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A Narrative of Surprising Baptisms

John Jasper, The Great Black Baptist Orator

     Editor's Note: The following is in the dialect of John Jasper. He worked in a tobacco factory. He describes his conviction, conversion and baptism in this section. Thousands were swayed by Jasper's oratory.

Rhapsody in Black: The Life Story of John Jasper
By Richard E. Day

      "I was seekin' Gord six long weeks - jes' cause I was sich a fool I couldn't see de way. De Lord struck me fus' on my birfday, down in Cap'tol Squar' in Richmond. I was sittin' thar on a bench under the cool shade. Folks was swarmin' 'round, an' laughin', and hurrahin', wen quick as lightnin' Gord's arrer uv conviction went into my proud heart and brought me low. I lef' thar badly crippled.


     "July 25th somethin' happen'd. I was a tobarker stemmer - dat is, I took de tobarker leaf an' tor'd de stem out, an' dey won't no one in dat fact'ry could beat me at dat work. But dat mornin' de stems wouldn't come out ter save me, an' I tor'd up tobarker by de poun' an' flung it un'er de table.


      "Fac' is, bruthr'n, de darkness uv death wuz in my soul dat mornin'. My sins was pile' on me like mount'ns; my feet wuz sinkin' down ter de reguns of despar, an' I felt dat uv all sinners I wuz de wust. I tho't dat I would die right den, an' wid what I suppose' wuz my lars' breath I flung up to heav'n a cry for mercy. Befo' I kno'd it, de light broke; I wuz light as a feather; my feet wuz on de mount'n; salvation roll' like a flood through my soul, an' I felt as if I could knock off de factory roof wid my shouts.

      "But I sez to myse'f, 'John Jasper, you gotta hol' still til dinner.' So, I cried, an' laughed, an' tor'd up tobarker, and flung it un'er der table.

      "Pres'ntly I looked up der table an' dar wuz a old man - he love me, and tried hard ter lead me out de darknes'. So I slip roun' ter whar he wuz, an' I sez in his ear, low as I could, 'Hallelujah; my soul is redeemed!' Den I jump back quick ter my work.


      "But af'er I once open my mouf it wuz hard ter keep it shet eny mo'. 'Twan' long befo' I looked up der line agin, an' dar wuz a good ol' 'oman dar dat knew all my sorrers an' had been prayin' fer me all de time. Dar wuz no use er talkin'; I had ter tell her, an' so I skip along up quiet as a breeze an' start ter whisper in her ear, but jes' den de holin'-back straps uv Jasper's breechin' broke an' what I tho't would be a whisper wuz loud enuf ter be hearn clean 'cross Jeems river ter Manchester. One man sed he tho't de factory wuz fallin' down. All I know'd wuz I had raise my fus' shout ter de glory uv my Redeemer."

     ["De holin'-back straps broke" is a good description. In a moment, the factory was filled with Jasper's shouts and the prayerful hallelujahs of Christian friends. R.E.D.]

      "But fer one thing thar would er been a jin'ral revival in de fact'ry dat mornin'. Dat one thing wuz de overseer. He bulged inter de room an', wid a voice dat sounded like he had his breakfus' dat mornin' on rasps an' files, bellowed out: 'What's all dis row 'bout?' Somebody shouted out dat John Jasper done got religion. But dat didn't wurk 'tall wid de boss. He tell me ter git back ter my table, an' as he had somethin' in his han' dat look ugly, it wuz no time fer makin' fine p'ints. So I sed: 'Yes, suh, I will; I ain't meant no harm. De fus' taste of salvation got de better uv me, but I'll git back ter my wurk.' An' I tell you I got back quick.

      "'Bout dat time, Marse Sam, he come out'n his orfis an' he say, 'What's de matter out here?' An' I hear de overseer tellin' him 'John Jasper kick up a fuss an' say he done got religion, but I done fix him an' he got back ter his table.'

      "De devil tell me ter hate de overseer dat mornin', but de luv uv Gord wuz rolin' through my soul, an' somehow I didn't min' what he sed.

      "Little art'r I hear Marse Sam tell de overseer he wan' ter see Jasper. Marse Sam wuz a good man. He wuz a Baptis', an' one uv de haid men uv de ole Fus' Church down here. So I wuz glad wen I hear Marse Sam say he wan' ter see me. Wen I git in his orfis he say, 'John, wat wuz de matter out dar jes' now?" His voice wuz sof like, an' it seem'd ter hav a little song in it which play inter my soul like an angel's harp. I sez ter him: 'Marse Sam, did I ever give you eny trouble?'

      "He look at me wid water in his eyes, an' he say, 'No, John, you never did." Den I broke ter cryin' an' sez ter him: 'Marse Sam, ever since de fourth uv July I been cryin' after de Lord - an' jes' now, out dar at de table, Gord took my sins 'way an' set my feet on a rock. I didn't mean ter make no noise, Marse Sam, but befo' I know'd it de fires broke out in my soul an' I jes' let go one shout ter de glory uv my Savior.'

      "Marse Sam wuz settin' wid his eyes a little down ter de flo', an' wid a pretty quiver in his voice he say very slow: 'John, I b'leve dat way myse'f. I love de Savior dat you have jes' foun' an' I wan' to tell you dat I do'n complain 'cause you make de noise you did.'

      "Den Marse Sam did a thing dat nearly made me drop ter de flo'. He git out uv his chair an' walk over ter me an' give me his han', an' he say: 'John, I wish you mighty well. Your Savior is mine, an' we are bruthers in de Lord.' Wen he say dat I turn 'roun' an' put my arm agin de wall, an' put my fis' in my mouf ter keep from shoutin'.


      "Marse Sam well know de good he done us. After awhile he say, 'John, did you tell any uv dem in thar 'bout your conversion?' An' I say, 'Yes, Marse Sam; I tell 'em befo' I know'd it, an' I feel like tellin' ever'body in de worl' 'bout it.' Den he say: 'You may tell it. Go back in dar an' go up an' down de table en' tell all uv dem. An' den if you wan' to, go upstars an' tell dem all 'bout it, an' den go downstars an' tell de hogshead men an' de drivers an' ever'body wat de Lord has done for you.'

      "By dis time Marse Sam's face wuz rainin' tears, an' he say: 'John, you needn' wurk no mo' terday. I give you holiday. Af'er you git through tellin' it here at de fact'ry, go up ter de house an' tell your mother; go roun' ter your neighbors an' tell dem; go enywhere you wan'ter an' tell de good news. It'll do you good, do dem good, an' help ter honor your Lord an' Savior.'

      "Af'er awhile Marse Sam lif up dem kin' black eyes uv his an' say: 'Keep tellin' it, John! Fly like an angel, John, and wherever you go, tell it!'


      "O happy day! Can I ever fergit it? Dat wuz my conversion mornin', an' dat day de Lord sen' me out wid de good news uv de Kingdom. Fer mo' dan sixty years I'se been tellin' de story. My step is gettin' ruther slow, my voice breaks down, an' sometimes I'se awful tired, but still I'se tellin' it. My lips shall sing de dyin' love uv de Lam' wid my las' expirin' breath."


      Virginia Lee Cox, feature reporter of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wrote in surprise, "Jasper was baptized in February, 1840, preaching the same day a funeral!" Actually, his ministry began the same afternoon he was saved; he told everyone in ear-range what the Lord had done for him.

      He often said, "From dat day I know'd dat Gord had aninted me wid de Holy Ghost ter preach de Gorspil uv His Son." From the moment Sam Hardgrove said, "Fly like an angel, John," the young man lifted his wings; and he never folded them again, until the night of the Jefferson Hotel fire, sixty-two years later.


      The members and officers of the Old African Baptist Church were a little chary about Jasper's conversion; he had been such a prodigal. But when they finally approved, he went shouting into the baptistry.

      Thirty days later, the church licensed him and "he went forth to preach, having given evidence of his regeneration, wherever there might be an opening."

[From Richard E. Day, Rhapsody in Black: The Life Story of John Jasper , 1953, pp. 55-63.]


More on John Jasper, The Great Black Baptist Orator

      The church buildings were always constructed so that the white people and the negroes could worship in the same house. They were baptized by the same minister, they sat down together at the communion table, they heard the same sermons, sang the same songs, were converted at the same meetings, and were baptized at the same time. Oft times, and in almost all places, they were allowed to have services to themselves. In this, of course, they enjoyed a larger freedom than when they met in the same house with the white people.

      From every quarter the people came to hear this African Boanerges. The crowds and songs and riotous shouts of his young church filled the neighbourhood. Constant processions, with Jasper at the head, visited the river or canal, to give baptism to the multiplying converts. [p. 59]

[From William Hatcher, John Jasper, the Unmatched Negro Philosopher and Preacher, 1908.]


More on John Jasper:

      About a year after [the Civil War, John Jasper] received an invitation from the brethren at Weldon, North Carolina, asking him to come down and organize a Baptist church, which is known unto this day as the First Colored Baptist Church of Weldon.

      When Mr. Jasper arrived in the city of Weldon, he found there about thirty-five baptized believers in the Christian faith, and after the organization of the church, there were about thirty-five more baptized by him, thus making, in all, a membership of 70. [ p. 29]

      Mr. Jasper at one time baptized three hundred candidates, commencing at eleven o'clock in the morning, and by one o'clock in the afternoon he was through, thus taking only two hours. [p. 31]

      The inside of the [Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church of the city of Richmond], is very conveniently arranged. It has a seating capacity of about nine hundred. . . . The church has a baptistery in the usual place - under the pulpit platform. In fact, the church [building] has nearly all the modern improvements in it. [p. 96]


[The Life of Rev. John Jasper, Pastor of Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church ... By Edwin Archer Randolph, 1884. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

A Narrative of Surprising Baptisms
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