John Jasper was born on July 4, 1812. He was a slave, and worked on the Peachy plantation.
John Jasper was the twenty-fourth child in his family. His mother was a Christian, and worked hard to instill Christian principles in her children.
John began his slave duties when he was eight. He was first a cart boy, then he waited on his masters table, and thirdly a gardener. When he was fifteen he was put to work in the tobacco shed.
At the age of twenty-two, John married a girl from a plantation nearby. He spent a night with her, was found missing from his place and was accused of running away. He implored them to understand that he was only getting married. He had no plans to run away. No one would listen, and he was separated from his wife. He never saw her again. He was married three other times, but was separated from his second wife, and the other two died. He had no children.
He became deeply rebellious after the incident over his first wife. He drank and smoked heavily, and lashed out at everything in his life.
In 1839, another slave taught him to read. During this year, he was also saved. He struggled against God for six weeks, but finally surrendered. At this time he was working as a tobacco stemmer, taking the stems from the leaves. He was the fastest stemmer there, but during those six weeks, he just could not get the stems out right. He knew he was a horrible sinner and figured he was the worst of them all. This weight was getting heavier and heavier. Just when he thought he would die he begged God to have mercy on him. “Before I knowed it, a light broke in my heart, I was as light as a feather. I felt like I would just knock the factory roof off with my shouts.
Samuel Hardgrove, his master at that time, was a good master. He was a fervent Christian, and was worried about John Jasper’s wildness. He had been praying that John would get saved. He gave him the rest of the day off so he could tell his relatives and friends about God.
John Jasper became known as a great preacher through his preaching at slave funerals. He was a preacher that could not hold still. William Hatcher, pastor of Great Street Baptist Church in Richmond described his preaching thus:
“Shades of our Anglo-Saxon fathers! Did mortal lips ever gush with such torrents of horrible English! Hardly a word came out clothed and in its right mind. And gestures! He circled around the pulpit with his ankle in his hand; and laughed and sang and shouted and acted about a dozen characters within the space of three minutes. Meanwhile, in spite of these things, he was pouring out a gospel sermon, red hot, full of love, full of invective, full of tenderness, full of bitterness, full of tears, full of every passion that ever flamed in the human breast.”
He was a theater within himself, with the stage crowded with actors. He was a battlefield; himself the general, the staff, the officers, the common soldiery, the thundering artillery and the rattling musketry. He was the preacher; likewise the church and the choir and the deacons and the congregation.
When he became pastor of the Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, ministers from other churches noticed white folks missing from their congregations. One minister became angry when he heard that his congregation was leaving to hear a black preacher. He said that no black man could be ordained to be a preacher. He decided to go see for himself what Jasper did that drew so many people. After the sermon, the minister confessed that a black man could be ordained to preach, and Jasper was that man.
John Jasper was known to be frank. He said what he thought and meant. One Sunday, the entire Virginian legislature was present at his church. John burst out “Pharaoh was an awful liar. Just like they tell me most politicians are.”
John Jasper died March 28, 1901, almost 11 years short of living a century.
Thompson, Wayne E. and David L. Cummins; This Day in Baptist History; Bob Jones University Press; Greenville, South Carolina; 1993; pgs 126-127
Tan, P.L. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.
Fant, C.E., & W. M. Pinson. A Treasury of Great Preaching. electronic ed. Logos Library System; A treasury of great preaching. Dallas: Word Publishers, 2000, c1995.