John Jasper (July 4, 1812 – March 30, 1901) was an ex-slave who became a Baptist minister and noted public speaker for Christianity after the American Civil War.[1] In addition to being a famous preacher, Jasper was known for his unique mode of dress, his manner of walking, and his lofty dignity.[2]

John Jasper
John Jasper 1911.jpg
Born(1812-07-04)July 4, 1812
Fluvanna County, Virginia, US
Died(1901-03-30)March 30, 1901
OccupationBaptist Minister
  • Elvy Weaden
  • Candus Jordan
  • Mary Ann Cole
Parent(s)Philip and Tina Jasper

Early lifeEdit

John Jasper was born into slavery on July 4, 1812 in Fluvanna County, Virginia. He was one of twenty-four children of Philip and Tina Jasper. Philip was a well known Baptist preacher while Tina was a slave of a Mr. Peachy. Jasper was hired out to various people and when Mr. Peachy's mistress died, he was given to her son, John Blair Peachy, a lawyer who moved to Louisiana. Jasper spent the early years of his life on a farm in Fluvanna County, and was later transferred to Williamsburg. During his time there, he performed the duties of driving and managing oxen. Since he proved to be an efficient worker, his master assigned him to work on the yard and garden, and wait tables. In the year 1825, Jasper worked for a new master named Peter McHenry for nearly a year. Afterwards, he worked for Dr. Woldridge in Chesterfield County. Jasper became a servant to Samuel Cosby after he returned to Richmond, Virginia.[3] After Cosby's death, Jasper was eventually owned by Samuel Hargrove, an operator of a tobacco factory in Richmond. After his time with Hargrove, Jasper began his journey as a church organizer. He experienced a personal conversion to Christianity in Capital Square in 1839. He convinced a fellow slave to teach him to read and write, and began studying to become a Baptist minister.[4][5]


John Jasper's father, Phillip Jasper, was a preacher who was permitted by his masters to preach funeral sermons and speak at multiple churches by invitation. Tina Jasper, John Jasper's mother, was in charge of the working women on the Peachy estate. During his later years, John Jasper married three times. He first met 18-year-old Elvy Weaden at the age of 22 in Williamsburg, and married her the same night that he met her. However, after being suspected for escaping, Jasper was sent back to Richmond and permanently separated from his wife. Weaden believed that Jasper left her, and sent him a letter saying that she would remarry if he did not return to see her again. In spite of Jasper's pleas to his master, John Peachy, he was not able to see his wife again. Jasper informed his wife that he could not see her again, and he eventually found out that she remarried.[6] Jasper married Candus Jordan in 1844, with whom he had nine children before they divorced. His final marriage was with Mary Ann Cole in 1863, who died on August 6, 1874.[3]

The Beginning of Jasper's FameEdit

Although Jasper became a preacher after his conversion to Christianity on the 4th of July, 1839, he still remained a slave at the time. He was only allowed to preach whenever a white minister or white delegation was present. Often times, slaves would demand that a "Negro preacher" preach during the funerals of their deceased companions. Funeral services operated at the behest of slave masters.[7] Jasper served as a predominant orator for funerals, and was eventually in high demand as a result of his oratory abilities.


For more than two decades, Rev. Jasper traveled throughout Virginia, often preaching at funeral services for fellow slaves. He often preached at Third Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia. He also preached to Confederate Soldiers during the American Civil War (1861–65).[3] After his conversion, Jasper became a passionate student. He eventually learned how to spell words and read. Jasper was typically inclined to read the Bible over any other book. In addition, he would often urge as many members of his race to read whatever it is that they are able to access. As a result of his readings, Jasper was able to nearly recite the content of the Bible from memory. He increased his familiarity with the history of the Hebrews, the inhabitants of the near East, the Amorites, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and many additional nations of the world. Jasper was able to serve as an invaluable educational resource for his followers, and encouraged them to seek more knowledge for their own enrichment.

A picture of Jasper published in 1902

After his own emancipation following the American Civil War, Rev. Jasper found himself to be a free man. He was able to find a job that involved cleaning bricks and performing specific tasks to rebuild the city of Richmond. Jasper was not satisfied, seeing as he expected the liberated members of his race to be able to develop their own institutions. He believed that the best way to satisfy this objective was by facilitating leadership. Therefore, Jasper commenced his most significant journey in his life by founding the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond.[8] By 1887, his church had attracted almost 2500 members and served as a religious and social center of Richmond's predominately black Jackson Ward—providing a Sunday School and other services. Jasper's vivid oratory and dramatic speaking style brought renown and calls for him to preach throughout the Eastern United States. His most famous sermon, The Sun Do Move, expressed his deep faith in God through the imagery of a flat Earth around which the sun rotates.[4]

Death and legacyEdit

John Jasper was noted for possessing considerable control over the emotions of his audience. His sermons were influential in such that he was able to create vivid images merely by using words, and used this ability of his to empower the members of his race. Jasper's sermons were of moral influence as well, seeing as he often detailed the consequences of one's actions, and he encouraged his people to live a dignified life due to the prospects of rich rewards. He served not only as a preacher, but also an educator. During a time when there were no schools for his people, Jasper established a Sunday school in his church which educated the younger generations. Although Jasper yearned to benefit his people, he was never able to address the dilemmas of Africans in a global context. Those who benefited most from his involvement were the members of his church and community. Regardless, he was a prominent figure during a time when formerly enslaved Africans were in need of leadership and stability.[9]He delivered his last sermon a few days before his death at the age of 89. The Library of Virginia honored him as one of the African-American trailblazers in its "Strong Men and Women" series in 2012.[4]


  1. ^ John Jasper – Unmatched orator
  2. ^ Harlan, Howard (1936). John Jasper-----A Case History in Leadership. University of Virginia. p. 16.
  3. ^ a b c Simmons, William J., and Henry McNeal Turner. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising. GM Rewell & Company, 1887, pp. 1064–1072.
  4. ^ a b c "John Jasper", African American Trailblazers in Virginia History,
  5. ^ Harlan, Howard (1936). John Jasper-----A Case in History in Leadership. University of Virginia. pp. 16–17.
  6. ^ Croft, Wayne. "John Jasper: Preaching with Authority". Preaching.
  7. ^ Harlan, Howard (1936). John Jasper-----A Case History in Leadership. University of Virginia. p. 20.
  8. ^ Harlan, Howard (1936). John Jasper-----A Case History in Leadership. University of Virginia. p. 22.
  9. ^ Harlan, Howard (1936). John Jasper-----A Case History in Leadership. University of Virginia. pp. 25–26.