dr. Roberts was born at Seaboard, N. C., October 13, 1849. He entered Shaw University 1871 and graduated from the Collegiate Department 1876. In the fall of the same year he was elected to the Chair of Mathematics in Shaw University, his Alma Mater, which position he filled successfully for thirty-two years. Upward of five thousand young men and women came under his instruction. Dr. Roberts was interested in everything which pertained to the uplift of his denomination and the general advancement of the Master's cause. He has served as the Editor of the African Expositor, President of the Educational and Missionary Convention of North Carolina, President of the State Sunday School Convention of North Carolina for many years, and on almost every Board representing the Negro Baptists of North Carolina for forty years, which made him a conspicuous, indispensable factor in everything which meant the uplift of the denomination.


        As the best illustration of the men of the two generations with which this work has to do is to be found in the Rev. G. W. Holland and Rev. G. W. Johnson, both of Winston-Salem, N. C.; the one representing the generation immediately following the emancipation, the day of brush arbors and log churches, the day of excessive "heat and burden," of ignorance and doubt; the other representing the age of frame and brick structures, the day of comparative light and intelligence, the day of wonderful growth and development.

        Rev. George W. Holland was born in Virginia, 1833. Was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the High Street Baptist Church, and served as local preacher for several years, rather in the capacity of a missionary to the churches in and about Danville. In this capacity he organized and set apart fifteen churches. He came to Winston, 1878, and took charge of the First Baptist Church, which position he held until his death. Although a pastor it was the calling of Rev. Holland, it seemed, to organize and set apart churches. It was said of him many times even at midnight he would rest himself by the wayside after long journeys through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and would sit down to pick the blisters on his worn and weary feet. While Rev. Holland was uncompromising in questions of faith he had many friends in all the denominations through that kindness and generosity so characteristic of him. Three thousand persons were baptized in his ministry. Fifteen Baptist churches in Virginia and twenty-three in North Carolina organized. Sixty young men and women were sent to Shaw University through his influence. From his entrance into North Carolina until his death he was a faithful and true friend of the Educational and Missionary Convention. Full of years of service and individual achievements, surrounded with a host of friends of both races, twenty-nine years the pastor of the ablest church of the denomination in the State, he passed into a well-earned rest, 1906. The largest funeral procession which has honored any colored man in the State of both races followed the remains of this hero to his last resting place, where he quietly sleeps to await the resurrection of the dead in Christ.


        Rev. G. W. Johnson was born in Person County, N. C., May, 1856. Rev. Johnson united with the High Street Baptist Church, Danville, Va., 1871, and was baptized by Rev. Harrison Scott. Realizing his call to the Gospel ministry, an ordination counsel was called, consisting of Revs. J. J. Worlds, J. L. Coleman, A. L. Avery and Dr. H. H. Mitchell, pastor. He took a three years' course in the Theological Department of Wayland Seminary, Washington, D. C., under the venerable Dr. G. M. P. King. He has served as pastor for the following churches: Lexington, Chestnut, Oak Grove, Kernersville and Mt. Zion, Winston, which place he has held twenty years. He has assisted in the organization of New Bethel, Happy Hill, Kernersville, Mt. Zion, Shiloh, Yadkin Star, and First Church, Trenton, N. J. Twenty-five hundred persons have been baptized through his ministry. In the annual session of the Rowan Baptist Association, at High Point, he was elected Moderator to succeed Dr. J. O. Crosby, and set a precedent in reaching directly and indirectly every church throughout the bounds of the Association, awakening an interest in the churches to the objects of the Association. In 1908 the Guadaloupe College, Texas, granted him the honorary degree of D.D. As a financier, Dr. Johnson has no superior and few equals. He has the confidence, in this respect, of all Winston-Salem, and in every respect is fully qualified to take up the work where "Father Holland," as he always called him, laid it down.


        Dr. Shepard was born in the city of Raleigh, N. C., March 1, 1846. When it is considered that he was the son of Richard Shepard, and had a pious mother, it is not surprising that he should have been the stalwart Baptist preacher he was. While a student at Shaw University the President of the University saw in him such fitness that he made him his assistant pastor of Blount Street Baptist Church. For eighteen years he was Colporter Missionary for the American Baptist Publication Society for North Carolina.

        It was in this capacity that Dr. Shepard did his best work; and the work which gave him a place in the hearts of the Baptists of North Carolina, which he always held. In this capacity he stood at the foundation of the State Sunday School Convention of North Carolina. It was largely through his efforts that the Orphan Asylum at Oxford gained its strength and many churches and Sunday Schools throughout the State owe their existence largely to him. Nearly all the county Sunday School Conventions were organized directly or indirectly through him. Dr. Shepard was one of the very few men who stemmed the tide of the more intelligent ministry which swept most of the pioneers from the stage. He was regarded among the ablest ministers of the State throughout his career. This was not only due to his able ministry, but to the fact he never turned away a struggling young man. He was ever ready to give him encouragement and support. Besides the work on the field, Dr. Shepard pastored the Blount Street Church, Raleigh; the First Baptist Church of Charlotte; the White Rock Church, Durham; the First Baptist Church, Roxboro; Wake Forest Baptist Church, Warrenton, Forestville, the First Church of Henderson, and the First Church of Oxford, besides erecting and pastoring the spacious church, Roanoke Salem, Garysburg, N. C. No man in his day has contributed more to the cause of the Baptists of North Carolina than Dr. Shepard.

        There are many other men who might be mentioned as able pioneers to the cause of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina, Dr. C?ar Johnson, of Raleigh, without whose name the history of the Baptists can not be properly written; Lemuel W. Boone, the hero in the ministry and a politician as well, whose remains have rested under the shade in a lonely grave in Hertford County, awaiting the final reward of the just.

        And, too, there are Eagles and Horton, Warwick and Banks, Burwell and Patillo, the story of whose lives would make a history in itself. They sleep in their graves, but "their works do follow them." When a more extensive work shall be written much worthy of mention in their wonderful lives will be brought to light. Upon their shoulders at the most critical period rested the destiny of the cause so dear to our hearts, and it may be truly said of them, they bore their burdens, and, like Paul, rejoiced that they were "counted worthy to bear them." They endured their afflictions as men without murmur or complaint and, despite their disadvantages of ignorance and poverty, they have left names worthy of our cherished recollections. The most fitting monument we could rear to them has been to take up the work there they have left off and hand down to our posterity achievements commensurate with our advantages and opportunities. A fair estimate of the achievements of the generation following in the wake of the fathers we have mentioned, and others equally worthy of mention, would prove them worthy of the trust committed to their hands. With no greater faith, devotion and loyalty, but with broader shoulders and stronger, because of superior advantages and environments, both generations have wrought well in their day. The foundation was laid in the fathers their sons have gone far with the superstructure. We have used a few illustrations of those who bore the "burden of the heat of the day" and a few of that number who have so successfully carried the work on where they left it. In the Shaw University chapter it was shown at one time, when all the Normal Schools of the State with a single exception were in charge of Shaw men, and of Baptists, as an evidence of what the denomination has been in the educational advancement of the race in North Carolina. In the establishment of the Oxford Orphan Asylum, in the contributions given by the Baptists since its establishment, with a Baptist at the head; and the same of the Winston-Salem Orphan Home, the only two Negro institutions of their kind in the State, is evidence of what the Negro Baptists were in the charitable development.

        Besides its contributions to the States of the entire Union in professional men, in North Carolina were: Charlotte, Drs. A. A. Wyche, W. H. Graves; in Winston, Drs. J. W. Jones, E. R. Carter; W. A. Jones, pharmacist, owning and controlling the leading Negro drug store in the country; J. S. Fitts, a leading lawyer; Greensboro, Dr. J. Elmer Dellinger, lawyer G. H. Mitchell; Durham, Drs. A. M. Moore, C. H. Shepard; Raleigh, Drs. M. T. Pope, L. B. Capehart, Peter Roberts, lawyer George Lane; Fayetteville, H. H. Perry, pharmacist; Wilmington, Drs. M. D. Bowen, J. H. Alston; Wilson, Dr. F. S. Hargrave; Tarboro, Dr. N. S. McMillan; Bertie County, Dr. Sharpe; Edenton, Dr. Hines, Hon. H. P. Cheatham served several terms in the United States Congress; Dr. E. E. Smith, of Fayetteville, was Minister to Liberia during the administration of President Grover Cleveland. Members of General Assembly of North Carolina, Register of Deeds and many other places of honor and trust have been held by Negro Baptists of North Carolina. From the humble beginning of the few preachers gathered in the first Convention in the First African Baptist Church, of Goldsboro, N. C., 1867, representing just a handful of churches, have come in 1908 nine hundred preachers, many of them able and scholarly; a thousand churches, with a membership of one hundred and eighty thousand is a record worthy of proud mention. Besides the money given to Shaw University fifty thousand dollars are raised and paid annually to the secondary Baptist schools of North Carolina by the Negro Baptists of the State. The spirit to educate, as manifested by the fathers in their first Convention, is evidently alive, and constantly growing in their sons. While perfection is yet far removed, and much unification and loyalty to be brought to bear on the Negro Baptist hosts of North Carolina, they have made many and rapid strides, as is universally acknowledged. The discouragements which many of our remote sections have suffered, "the Baptists have no men," are fast being overcome; from the mountains to the seashore the Negro Baptists are sending men of whom they feel justly proud. With every known section of the State dotted with secondary Baptist schools, and with Shaw University in the midst of them, the pride, not only of the Baptists, but the entire race of the country, the day can not be far distant when every country church, as well as the brick structures of our cities, will be filled with men of intellectuality as well as the Divine Spirit. The writer closes with the hope that some information respecting the struggles of the past, some word of what has been wrought under so many disadvantages, may cheer those upon whose shoulders the burdens may fall. The foundation has been laid, the superstructure well under way. Continuing under that Architect Supreme, in whom our fathers have faithfully trusted, failure is impossible. Holding fast the "faith," turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, suffering reproach if need be for the eternal principles upon which we build, we have all to hope for in Him, whose fame rested on Calvary's cross, and whose final triumph will be the gathering of the redeemed unto Himself.


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