In the years after the war Toler helped organize churches in Caroline, Goochland, Hanover, and King George counties, and served as the first minister at Shiloh Baptist Church, in Ashland, and Abner Baptist and Jerusalem Baptist churches, in Hanover. A letter dated May 3, 1867, from an agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands requested that a horse be provided for Toler to facilitate his travel around the area and so he could dedicate himself to preaching. The Freedmen's Bureau agent wrote that Toler "devoted the most of his time to the good of his people, and his course has been such as to elicit the respect and confidence of all classes of citizens."
On October 22, Toler was elected to a convention called to rewrite the state constitution that, in accordance with Reconstruction Acts, would pave the way for Virginia's readmittance into the Union. In the first election in which African Americans could vote, the radical Toler faced John B. Crenshaw, a Quaker leader who sided with the Republican Party's conservative wing. In racially polarized voting, Toler won by a total of 2,050 votes to 1,514 votes to sit as an at-large delegate representing Hanover and Henrico counties.
According to newspaper accounts Toler gave at least two speeches during the convention, both showing frustration with the white political establishment. On February 3, he spoke in opposition to a residency requirement for the governor, insisting that the person elected by the majority should represent them no matter his race or any other factor. Three weeks later he supported voting rights for African Americans, firing back against claims that blacks were inferior and arguing that since he was licensed to preach and could speak in public, he should have the right to vote.
Toler continued to be involved in state politics after the convention and fought for the Republican nomination as a candidate to the assembly in the 1868 election, which was never held. In July 1869 he lost a bid to represent Hanover County in the House of Delegates. He attended the Republican State Convention in April 1872. That August he represented Hanover at the Third Congressional District Republican Convention and served on the Committee on Credentials. Perhaps losing some of his political influence he was named only as an alternate to the Republican State Convention the following year.
Listed as a forty-eight-year-old preacher and carpenter in the 1870 census, he reported to the census enumerator a personal estate of $200. On January 1, 1871, he purchased twenty-five acres of land near Ashland for $300, most of which he owned until his death. In 1879–1880 he served as the moderator for the recently established Mattaponi Baptist Association of Virginia. Toler died in Hanover County on July 21, 1880. His place of burial is not known.
August 13, 1865 - The Colored Shiloh Baptist Association ordains Burwell Toler as a minister. He performs marriages and organizes churches in Hanover and surrounding counties.
April 17, 1867 - Burwell Toler represents Hanover County at the Republican State Convention held in Richmond's First African Baptist Church.
October 22, 1867 - Burwell Toler wins a racially polarized election to be a delegate representing Hanover and Henrico counties at the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.
December 3, 1867–April 17, 1868 - Burwell Toler sits on the Committee of Thirteen, establishing procedures for the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. He sides with Radical Republicans on most issues, and earns a reputation as a staunch supporter of African American civil rights.
July 6, 1869 - Burwell Toler loses a bid to represent Henrico County in the House of Delegates.
1870 - The census lists Burwell Toler as forty-eight years old and a preacher and carpenter with $200 in personal estate.
January 1, 1871 - Burwell Toler purchases twenty-five acres near Ashland for $300.
April 1872 - Burwell Toler attends the Republican State Convention.
August 1872 - Burwell Toler represents Hanover County at the Third Congressional District Republican Convention.
1873 - Burwell Toler is named an alternate delegate to the Republican State Convention.
1879–1880 - Burwell Toler serves as the moderator for the Mattaponi Baptist Association of Virginia.
July 21, 1880 - Burwell Toler dies in Hanover County.
1822 - Burwell Toler is born in Hanover County, likely enslaved. He later becomes free under unknown circumstances.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Guertin, K., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Burwell Toler (ca. 1822–1880). (2016, November 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Toler_Burwell_ca_1822-1880.
- MLA Citation:
Guertin, Katherine and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Burwell Toler (ca. 1822–1880)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 Nov. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 10, 2015 | Last modified: November 2, 2016
Contributed by Katherine Guertin and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.