07 April 2015

The Fall of Richmond - From John Jasper's Perspective

Reverend John Jasper
John Jasper is, in my opinion, one of the greatest men in Virginia American history. He is also one of the least known. Born the 24th child of slaves, his rise to prominence while overcoming poverty, illiteracy, prejudice and personal bitterness - all motivated by his Christian faith - is an inspiring and amazing story. One of his biographers was a man by the name of Edwin Archer Randolph. Randolph was the first black man to graduate from Yale law school (1880). He was also a member of Jasper's church in Richmond (formed after the WBTS) and served as one of the church's deacons.

Randolph notes the following about Jasper during the fall of Richmond in 1865:

Haxall's Mill, Richmond in 1865
The last sermon he preached before the fall of Richmond was down at the mills, on the second day of April, 1865, and Richmond was surrendered on Monday, the third of April, 1865. At this time, when Mr. Jasper had become a free man in body as well as soul, he had seventy-three cents, and was in debt to the amount of forty-two dollars for house rent, and today he is worth over five thousand dollars.

This brings Mr. Jasper to that period in his life where the new order of things takes place, practically, in the condition of the colored people in the State of Virginia. He now must preach the Gospel, surrounded by entirely different circumstances than ever before; he must preach now to a people like himself, who have just been made free in body as well as soul; he must preach now to them alone.

This new order of things necessitated a new arrangement of them. The colored people had been holding their meetings in the houses of their masters, now they have no masters, consequently they have no meeting-houses. During the unsettled condition of affairs, from April 6th, 1865, to the 4th of July of the same year, Mr. Jasper worked on the streets of Richmond, cleaning bricks for a compensation, so much per thousand. This noble feature of his life readily reminds one of the same incident in the history of the life of the Apostle Paul, when preaching got dull with him, and before he would do nothing or wait until business got better, went to his trade--"tent making."
Another biographer (and the best known) of Jasper, was William E. Hatcher. He wrote the following account of Jasper's experience after the fall of Richmond:
At the end of the war he was left high and dry, like driftwood on the shore. He had no church; no place to preach; no occupation. His relations with the white race were shattered, and things were grim enough; but ill-fortune could not break him. A large part of Richmond was in ashes, and in some places at least the work of rebuilding commenced at once,--or rather a clearing off of the debris with a view to rebuilding. Jasper walked out and engaged himself to clean bricks. During the Egyptian bondage the Hebrews made bricks and thought they had a hard lot; but Jasper spent the first days of his freedom in the brick business,--a transient expedient for keeping soul and body together until he could get on his feet again. Little thought the eager men who were trying to lay the foundations for their future fortunes that in the tall serious negro who sat whacking hour after hour at the bricks was one of God's intellectual noblemen. Born in bondage, lowly in his liberty and yet great in the gifts with which God had endowed him, it was Jasper's nature to be almost as cheerful when squatted on a pile of bricks and tugging at their cleaning as if he had a seat in a palace and was feeding on royal dainties. He carried the contented spirit, and that too while he aspired after the highest. He did not uselessly kick against the inevitable, but he always strove for the best that was in his reach.
From the ashes, rose one of the greatest orators ever birthed by Old Virginia, John Jasper.

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