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John Chavis—Early Black Preacher and Educator


All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past. A prominent free black preacher and educator in and around the Raleigh area from 1810 onwards, John Chavis was raised in Virginia and enlisted in the Continental Line there in 1778.  He had an extensive education for the time, likely the best of any African American in North Carolina. After doing mission work throughout the Southeast for the Presbyterians Church, Chavis turned his attention to educating children of all races and from all different backgrounds. Many of his students were from notable families in North Carolina, including future Governor Charles Manly and the sons of Chief Justice Leonard Henderson. Following Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1832, free blacks across the South—including those in North Carolina –lost many of their rights, and Chavis lost his freedom to preach and to teach. In 1833 he published his only written work, a sermon entitled An Essay on Atonement. The work was successful and widely read, and helped to supplement his income during the final years of his life. Chavis is considered by many historians to be the first free black to demonstrate to white slave-owners the abilities of blacks in formal education.

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