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Stephen Beauregard Weeks, 1865-1918
John Chavis. Antebellum Negro Preacher and Teacher
From The Southern Workman (February 1914). Hampton, Va.: Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, 1914.

Summary

"John Chavis: Antebellum Negro Preacher and Teacher" appeared in a 1914 issue of the Southern Workman, which was published by the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University). Hampton, Booker T. Washington's alma mater, had earned a national reputation as a school focused on the importance of industrial training and hard work to building character and benefiting the race. In this article, Weeks celebrates the accomplishments of John Chavis (c.1763-June 15, 1838), an African American Revolutionary War soldier, prominent educator, and celebrated Presbyterian minister. Since the Southern Workman was Hampton's mouthpiece, Weeks' article naturally emphasizes Chavis' perseverance in the face of oppression and the intensity of his endeavors. Specifically, Weeks writes of Chavis' missionary work and his ministering in Orange County, North Carolina, which ended in 1832 when the state legislature forbade African-American preaching after the bloody Virginia slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831. Chavis continued his religious work, however, and published a Calvinist pamphlet titled "Chavis's Letter upon the Doctrine of the Extent of The Atonement of Christ" in 1837. Weeks believes, however, that Chavis' most impressive contribution to North Carolina were his schools—private institutes that served white and black children in Wake, Chatham, and Granville counties. Prominent North Carolinians, including North Carolina governor Charles Manly and New Mexico territorial governor Abraham Rencher, numbered among Chavis' pupils. Throughout the document, Weeks includes laudatory quotations about Chavis' work and character.

Chavis moved to North Carolina from Virginia, where it is thought that he served as an indentured servant to James Milner before joining the Continental Army in 1778 and attending Presbyterian Washington Academy (now Washington and Lee University) sometime between 1783 and 1802. He then worked as a slave missionary, though reports indicate that he preached to both black and white congregations in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland until 1807 or 1808, when he moved to Raleigh to join the Presbytery there. He began teaching as early as 1808 and appears to have worked as an educator and mentor until his death in 1838 at his home near Oxford, North Carolina.

Works Consulted: Parramore, Barbara M., "John Chavis," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 1, ed. William S. Powell, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Michael Sistrom

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