Saturday, October 18, 2003

John Chavis - Free African American in 18th Century America

John Chavis
John Chavis was born on October 18th, 1763. He was a Black educator and minister who made great strides educating both Black and white students in the South during the early 19th century.

From North Carolina, his family was legally free which allowed him to pursue an education. Chavis arrived at Liberty Hall Academy in 1795, one year prior to George Washington's gift of 100 shares of James River Company Stock. He was a student when the institution changed its name to Washington Academy. On November 19 1800 with high honors they granted him a license to preach. His academic performance attracted much public attention because it contradicted the belief that Blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. In 1808, Chavis founded a school for the children of white slave owners. As an educator, Chavis taught full time.

He trained white children during the day and free Black children at night. He prepared the white children for college by teaching them Latin and Greek. The school he opened in Raleigh was described as one of the best in the state. It surely was an excellent school, for some of the most powerful men in white society entrusted their sons’ education to Chavis. His students include Priestly H. Mangum, brother of Senator Willie P. Mangum; Archibald E. and John L. Henderson, sons of Chief Justice Henderson; Governor Charles Manly; The Reverend William Harris; Dr. James L. Wortham; the Edwardses, Enlows (Enloes), Hargroves, and Horners; and Abraham Rencher who became Minister of Portugal and Territorial Governor of New Mexico.

John Chavis' influence was far reaching. A dedicated opponent of slavery, John Chavis was an influential abolitionist leader in the South. The circumstances surrounding his death in 1838 remain unclear, although many suspect that he was murdered because of his work to better the lives of Blacks.

African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.

Founder's Day Lecture Washington & Lee University

The Negro in the American Revolution.
by Benjamin Quarles
University of North Carolina Press for
the Institute of Early American History and Culture,
Williamsburg, Va., 1961.

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