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Arnett, Benjamin William (1838-1906), African-American religious, educational, and political leader  

Stephen D. Glazier

Arnett, Benjamin William (06 March 1838–09 October 1906), African-American religious, educational, and political leader, was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel G. Arnett and Mary Louisa (maiden name unknown). Arnett was a man of “mixed Irish, Indian, Scots, and African ancestry” (Wright, p. 79). He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. Arnett worked as a longshoreman along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and briefly as a hotel waiter. His career as a longshoreman and waiter ended abruptly when a cancerous tumor necessitated amputation of his left leg in 1858. He turned to teaching and was granted a teaching certificate on 19 December 1863. At that time, he was the only African-American schoolteacher licensed in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. For ten months during the academic year 1884–1885, Arnett served as a school principal in Washington, D.C. He returned to Brownsville in 1885, teaching there until 1887. Although largely self-educated, he attended classes at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. A man of many interests, he was an occasional lecturer in ethics and psychology at the Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce University, served as a historian of the AME church, was a trustee of the Archaeological and Historical Society of Ohio, served as a member of the Executive Committee of the National Sociological Society, and was statistical secretary of the Ecumenical Conference of Methodism for the western section from 1891 to 1901....


Cover Arnett, Benjamin William (1838-1906)
Benjamin W. Arnett. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.


Brownlow, William Gannaway (1805-1877), minister, newspaper editor, and governor of Tennessee  

Jonathan M. Atkins

Brownlow, William Gannaway (29 August 1805–29 April 1877), minister, newspaper editor, and governor of Tennessee, was born in Wytheville, Virginia, the son of Joseph A. Brownlow and Catherine Gannaway, farmers. Born into a moderately comfortable, slaveholding family, Brownlow was taken in by a maternal uncle after both parents died in 1816. From ages eleven through eighteen he worked on his uncle’s farm and attended the local common schools when possible, although most of his education came through his own private reading. In 1823 he moved to Abingdon, Virginia, to learn the carpentry trade from another uncle. His work as a carpenter ended abruptly when he experienced a religious conversion at a Methodist camp meeting in nearby Sulphur Springs in 1825. Following this meeting, he completed his current carpentry jobs and moved back to Wytheville to study for the ministry with William Horne. After a year of training, he was licensed for the ministry by the church’s Holston Conference and began a career as an itinerant preacher....


Cain, Richard Harvey (12 April 1825–18 January 1887), clergyman and politician  

William C. Hine

Cain, Richard Harvey (12 April 1825–18 January 1887), clergyman and politician, was born to free parents in Greenbriar County, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1831 his family moved to Gallipolis, Ohio. Cain was educated at local schools and worked on an Ohio River steamboat before being licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal church in 1844. Complaining of racial discrimination in the church, he resigned and joined the African Methodist Episcopal church. Assigned a pulpit in Muscatine, Iowa, he was ordained a deacon in 1859. He returned to Ohio and in 1860 attended Wilberforce University. From 1861 to 1865 he served as pastor at Bridge Street Church in Brooklyn, New York, and was elevated to elder in 1862. He participated in the 1864 national black convention in Syracuse, New York, that advocated abolition, equality before the law, and universal manhood suffrage. He married Laura (maiden name unknown), and they adopted a daughter....


Lynch, James (1839-1872), minister, editor, and politician  

Leslie H. Fishel

Lynch, James (08 January 1839–18 December 1872), minister, editor, and politician, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Benjamin Lynch, a merchant and minister, and Benjamin’s wife, a former slave purchased by her husband. Her name is not known. Lynch attended the elementary school operated by the Reverend ...


Maffitt, John Newland (1794-1850), Methodist preacher  

Robert E. Cray

Maffitt, John Newland (28 December 1794–28 May 1850), Methodist preacher, was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a middle-class family that belonged to the Church of Ireland, a branch of the Anglican church. Information about Maffitt’s family background and early life is decidedly spotty: his parents’ names are unknown, although we do know that his father died when Maffitt was twelve and that his mother shortly thereafter attempted to establish him in a mercantile establishment devoted to tailoring. One account claims he graduated from Trinity College. The teenage Maffitt indulged a love of reading novels and historical romances, however, until a conversion experience in a Methodist meeting at age eighteen or nineteen—accounts conflict on this score—convinced him to become a preacher. The Irish Methodist church did not recognize him as a licensed preacher, and his sporadic attempts at evangelical work both in and beyond Dublin were a mixed success at best. Even so, he displayed a highly melodramatic style, which would personify his later career in the United States. He married Ann Carnic at age twenty. They had seven children; the oldest son, ...


Revels, Hiram Rhoades (27 September 1827?–16 January 1901), senator, clergyman, and educator  

Kenneth H. Williams

Revels, Hiram Rhoades (27 September 1827?–16 January 1901), senator, clergyman, and educator, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of free parents of mixed blood. Little is known of his family or early years. At eight or nine he enrolled in a private school for black children, where he was “fully and successfully instructed by our able teacher in all branches of learning” (Revels, p. 2). About 1842 his family moved to Lincolnton, North Carolina, where Revels became a barber. Two years later he entered Beech Grove Seminary, a Quaker institution two miles south of Liberty, Indiana. In 1845 he enrolled at another seminary in Darke County, Ohio, and during this period may also have studied theology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio....


Cover Revels, Hiram Rhoades (27 September 1827?–16 January 1901)

Revels, Hiram Rhoades (27 September 1827?–16 January 1901)  


Hiram Rhoades Revels. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98798)


Simpson, Matthew (1811-1884), Methodist bishop and orator  

Daniel W. Stowell

Simpson, Matthew (21 June 1811–18 June 1884), Methodist bishop and orator, was born in Cadiz, Ohio, the son of James Simpson, a manufacturer and storekeeper, and Sarah Tingley. While growing up in western Pennsylvania, Simpson had little formal schooling, but he read widely and acquired knowledge of history, mathematics, literature, and religion under the tutelage of his uncle Matthew Simpson. As a boy, Simpson helped his family in the manufacturing of weaver’s reeds. He learned about the law by attending the county court with another uncle who was clerk. A third uncle published a weekly newspaper; by assisting him, Simpson learned much about publishing and the world beyond Cadiz. At age fifteen, he helped his uncle Matthew teach at a private academy. Two years later he attended Madison College in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, for two months before returning to Cadiz. In 1830, desiring a more stable career, Simpson began the study of medicine under a local doctor; three years later he qualified to practice on his own....


Swomley, John Montgomery, Jr. (1915-2010), methodist minister and peace activist  

Joe P. Dunn

Swomley, John Montgomery, Jr. (31 May 1915–16 August 2010), methodist minister and peace activist, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to John Montgomery Swomley, Sr., and Florence Edna Forsyth Swomley. He grew up active in his local Methodist church, attended Harrisburg public schools, and entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at age seventeen. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1936, he enrolled at Dickinson Law School but withdrew during the first year. Instead he attended Boston University School of Theology in 1938–1939, where he became a pacifist, student activist organizer, and the vice president of the National Council of Methodist Youth (NCMY). After a brief summer experience as an assistant pastor in Dearborn, Michigan, he began in 1940 a long career with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace activist organization, where he served as the youth secretary in the national office in New York City, as well as retaining his position with the NCMY....


Taylor, Edward Thompson (1793-1871), Methodist preacher  

Wesley T. Mott

Taylor, Edward Thompson (25 December 1793–05 April 1871), Methodist preacher, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to unknown parents. Raised in a foster home, he sought to engage playmates by giving funeral sermons for animals, whipping those children not already weeping from the force of his preaching. At the age of seven he went to sea. In the autumn of 1811, at seventeen, he found himself in the port of Boston and crawled through the window of the Methodist chapel, where the Reverend ...


Walls, William Jacob (1885-1975), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) bishop, civic leader, and author  

Sandy Dwayne Martin

Walls, William Jacob (08 May 1885–23 April 1975), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) bishop, civic leader, and author, African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) bishop, civic leader, and author, was born in Chimney Rock, Rutherford County, North Carolina, the son of Hattie Edgerton and Edward Walls. His father died when Walls was only eight years old, leaving Hattie Walls, with the help of relatives and friends, to support and provide sufficient education for Walls and his three younger sisters. In 1899, at age fourteen, he entered the ministry. He was licensed to preach at the Hopkins Chapel AMEZ Church in Asheville, North Carolina, and began as an evangelist. He was ordained as a deacon in 1903 and received full ministerial, or elder, orders in 1905. After attending Allen Industrial School in Asheville, he transferred to the AMEZ-supported Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he received a B.A. in 1908. Five years later he received a bachelor of divinity degree from the denomination’s Hood Theological Seminary. During 1921–1922 he studied philosophy and journalism at Columbia University. While in New York City Walls also studied the Bible at Union Theological Seminary, which was located near the university. Twenty years later, in 1941, he attained an M.A. in Christian education from the University of Chicago Divinity School....