Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“He was a colored man, and a slave”: the Ministry of Rev. Caesar Blackwell

I happened across the following story about Caesar Blackwell while researching in the pages of the South Western Baptist, a Baptist religious periodical published at Tuskegee and Marion, Alabama (which eventually merged with the Christian Index).[i] What appears below is an excerpt from “A Condensed History of Antioch Church.”[ii] After discovering this, I also found online an article about him at The Free Library, “Caesar Blackwell (1769-1845): the work and times of central Alabama's nineteenth-century slave-evangelist.” The later article probably presents the more realistic and less idealistic than the South Western Baptist. This is an unique and intriguing story, nevertheless.

Cæsar Blackwell
In 1821, Cæsar, a servant of John Blackwell, joined the Antioch church by experience and baptism. Two years after he was licensed by the church to preach the gospel, and in 1827, he was solemnly ordained to the ministry by a Presbytery consisting of elders Harris, Davis, McLemore and Harrod. In 1828 a move was made by the church to purchase Cæsar from his owner, Mr. Blackwell, it being understood that he could be bought for the sum of $800. Cæsar enjoyed the unlimited confidence of his master (who was not a member of the church) he committed much of his most important business to his care, and he never deceived him. The sum asked (800) was considered a high price for a slave in those days. The matter was presented to the Alabama Baptist Association at its next session, and met its hearty approval. A committee was appointed to make the purchase, and the churches composing the body promptly responded to the call to defray the expenses. The title was vested in Trustees appointed by the Association, who directed his labors in the ministry, and made provisions for his support. He visited churches in the bounds of the Association, acting as a Domestic Missionary. He occasionally made tours in various parts of the State at the call of the church, preaching with much acceptance wherever he went. – After he became the property of the Association, he made his home at Rev. Jas. McLemore’s, who owned his wife and only child. He was furnished with a horse to ride—and had an extensive library of books; and as he had been taught in early life to read and write, he spent his time, when not otherwise employed, in reading and study. “Uncle Cæsar” was an excellent mechanic, and before his strength failed, he devoted a part of his time in working for his neighbors, who rewarded him liberally for his services. While thus engaged with his hands, he was in the habit of having his Bible, or some other good book before him, and occasionally reading a paragraph for study and meditation,—and in this way he acquired much of that knowledge which elevated him above others of his race. As a preacher of the Gospel, “Uncle Cæsar” had few superiors in his day and generation. His theology was of the Calvinistic school, and he loved to discourse upon the doctrines of grace,—election, effectual calling, the perseverance of the saints in grace, &c, were the themes he delighted to dwell upon. He did not neglect, however, to present to his hearers, the practical duties of religion, and to warn the ungodly to flee from the wrath to come. When he was called upon to administer the ordinance of baptism, he generally in some brief remarks alluded to the ordinance, and the writer of this notice has never heard any man, who could give stronger arguments for believers’ immersion than those he listened to from him on such occasions.
            “Uncle Cæsar” attended regularly the meetings of the Alabama Association, and on the Sabbath the preaching committee always assigned him an hour to preach,—and whenever it was announced that “Uncle Cæsar” would occupy the stand, crowds of persons, both white and black, would gather around him to hear from his eloquent lips the message of salvation. He had a tall figure, a clear, musical voice, and graceful elocution. He never became boisterous, and was remarkably fastidious in regard to preserving order during religious services. Sometimes when the colored people would become excited, and begin to shout he would suddenly pause, and then remark, “My brethren and sisters, when your cup is full, let it run over, but don’t tilt it any.”
            We take the following extracts from the minutes of the Alabama Association to show the estimation in which he was held by that body, and the deep solicitude its members manifested towards him in his declining years: In the minutes of 1844 we find the following: “The Trustees of bro. Cæsar report, that in consequence of the infirmity of age, he has been unable to preach as frequently as desired. In the churches where his labors have been principally bestowed, the Lord has been pleased to make him an instrument of much good to the colored population. He has baptized in all 99.” On motion, the Trustees, were authorized to draw upon the Treasurer for any part of the amount deposited in his hands in1836 for the use of Cæsar.” In the minutes of 1845 we find the following in the Report of the Committee on Missions in the bounds of the Association: “The condition of our colored brother Cæsar, appears to call for some action of this body. From old age and feeble health, he is unable longer to support himself. We, therefore, recommend to his Trustees to furnish him with all the necessaries of life, and send up their accounts annually to this Association for liquidation.”
            But while his brethren were thus making provision for his temporal support it pleased his Heavenly Father to call him to his final rest and reward. On the very day the Association convened, his spirit took its departure to join the general assembly above. His remains were interred at the family grave-yard of the late Rev. Jas. McLemore, in Montgomery county. The Association at its next session, took suitable notice of his death—authorized the Trustees to sell his real estate, consisting a house and lot in the city of Montgomery, and to erect a suitable monument over his grave. A beautiful marble slab marks the spot where his remains sleep, with the following inscription:
“Sacred to the Memory of
Who departed this life Oct. 10th, 1845,
In the 76th year of his age.
He was a colored man, and a slave; But he rose above his condition, and was for 40* years a faithful and acceptable preacher of the Gospel.
            This stone is reared as a tribute of respect to his memory, by his brethren of The Alabama Baptist Association.”
  *Note—Cæsar joined the Church in 1821, and was licensed to preach in 1823. He could not, therefore, have been a preacher more than 23 or 24 years.

[i] It was published in Atlanta, Georgia under the title Christian Index and South-western Baptist from 1866 to 1871.
[ii] “A Condensed History of Antioch Church,” by a Former Pastor, South Western Baptist, Vol. 11—No. 23, Tuskegee, Alabama, Thursday, October 13, 1859, page 1

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