John Berry Meachum

Born: Virginia, 1789
Died: St. Louis, Missouri, 1854
Founder First African Baptist Church, educator

The following passage is excerpted from John Berry Meachum, An Address to All the Colored Citizens of the United States (Philadelphia: King and Baird, 1846). Meachum established the first black Protestant congregation west of the Mississippi. According to a number of sources, Meachum responded to the 1847 law by opening a school on a steamboat anchored in the Mississippi river to be beyond the reach of Missouri law.

"The author of this little book was born a slave, in Goochland county, Virginia, May 3d, 1789. I belonged to a man by the name of Paul Meachum, who moved to North Carolina, and lived there nine years. He then moved to Hardin county, Kentucky, where I still remained a slave with him. He was a good man and I loved him, but could not feel myself satisfied, for he was very old, and looked as if death was drawing near to him. So I proposed to him to hire my time, and he granted it. By working in a saltpetre cave I earned enough to purchase my freedom...

"I married a slave in Kentucky, whose master soon took her to St. Louis, in Missouri. I followed her, arriving there in 1815, with three dollars in my pocket. Being a carpenter and cooper I soon obtained business, and purchased my wife and children. Since that period, I have purchased about twenty slaves, most of whom paid back the greatest part of the money, and some paid all...

"I commenced preaching in 1821, and was ordained as a minister of the gospel in 1825. From that time to this, I have been the pastor of the African Baptist Church in St. Louis, which has now more than five hundred members. The Sunday school has an attendance from one hundred and fifty to three hundred."

---John B. Meachum (1846)

Underground Railroad