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Excerpt from The Life of the Rev. Dandridge F. Davis, of the African M. E. Church…Also, a Brief Sketch of the Life of the Rev. David Conyou, of the A. M. E. C. and His Ministerial labors by Augustus R. Green (1850)

In Also, a Brief Sketch of the Life of the Rev. David Conyou, of the A. M. E. C. and His Ministerial labors, published in 1850, Augustus R. Green writes the life story David Conyou, an enslaved man in Loudoun County who bought his freedom and became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Transcription from Original

As to the day or year precisely of brother CONYOU'S birth, is out of our power to state. He was born in Loudon Co., Va., in 1791, and was a subject of oppression, although his master was his father. His mother at an early period of his life embraced religion, and lived and died in the M. E. Church, a believer in Christ, and such was her godly admonitions to her son David, that ere he had arrived to manhood, he set out to seek the salvation of his soul! which salvation he found when about seventeen years of age. He was of a lively turn and disposition, and he soon found that the tempter would take great advantage of his levity; and he determined "to lay aside every weight, and the sin that did so easily beset him." But as soon as he attempted to do so, a new trial he met; one of his formdt associates met him, and said "well Dav I hear you have got religion, and I will now give you a flogging to prove your religion." This was a hard trial to the young disciple; not fully prepared to take the advice of the Savior, "When they smite you on the one cheek, turn the other." However, he was attacked, and he strove to beg off, telling the young man that he desired nothing but peace, and therefore it would be great satisfaction to him to be in friendship with all men. All failed, and he was very roughly assaulted by the young man; he defended himself, and often spoke of the occurrence with regret, even till of late years.

He was destitute of any literary abilities, but he soon felt his soul drawn out after poor sinners, and commenced leading prayer meetings among his slave brethren. He was an instrument in the hands of God of turning over many poor wanderers to the fold of Christ! As he growed in days he growed in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. From prayer meetings he went on to exhorting, and in this he continued for a number of years. He found a great help in his Christian experience, by the council of his loving Christian mother, till in the providence of God she was removed from the society of men to the society of angels! None can tell the good that may result from the religious example of praying mothers for their children. It is in their power to make good or bad impresions upon the young mind of their offsprings, and in that period of life which will never be forgotten. The fruit of a mother's tears and prayers will not only be felt and remembered in time, but happy thousands will rejoice in eternity, through the instrumentality of an affectionate mother! And what raptures of joy will it afford to each to meet in that heavenly world where they can enjoy forever the society of those they love.

We shall be under the necessity of passing over the early history of our brother in a very concise manner. The time of his marriage we cannot state, but he married a young woman, and they lived together till death separated them. His wife was a free women, which afforded him great comfort, and she too was a professor of religion, and died after several year's union, and left a husband and one daughter to mourn her demise.

He was about 40 years of age when he undertook to purchase his time from those who claimed him, and after paying the sum required, advantages was about to be taken of him; and his friends advised him to go out of the way, and if the (so-called) owner attempted to interfere with him, they would see to his rights.

He came away from Virginia in 1831, and settled in Brownsville, Pa., where he united with the M. E. Church, and remained in the capacity of a Class Leader and Exhorter. During which period he again concluded to chose a help-meet, and becoming acquainted with a young sister, Miss Cassinda Terrel, he determined to marry, and on the——day of——1832, he associated his interests with the aforenamed lady, of strict piety and of good Christian character. They were favored with one child, who he named after himself; and they lived together till the voice of his Master called him away!

CHAPTER II.

The good effects of his religious example in Brownsville, &c.

When father Conyou came to Brownsville he found very few of the followers of the Savior, as the people were rather disposed to enjoy the pleasure of sin. But through his instrumentality, many were influenced to give the ways of sin and folly, and in a few years he had a good little band to unite with him in the work, till he was convinced of the propriety of uniting with the A. M. E. Church, which conclusion he carried out in 1836, during the labors of the Rev. S. G. Clingman, on this Circuit, and retained his fellowship therein. Bro. Conyou was always ready to give an answer of the hope of glory that he possessed, and on all occasions striving to advance the interests of Christianity.

His association with the Society in Brownsville was attended with the best of consequences, and many, both old and young, will rejoice in eternity, from the effect of his labors. He was appointed Class Leader, and such was the friendship created toward him, that he remained in this situation until he felt his mind influenced to 'go out in the hedges and high ways and call sinners to repentance.'

It is true that some thought bro. Conyou's ways rash, for whatever he saw wrong, he would speak of it at the time, whether it was acceptable or not. It was in 1840 that he embarked in the cause, and soon he found the door opened for a more extensive field of religious operation. The success of this enterprise, was in his hands to a great degree, for although God can work without means in building up his Church, yet hath He chosen faithful men in all ages to publish His will, and carry out his bright design!

It has been observed, that the prosperity of the infant Church depended much upon his integrity, and to this he kept a special eye, and by a deportment that was worthy of imitation, he invited his former friends to go with him, and thereby built up a strong society. Many who could not be influenced before to go to Church while the brethren remained with the M. E. Church in that place, soon were found in the sanctuary of the Lord, and their hearts were cut to the quick by that word which "searches the heart and triest the reins, and is a discerner of the thoughts of the children of men," and forsaking their former habits, joined in with the people of God, and thus the work has been onward!

The blessing of this great change was not only advantageous to the people of that place spiritually but temporally also, and caused an entire and radical change. By them becoming religious, they abandoned the pursuits of former days, called innocent amusement or pleasure; and their hard earnings were appropriated to the glory of God; the happiness of their families, and welfare of their brethren.

And the condition of the people of this place now compared with the former, is a living testimony of the validity of Christianity to better the condition of the whole human family were its doctrines are taught, and its precepts obeyed!

At this point we will only adduce the testimony of one of the brethren on this subject, when reviewing the past, he exclaimed "if our people had only been instructed and enlightened in this place and come together twenty years ago, it would have saved thousands of dollars to carry on the great work of the gospel, and we would have been hundreds of dollars better off in this life, and further advanced toward the kingdom." It is a fact that misspent time will be lamented, if not in this life, most assuredly in that to come.

  • "Then let us mourn our follies here,
  • And seek a Savior's love!
  • His precious grace to share,
  • And sing his praise above!

Like the grain of mustard, though but small, it now has become a great tree, and many can sit under their own vine and fig tree, were none dare molest; and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And through all the conflicts of the Church from its organization till the period of his more extensive labor in the cause of the itinerancy, was his whole soul engaged for the prosperity of the Church, and retained the most explicit confidence of his class as a Leader, and the congregation as a Preacher.

This we consider a great recommendation for any Preacher to have; for if he is destitute of a good character at home, and casts himself upon strangers to obtain it, there is great danger of betraying himself and throwing off the fig-leaf covering which he may strive to sew while a stranger, and if per chance, he should succeed in his calculations, perhaps at some point of his new home he may find in his congregation, some of those very persons from whose face he has fled, and here of course, will be a discomfiting affair. And may it not be expected that the whole character of the man will soon be fully developed?

And while the Savior says, "A Prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house." Yet it does not convey the doctrine that a Prophet shall live or act so as to be without, on account of bad conduct; but to the contrary. And after an exemplary life of devotedness to God; and his candle put on a candle stick; having done all the good he possibly could for the salvation of those around him, will find that another will come and do but little, and will receive more honor than he has for many year's labor; nevertheless Preachers must live worthy of honor both at home and abroad, if they wish to do the work of an evangelist; this was the desire of our brother, and he carried out during his sojourn among his people in this place.

Brother Conyou was very conscientious, and what he believed to be right he stood to it, so on the other hand; there was no compromising with him if wrong, his motto was "abandon it at once." Oft-times when in the affairs of the Church, he was found to stand alone, but experience hath proved in many instances, to those opposed at that time, that his course was right.

He used to delight in singing these lines

  • "Then will I tell to sinners round,
  • What a dear Savior I have found;
  • I'll point to my redeeming blood,
  • And say behold the way to God!"

And it is not always the case that good men are spared to reap the fruit of their labor in this life, but they sow, suffer, and contend for right, and die without the sight of its completion; yet others will reap the fruit; the testimony will be given in their favor; and they, though dead, yet speaketh; and through the boundless space of untried being, they will have cause to rejoice at having done right, though many opposed them! "For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, of power, and of a sound mind," and that Preacher or Leader who will go with the multitude, because they are strong in numbers, will eventually destroy himself and the people committed to his care. Love, power, and soundness of mind must all centre in a servant commissioned and sent forth an ambassador for Christ, no one of these qualities must be lacken, or it disqualifies the whole man for one of the greatest mission ever committed to men or angels!

He was to the very letter "careful to entertain strangers," and under his roof was always a place, and at his table a seat for them. Neither was he particular of number when occasion required, he was ready to divide his morsel to as many as his house could hold, and never appeared happier than when making and seeing other's happy. He therefore was kind and benevolent at home, and his heart was always open to the wants of his brethren.

CHAPTER III.

Our first acquaintance, and his labors while a local Preacher, &c.

It was our good fartune to fall in with a companion, though old, yet possessed of all the qualities to make his company agreeable to the most youthful mind that desired to love the Lord. And from the first day of our acquaintance till the time of his departure, was there a particular intimacy existing, yea, one which time did not destroy, nor death devour.

In 1841 we first became acquainted, after our first round on the Uniontown Circuit, as it was then called; and during this year he travelled considerably through the Circuit, for as much, sometimes, as a week, he would be out inviting sinners to return. And not only did he consent to go when the appointments was near home, and weather favorable, but when at the most remote part of the Circuit, and in sections of country where we had no society; he was ever willing to go and cast in his mite in building up the kingdom of Christ.

And his labors was attended with good to the hearers, not only in building up believers, but his tenderness exhibited for the salvation of sinners, proved effectual to make up what he lacked in word while preaching.

He was a good instructor of the youth, and by a long service in the cause of his Master, he was well calculated to do so; and he would often observe "that it was his soul's delight to be in conversation with the young disciples of Christ, as he had been brought through so many dangers, and the Lord had never forsaken him, and felt to recommend the same Protector to all he had intercourse with.

He still remained in a local capacity this year, and near the close thereof, he concluded to go to the Annual Conference, which was held in Cincinnati, O., on the 11th of September, and determined also if his services was needed, he would give himself up wholly to the work. The time drew near, and accordingly he was as good as his promise. We started a horseback to travel the journey, and the poet well describes our position, when it says

  • "We have a tedious journey,
  • 'Tis tiresome, 'tis true!
  • But see how many dangers the Lord has bro't us through."

For notwithstanding the fatigue of the journeying to wear our spirits down, we were met, when about two hundred miles from home, with the sad intelligence of the most destructive mob upon the colored people of this city that had ever been known! This intelligence first met us at Columbus, but he hoped it was not a true report; and on Monday morning we started from this place for Springfield, where the report was confirmed; and the advice of a number of friends to us was, "to go no further;" but the bounds were set, and he felt to march up to them through the assistance of Him who has called upon his soldiers to go out into the vineyard. The next morning brother Conyou was up and fixing to renew his efforts for the place of destination and to prosecute his journey to meet with his suffering brethren! After a few hour's ride he arrived at Xenia, where he met with a number of the brethren, who were consulting upon the propriety of sending word to Bishop Brown to return to this place and hold the Conference, as the Minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in that Station, informed them that their house would be freely given, and their aid to sustain the Conference. Brother Conyou listened to the proposal, and then observed "we are called by legal authority to meet at Cincinnati, and whilst I thank our good brethren for their kindness and sympathy, yet for one, I am not only willing but ready to go to the place appointed, and by the grace of God attend to our business there."

The brethren agreed, as by this time we were about twelve or fourteen in number; and the next morning started for Conference, travelled through to Dayton and Springboro. He, during our discouraging journey, cheered the brethren, and always appeared willing to trust his cause in the hands of his heavenly Father, who he said "had never yet forsaken him, when he approached Him with confidence. 'Even your hairs are numbered.' "

When entering the city, and all appeared quiet; brother Conyou remarked, "How Satan would have triumphed, if he could have frightened all these Ministers from their duty!"

His soul was in the work, and he only desired the approval of the Conference, but by his not applying in time to the Elder in Charge, he did not receive the certificate to join the travelling Connexion.

After Conference he returned home, and faithfully discharged the duties of a local Preacher, both far and near he went, as his means would admit of; and often he made great sacrifices in going out to preach the gospel. In this capacity he remained and devoted his services to the Church in regularly attending his class as leader, and preaching for them both in this and the neighboring towns of Brownsville.

CHAPTER VI.

His joining the itinerancy, his appointment.

Having made up his mind to give himself to the work of a travelling Preacher once more, he regulated his affairs at home and started for Conference, which which was at Cincinnati this year again.

He went up with the spirit of a faithful servant of the Lord. Not disposed to make a choice of the most pleasant fields for his labor, but to go to whatever appointment he was sent. And remarked that "if the Lord is with us, we can stand it for one or two years in any place?" That such was the spirit our Lord required as a prerequisite to the sending of His disciples is obvious, for he says "I have not called you to peace, but to great sorrow; not to ease, but to great labor, that thereby ye may bring forth much fruit."

He was received and appointed to the Allegheny. Mission, where he had extensive labor and great suffering to endure; and received it with calmness and submission, remarking "it may be a hard field to labor in, but in the strength of the Lord I will go at it." Amidst the greatest discouragements and suffering, his mind was at ease, and he was found pressing on in the performance of his duty.

The Mission was extensive, and widely scattered was his flock; but at the time appointed he was expected, and they were not disappointed. When facing the cold blast of the northern storm, his old and tottering frame would sometimes almost be chilled to death, but when the time arrived for his next appointment, he would start and face the storm. His first year was attended with considerable success, and his godly walk had endeared him to his people

During this year, we often had the pleasure of each other's company, and on one occasion, we travelled, by request, all through his Mission, and found it in a flourishing condition. From the fact of it being a new field, and the people scattered wide, he had to labor under heavy difficulties. And the great reason why the people were so sparsely settled through this country was, because there were no society regularly established of our people.

During our tour in the summer of 1846 with him, he labored at every appointment, viz: Bridge-water, New Castle, Mercer, Meadville and Erie, what was lacking of literary qualifications to make him a good shepherd, he certainly possessed it in his affectionate manner of address, when persuading the people in the name of his Master. It was at a time when a great excitement was afloat about the propriety of separate churches or colored organizations.

When one of the Ministers who opposed his organizing a society in Erie, approached him on the subject, and desired to show him the error, brother Conyou heard him out, and calmly remarked "As we are already organized, and have a great many thousand members, if there is no use of two organizations, you had better come in with us, for we have tried our friends and they have forced us to organize, now it is nothing more than right for those who have the true spirit, to try us and see if we don't do better, and treat them more honorable." This set the brother at rest, and our father had no more counsel from that source of this kind.

How his soul panted for learning, and though an old man, yet he was a diligent student of the word of God. He used the holy Scriptures for his companion while on his Mission, and complied with the letter of the Discipline, "Never to be triflingly employed, nor trifle at any time; nor spend more time than is strictly necessary at any place."

  • "No room for mirth or trifling here,
  • Nor wordly hope, or worldly fear,
  • If life so soon is gone!"

He was one of the number who we have noticed as being detained from Conference in the preceding pages.

From the Conference in Cincinnati, being the second time we had travelled there in company, he was appointed the second year to this field of severe labor! and received it with cheerfulness and took his seat. When interrogated on the subject, he said "I am in the hands of God, and He will take care of me."

He returned to his field of labor with the best wishes of his people, and commenced his second year's labor; and with the zeal of a young man did this aged father enter upon the duties of a Christian Minister.

  • "And all my consecrated powers,
  • Thine, wholly thine, shall be!"

It is not a matter of small moment to engage in a Missionary field, especially an elderly man, and ere this year had rolled away, he sunk under the burden thereof. In the cold and dreary winter of '47, did the Northern winds so wonderfully affect him, that after travelling all day, when he arrived at the place of destination, was so benumbed that he could not dismount from his horse.

The friends administered to his comfort, but all in vain! He however, pursued his journey around the Mission, and then found himself called on to go home and die! His illness was of about six weeks duration, and he suffered extremely, yet with patience and resignation would adopt these lines

  • "My suffering time will soon be o'er,
  • Then I shall sigh and weep no more!"

He returned home about the middle of March, and took his bed from the cold he caught during this severe winter; and before the return of Spring, he was gathered to his fathers!

In a state of humble submission to his heavenly Father, he waited until his change come; awhile previous to his death, he invited his wife, little son David, and surrounding friends to his bedside and committed them to the protection of the Lord; and assured them "that he was ready, willing, and waiting for the summons of death! that his trust was in the Lord, and he had nothing to fear." He bid them "farewell," and fell asleep in the arms of his Redeemer, without a sigh or groan.

Thus ended the days of the Rev. DAVID CONYOU, in Brownsville, Pa., on the 30th of April, 1847, aged 65 years, after 49 year's service in the cause of the Lord, and his remains was followed the next day, to its silent tomb, by a number of friends, much lamented by all! "Mark the perfect, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace."