Reverend Noah Davis

Noah Davis (1804–1867)

Noah Davis was a Baptist minister and author of an emancipation narrative, A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man, published in 1859. Born into slavery in Madison County, Davis learned farming and carpentry and joined the Baptist church in Fredericksburg, which elected him a deacon. In 1847, white Baptists paid for Davis's freedom (he had already raised some of the money) and hired him as a missionary to African Americans in Baltimore. The next year he established the Second Colored Baptist Church in that city and over the next decade raised the money to free his family, who were in danger of being sold. His memoir was published in part to earn funds for that effort. In 1863, Davis attended the American Baptist Missionary Convention in Washington, D.C., and there met with President Abraham Lincoln, requesting he be allowed to preach to African American troops. In 1866, his church united with another, and Davis died the next year, in Baltimore. MORE...

 

Davis was born into slavery in March 1804 in Madison County and was the son of John Davis and Jane Davis. His father operated a mill that belonged to his owner, who lived in Fredericksburg. After the owner sold the mill in 1816, he granted Davis's parents their freedom and allowed them to live on his nearby property in Culpeper County. Davis learned farming and carpentry there before moving in December 1818 to Fredericksburg, where he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. He learned to read and write, experienced a religious conversion, and on September 19, 1831, was baptized as a member of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, of which George F. Adams was then pastor. Soon thereafter Davis married another church member, Fanney, although both being then in slavery their marriage had no legal standing. During the next twenty years they had seven children who were all born into slavery.

The Fredericksburg church had about 300 black members when Davis married. They elected him a deacon, and the white officials licensed him to preach. In 1845 Davis asked his owner whether he could purchase his freedom. The master set a price of $500 if Davis could raise the money in the North. Beginning in June, Davis addressed audiences in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, but he returned to Fredericksburg almost four months later with only $150. He then opened a shoemaking shop and attempted to earn the balance. In 1847 white Baptists in Baltimore, including Adams and William Crane, a supporter of immigration to west Africa, offered Davis a job as a missionary to African Americans in Baltimore and provided him the balance of the money with which to purchase his freedom.

Davis accepted the offer, left his family in Virginia, and in 1848 as a free man established the Second Colored Baptist Church in Baltimore. The congregation consisted of only 19 members in 1854 when Crane financed the construction of a four-story building on Saratoga Street to serve as sanctuary, school, and offices for black community organizations. Renamed Saratoga Street African Baptist Church, it opened on February 18, 1855. It had grown to 71 members by 1857 and 167 in 1861. The Sabbath School reported 150 pupils in 1859, and the high school taught more than 100 students in 1856 and 1859.

In 1851 Davis purchased freedom for his wife and two youngest children, and during the rest of that decade he and his wife had at least two, and possibly five, more children born into freedom. Within the next few years he purchased and freed a daughter and son who were in danger of being sold out of Virginia, and in 1858 when their owner's death forced the auction of his other three enslaved children, Davis made another tour of northern cities to raise money to purchase and free his daughter. In all, he spent more than $4,000 freeing himself, his wife, and five of his children. He published his memoir, A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man (1859), in order to raise money to purchase his two remaining enslaved sons and to help his struggling church. While preaching and fund-raising, Davis continued shoemaking at his home on Marion Street, and his wife took in laundry and did day work.

In 1863 Davis attended the American Baptist Missionary Convention in Washington, D.C. He was one of twelve black delegates who in that year met with President Abraham Lincoln and successfully requested that African American ministers be allowed to preach to black troops in the field and freed people within military lines. The financial condition of Davis's church was then precarious. About half of the church's $18,000 debt was retired within a year of its founding, but the school lost money and the few office tenants could not pay rent as a result of the financial panic of 1857 and difficulties during the American Civil War (1861–1865). In 1866 the church relinquished the building and united with the city's Union Baptist Church. Davis was in poor health by the time his church ceased to exist, and he died in Baltimore on April 7, 1867. His burial place is not known.

Time Line

  • March 1804 - Noah Davis is born into slavery in Madison County.
  • 1816 - A mill owner manumits two of his slaves, John Davis and Jane Davis, but not their son, Noah Davis.
  • December 1818 - Noah Davis, a slave whose parents were manumitted two years earlier, moves to Fredericksburg, where he apprentices to a shoemaker.
  • September 19, 1831 - Noah Davis is baptized as a member of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.
  • June 1845 - His price for freedom set at $500, Noah Davis begins addressing audiences in the North in an attempt to raise the money. After four months he has $150.
  • 1847 - White Baptists in Baltimore pay for Noah Davis's freedom and invite him to work as a missionary to African Americans in Baltimore.
  • 1848 - Noah Davis establishes the Second Colored Baptist Church in Baltimore.
  • 1851 - Noah Davis purchases the freedom of his wife and two youngest children.
  • 1854 - William Crane finances the construction of a four-story building for the Second Colored Baptist Church, on Saratoga Street, in Baltimore.
  • February 18, 1855 - The renamed Saratoga Street African Baptist Church opens in Baltimore.
  • 1858 - Noah Davis, a Baptist minister in Baltimore, tours northern cities to raise money for the freedom of several of his children, then enslaved in Virginia.
  • 1859 - Noah Davis publishes A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man.
  • 1863 - Noah Davis attends the American Baptist Missionary Convention, in Washington, D.C.
  • 1866 - The Saratoga Street African Baptist Church, in Baltimore, relinquishes its building and unites with the city's Union Baptist Church.
  • April 7, 1867 - Noah Davis dies in Baltimore.

References

Further Reading
Williams, Michael Patrick. "The Black Evangelical Ministry in the Antebellum Border States: Profiles of Elders John Berry Meachum and Noah Davis." Foundations 21 (1978): 225–241.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Lee, D., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Noah Davis (1804–1867). (2016, January 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Davis_Noah_1804-1867.

  • MLA Citation:

    Lee, Deborah and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Noah Davis (1804–1867)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 11, 2016 | Last modified: January 12, 2016


Contributed by Deborah Lee and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography