Liberty Prison Ministries Tracts

John Jasper

óFrom Slavery to Servanthood

By Robert B. Johnson


When slaves were "married" in the Old South, there were no legal formalities, no records kept ó they just "jined up." In this fashion, on June 12, 1780, two slaves on the Peachy Plantation in Fluvanna County, Virginia, were wed.

The groom was Philip Jasper, the 18 year-old son of an African born slave. The bride was Tina Hammond, born 16 years earlier on this same plantation. Her love and admiration for her owner, "Miz Mary Belle Peachy," was so great that she joined her mistressís Baptist church. Philip was a Baptist, and to a limited extent that slaves were permitted, he became a minister of sorts. The young couple moved into one of the many cabins on the sprawling plantation. During the next 32 years, 24 children were born of this union.

When Philip died in May of 1812, Tina was once again with child. She was a devout believer in Jesus, and her prayers for her unborn child were filled with petitions that God would make the newborn, if a son, a preacher.

"Lord, if dis chile youíse sendiní me is a boy, doní let him do nothiní else but sing de praises of Jesus." She did deliver a boy and named him John. He was named after John the Baptist.

When John was about 8, Tina, unable to continue in the field, was sent to Williamsburg, Virginia, to make clothes for other slaves. John was given his first job on the Charles City Plantation. As a cart boy, he was to stand by the oxen while a cart was being loaded or unloaded. At 15 he was taken to Richmond to work in a tobacco factory.

Seven years later he met and married a slave girl from another estate. Hearing that some slaves had escaped during an uprising, Johnís master sent men to round up his slaves and John was torn away from his bride on their wedding night. He never saw her again.

Angry and embittered, he went, in his own words of later years, "into the far country." Even his motherís prayers did not deter him from the life of a willful, wicked sinner, totally without the fear of God.

During this time John Jasper was sold to Samuel Hardgrove, a devout member and deacon of the First Baptist church of Richmond, Virginia. Hardgroveís piety and deep religious convictions had a profound influence on his slave. The master watched, waited and prayed for Jasperís conversion.

June of 1839 found Jasper still working in the tobacco warehouse. His life of sin no longer gave him satisfaction. Remembering his motherís faith, the sermons of slave preachers, and the prayers of many of his fellow slaves, he began his search for God. Later, in his sermons, he loved to tell of the events leading up to and including his conversion.

"I was sittiní thar in Capitol Square in Richmond when de Lord done struck me with His arrer of conviction aní brought me low. I lefí thar badly crippled." While at work in the tobacco house on June 25, 1839, he opened his heart to the Saviour. He began to cry, laugh, and shout all over that warehouse until the overseer made him return to work. Word of Johnís conversion reached his master. Mr. Hardgrove sent for him, and upon hearing Johnís testimony, he rejoiced and wept with him, giving him the rest of the day off "to go tell it."

The members of the Old African Baptist Church approved Johnís baptism in February of 1840. Thirty days later the church licensed him, and he began to preach wherever he could find an opening.

Among the many handicaps facing this young evangel was his inability to read. A few months after his conversion, a young man agreed to teach him from an old, tattered New York Speller and the Bible. By July of 1840 Jasper could read.

Another difficulty was the legal handicap placed upon slaves who wanted to preach. They could never be ordained and were permitted to preach only under the supervising presence of a white man.

Jasperís first sermons were at slave funerals. His ability was soon recognized, by black and white, and requests for his services were so numerous that he became the stock funeral fixture in Amelia County. His fame quickly spread to Petersburg, where three churches had him "supply." The Third Baptist Church soon called him to preach for them every third and fourth Sunday. White people began attending just to hear him.

Benjamin Keene, pastor of one of Petersburgís white churches, began to notice that part of his congregation was missing. When he learned that they were down at the Old Third Church listening to John Jasper, Keene and three of his deacons visited the following Sunday afternoon.

Skepticism and cynicism soon turned to tears. They completely forgot they were listening to a black man preach. A solemnized Keene sat in his office just before the evening service, remembering how the presence of the Holy Spirit had been evident in the black man. Keene said to his evening congregation, "I attended services at John Jasperís church this afternoon." His voice broke. "Jasperís great. Heís the only colored man ever ordained to preach the gospel."

John Jasper had to fit his preaching around his work as a slave. Hardgrove died in 1862, and John was hired out by his new owner to work at various jobs. He was leased to the metal-rolling mills on the James River until the end of the Civil War. He had permission to preach to the soldiers in Confederate hospitals. On Sunday, April 2, 1865, as a slave, he preached in the rolling mill.

The next day, Richmond surrendered, and John Jasper walked in the ruins of Richmond as a free man. Now Jasper could have a church of his own. In September of 1867, at the age of 55, he organized the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in a horse stable with nine members and a $9 weekly salary. He baptized his converts in the water of the canal. Once, Jasper baptized 300 converts in two hours.

The congregation purchased a little brick Presbyterian church in Richmond at Dwight and St. John Streets for $2,025 and spent $6,000 remodeling it. But the renovated church was still too small, so it was expanded again to seat over 1,000 on the main floor. Crowds came to Sixth Mount Zion for over a quarter of a century. In 1883 the membership stood at 1,068.

Jasper sought every opportunity to learn from the able men who helped him. Perhaps the foremost of these was William Eldridge Hatcher, pastor of the large Grace Street Baptist Church not far away. Hatcher attended Jasperís Sunday afternoon services to get his heart warmed, and Jasper frequently visited Hatcherís study where he became a devout student. The bond that developed between these two servants of God seemed unlimited. However, the main ingredient in John Jasperís growth was his many hours spent in Bible study.

The scenes and events of the Bible came alive in Jasperís sermons. When he spoke of the offering of Isaac, a reporter in the Richmond paper wrote, "Jasper spoke of an angel shouting to Abraham, ĎDonít murder Godís anointed boy. Let him go.í He described how Abraham untied the boyís hands and feet, hugged him to his heart until it looked like the pillars of heaven trembled with joy. I wanted to let out one tremendous yell. I put my hand to my face. It was drenched with tears."

On one occasion when the Virginia State Legislature was present at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, Jasper spoke, "Pharaoh was an awful liar just like they tell me most politicians are."

During his funeral sermons he described the wonders of heaven and recited the list of its occupants and majesties, but he refused to preach anyone into heaven.

There is the classic case of William Ellysonís funeral one Sunday afternoon. Before an electrified crowd of 2,000, Jasper said, "Let me say a word about this William Ellyson. I say it first to get it off my mind. He was no good man. He didnít say he was. He didnít try to be good. Itís a bad tale to tell on him, but he fixed the story himself. He died as he lived, without God, without hope in the world. If you want folks who live wrong to be preached and sung to glory, donít bring them to Jasper. My task is to comfort the mourner and warn the unruly."

On the first Sunday in March 1901, the morning congregation of Sixth Mount Zion watched with sorrowing hearts as Jasper painfully climbed the pulpit stairs. They remembered how for years he had gone up "on his iron legs," as nimble as a boy. Jasper sensed the congregationís tension and sought to allay it. He read from his Bibleó" Ďdat count Ďbout de great white throne." He closed his Bible, took off his glasses, and smiled at his people. Holding out his hand, he said in mellow tones, "Comparatively speakiní my time in Ďdis worlí am skin deep, aní wen I look at my haní and think how thin de skin is, I feel shuíah nuf I musí soon be gwine!" Many began to weep. An aged woman sobbed outright.

Jasper straightened up in his old- time, amiable defiance and shouted, "My chillun, my work on earth is done! Iíse no moí skeered uv death dan uv a hossfly." As he drew near the end of the sermon, his eyes flashed and laughed. Everyone felt that this might be his valedictory. He switched into his "Heaven Sermon" and in a daring flight of imagination, using the whole platform to act it out, he portrayed himself as having at last arrived at the gates of glory.

The following Sunday morning John preached "Ye Must Be Born Again," his last sermon on earth. He was certain heíd been born from above, born of the Spirit, and he urged his people to meet heavenís conditions. Then he limped back to the parsonage and to his upper room. In the late afternoon of March 28, he rallied long enough to whisper, "I have finished my work. Iím waiting at the river, looking across for further orders." Soon he fell asleep never to regain consciousness.

After a simple announcement of the Jasper Memorial Service in the morning paper the Grace Street Baptist Church of Richmond over-flowed with mourners.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger   

I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
Traveling through this world below;
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger,
In that bright land to which I go.

Iím going there to meet my father,
I'm going there no more to roam;
Iím only going over Jordan,
Iím only going over home.

Iím going there to see my mother,
Iím going there no more to roam;
Iím only going over Jordan,
Iím only going over home.

I know dark clouds will gather oíer me,
I know my pathwayís rough and steep;
But golden fields lie out before me,
Where weary eyes no more shall weep.

Iím going there to meet my Saviour,
He said Heíd meet me when I come;
Iím only going over Jordan,
Iím only going over home.

Iím going there to meet my Saviour,
Who shed for me His precious blood;
Iím only going over Jordan,
Iím only going over home.

Iíll soon be free from every trial,
This form shall rest beneath the sod;
Iíll drop the cross of self-denial,
And enter in my home with God.

I want to sing salvationís story,
In concert with the blood-washed band;
I want to wear a crown of glory,
When I get home to that bright land.

Iím going there to meet my Saviour,
He said Heíd meet me when I come;
Iím only going over Jordan,
Iím only going over home.

óSlavery to Servanthood used by permission


John Jasperís Famous Quotes

HIS CONVERSION AND CALLING: O happy day! Can I ever forget it? That was my conversion morning, and that day the Lord sent me out with the good news of the Kingdom. For more than sixty years Iíve been telling the story. My step is getting rather slow, my voice breaks down, and sometimes Iím awful tired, but still Iím telling it. My lips shall sing the dying love of the Lamb with my last expiring breath!

CONCERNING BIBLE STUDY: The Bible is like a diamond field, some truths lay right up on top, others you got to dig for. I ainít got them all yet, but I keeps on digging.

CONCERNING EVIDENCE OF BEING BORN AGAIN: If you is what you was, you ainít.

HIS DESIRE WHEN ENTERING HEAVEN: First, I want to see Master Jesus...I want to see Him first of all.

HIS LAST WORDS ON EARTH: I have finished my work. I am waiting at the river, looking across for further orders.

If you have received Jesus Christ as your Saviour after reading this tract please write us. We would like to rejoice with you.

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Revised: August 03, 2000