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DeBaptiste, Richard(1831–1901) - Minister, educator, Olivet Baptist Church, Other Services, Chronology

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Richard DeBaptiste used his talents as an educator and Christian minister to help establish the Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, where he served as pastor from 1863 to 1882. Just prior to his death in 1901, DeBaptiste led a congregation in Elgin, Illinois, serving a community of former slaves that later became the core of the Second Baptist Church. Additionally, DeBaptiste held leadership roles within various Baptist organizations.

DeBaptiste came from a family that distinguished itself in nearly every major war in which the United States had been involved. His grandfather, John DeBaptiste, fought in the Revolutionary War; George DeBaptiste, an uncle, was in the War of 1812; and two brothers, George and Benjamin, were involved in the Civil War. Richard DeBaptiste was born a free man in Fredericks-burg, Virginia on November 11, 1831. His parents, William and Eliza, devoted considerable energy and income to educate Richard and their other children.

DeBaptiste had an excellent career in Christian ministry. When he was a young man, he received basic instruction in reading and grammar at home, first from a black man and later from a Scotch-Irishman who had earlier taught in Scotland. The desire of William DeBaptiste to provide teachers for his immediate family and for a few relatives led to his being kept under surveillance and to his home being watched by police. Virginia laws were such that had it been detected that he was operating a school in his home, he would have been subject to fines and imprisonment.

Leaving the family home in Virginia, young Richard made his way north, first to Ohio and later to Michigan and Illinois, where he continued his English studies with a Quaker teacher, Richard Dillingham. DeBaptiste later learned that Dillingham died in a Nashville prison, where he was incarcerated for helping escaped slaves. The kindly Quaker died from abuse and beatings. DeBaptiste’s next teacher was Samuel H. Davis, pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Detroit. With this man, DeBaptiste studied theology and several languages (German, French, Latin and Greek) in preparation for his subsequent study of theology at the University of Chicago.

DeBaptiste went to Mt. Pleasant, Ohio during the great northern migration, motivated, like others, by the desire for personal safety, freedom, and broader opportunity. After his arrival in Mt. Pleasant, he received ordination into the Baptist ministry. The ordination was approved by a representative council drawn from the notable Baptist congregations of the Union Baptist Church, the First and Ninth Street White Assemblies, the Union and Zion black churches, and the church at Lock-land. From 1860 to 1863, Lowery ministered to the congregation he founded in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, and at the same time he taught children attending local colored public schools.

Olivet Baptist Church

In 1863, DeBaptiste assumed leadership of the Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago. This church flourished under DeBaptiste’s early leadership. The congregation in later years increased in membership to become, early in the twentieth century, the largest African American church in the world, eventually numbering as many as 20,000 members.

Upon its founding in April 1850, this church was known to its fifty-six members and their pastor, H. H. Hawkins, as the Zenia Baptist Church. The church building stood at the corner of Harrison and LaSalle (then called Griswold). Later it took the name Zion Baptist, and eventually it was renamed Olivet Baptist. Olivet remained under DeBaptiste’s leadership from 1863 to 1882, a remarkable tenure of twenty years and a remarkable period of early growth for the church. By 1877 the membership had grown to over seven hundred. Meanwhile DeBaptiste had led his congregation in erecting a new church building, this time on Fourth Avenue (later renamed Federal Street), and when this building was consumed in the great Chicago fire of 1873, he led again, building a new structure on the same site. That building was sold in 1883, and the site became the Dearborn-Polk Street Station.

Later in his life, DeBaptiste served as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Elgin, Illinois, for two or three years prior to his death in 1901. This historic church, years before his arrival, had originated as a community of escaped slaves, at first consisting of only women and children, brought to the location by the Reverend Benjamin Thames in October 1862. When the men of these families began to arrive, they reconnected and unified Elgin, which became the core of the Second Baptist Church, the last church DeBaptiste would serve.

Other Services

In addition to his work as pastor, DeBaptiste served his fellow Baptists in a number of capacities. He was corresponding secretary to the Wood River (Baptist) Association in 1864, recording secretary for the Northwestern and Southern Baptist Convention’s organizational meeting in 1865, and corresponding secretary of the 1866 annual meeting of the organization. In addition, he held several elective positions, including that of president of the United American Baptist Missionary Convention, a post to which he was re-elected until 1877. He then assumed the role of recording secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, serving for another two years. He was elected to offices in such prestigious organizations as the Baptist Free Mission Society and the American Baptist National Convention. At the latter meeting, he revealed the encouraging, but previously undiscovered, fact that instead of the 800,000 black Baptists reported in the American Baptist Publication Society yearbook, there were, in fact, over one million black Baptists. Surprisingly, the total reported by DeBaptiste did not include the newly baptized from twenty-one out of thirty-seven states for that year.

In 1887, DeBaptiste received an honorary D.D. from the State University in Louisville, Kentucky. He died in Chicago, Illinois on April 21, 1901. DeBaptiste devoted most of his life to the Baptist ministry; he had accumulated very little money and few worldly possessions, but for him the number of souls that he saved counted for much more.

Chronology

1831

Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia on November 11

1860

Grganizes and serves as minister to congregation in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio

1863

Becomes pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois

1864

Becomes corresponding secretary to the Wood River (Baptist) Association

1865

Becomes recording secretary of the Northwestern and Southern Baptist convention at the founding meeting in St. Louis

1870

Serves as president of the Baptist Free Mission society

1887

Receives honorary D.D. from the State University, Louisville, Kentucky

1898?

Serves as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Elgin, Illinois

1901

Dies in Chicago, Illinois on April 21

Debo, Angie (1890–1988) - Western History [next] [back] Deathmoon

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