Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia
John Jasper (1812-1901)
[The text below was composed in 1996 by Benjamin Ross, Church Historian of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church for the registry form for Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church to be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The images are courtesy of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church]
John Jasper, preacher, philosopher, and orator was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia on July 4, 1812. He was the youngest of twenty-four (24) children. He was converted on the fourth of July, 1839 in Capital Square of Richmond, Virginia. He was baptized in 1849 and on the same day he preached a funeral which immediately brought him fame. One of the great slave preachers, Jasper became a noted funeral preacher long before the Civil War. He taught himself to read and write, and although he delivered his sermons in the dialect of the southern slave, more educated ministers said that Jasper's vivid and dramatic sermons transcended "mere grammar." Noted for his fervid zeal, gifted imagery, and colorful oratory, John Jasper was much in demand. He preached in many sections of Virginia and adjoining states. During his August vacation, he conducted famous all day camp meetings in the country. Sunday after Sunday he could be seen leading his flock to be baptized in the James River. He was known to have baptized as many as 300 people in four hours.
He reached the height of his ambition in 1867 when he organized the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church. He gained national fame in 1878 when he first preached his famed "SUN DO MOVE" sermon, which he later delivered by invitation more than 250 times, and once before the entire Virginia General Assembly. This sermon was an attempt to prove through biblical references that the sun revolves around the earth. Thousands of people (of all races) flocked to Sixth Mount Zion Church to hear John Jasper preach. He is considered the last of the old-styled antebellum preachers who possessed great oratory skills. A leader in the community and the city of Richmond, Jasper has been the subject of many books and related articles describing the black religious experience. one book in particular has received wide acclaim -- John Jasper, The Unmatched Negro Phlisopher and Preacher by William Hatcher (1909), has enjoyed many reprints since its 1909 publishing. Before the Civil War, slave marriages had never been legally recognized. Reverend John Jasper was among a group of black ministers in Richmond who were authorized by the United States Freedman's Bureau to legalize slave marriages. The church maintains an original of a slave marriage in Jasper's handwriting dated 1865 in the church archives.
Jasper died on March 30, 1901 at 10:30 a.m. His last words were "I have finished my work and am down at the river waiting for further orders". He was first buried in the old Mechanics Cemetery. However, when the cemetery was condemned in the course of growth by the city, his remains were carried (with due ceremony) to Richmond's Woodlawn Cemetery and his grave marked with a large granite shaft. His death carried the headlines of the day, overshadowing the fact that Richmond's Jefferson Hotel burned down on the same day.
- Text of "De Sun Do Move" sermon.
- John Japser Memorial Room. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church has a room dedicated to the memory of John Jasper in its church and has a large collection of materials documenting its long history.
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