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Jared Maurice Arter, b. 1850
Echoes from a Pioneer Life
Atlanta, Georgia: A. B. Caldwell Publishing Co., 1922.


Jared Maurice Arter (1850-1928) was born into slavery on January 27, 1850, and spent the first 13 years of his life in its bonds. Arter knew "almost nothing of his direct ancestry" (p. 12) beyond the identities of his mother, Hannah Frances Stephenson Arter, and his father, Jeremiah Arter. After receiving their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Arter's family moved to Washington, D.C. Arter "showed interest in learning" (p. 14) at an early age and pursued education. He was "bound out" to a business man in New York until the age of 21 in return for education and training (p. 12). After taking a break of two years from his education in order to earn money to buy a house with his brother, William, Arter resumed his education, eventually earning his Bachelor's degree at Pennsylvania State College. After his conversion to the Baptist faith in 1873, Arter also sought to advance the educational pursuits of others. He served as instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary and College and the Superintendent to West Virginia Industrial School, Seminary and College, at Hill Top, West Virginia. Arter was also initiated as a Freemason and a member of the Knights of Pythias. Arter married Emily Carter in 1890, and after her death, he married Maggie Wall in 1910. His first marriage produced 5 children, 4 of whom died before reaching the age of 20. Jared Maurice Arter passed away in 1928, at the age of 78.

Arter's Echoes from a Pioneer Life (1922) has little to say about his early years spent in slavery. Arter himself simply notes that he was born in a small "one-room log cabin" in Jefferson County, West Virginia (p. 9). At the age of 9, he witnessed John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, in which John Brown and a group of abolitionists seized control of the United States Armory and Arsenal located nearby. Arter's master at the time, William Schaeffer, worked at the Arsenal. As Arter reflects on Brown's raid and the Civil War, he recalls that it was a time of "some nerve-wrecking scenes" in which "one could scarcely venture to go to the spring, wood-pile or garden without being shot at" (p. 11).

From an early age Arter showed interest in learning. His first teacher was his father, who, despite being a slave his entire life, had learned to "read and write a little" (p. 12). However, upon moving to Washington, D.C., Arter was offered the opportunity to receive an education and training from Mr. Ayers, a businessman in New York, in return for work. Arter was heartily welcomed into the Ayer family in New York and even received some training from their ten-year-old daughter, Minnie, before starting at the village grade school. His three and a half years spent in the service of the Ayer family proved to be a pivotal period of development as he was introduced to formal education and received a "fairly good start in the primary branches of English, and a good foundation laid in regular habits of work" (p. 19). Upon completion of his time with the Ayers in 1867, Arter undertook various jobs with his brother, William. Eventually, they were able to save enough to purchase a home for their mother in Bolivar, West Virginia.

On October 1st, 1873, Jared and William Arter enrolled at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was at Storer College that Arter first heard the "powerful preaching of Rev. A.H. Morrell" and was led to "fully accept Christ" (p. 26). From the time of his conversion until the day he died, Arter considered himself a "soldier of the cross" (p. 26). In the fall of 1879, Arter transferred to Pennsylvania State College, and "as far as he knows, he was the first Negro student to ever enter that institution" (p. 26). He then entered Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan, where he graduated with a Ph.D. In 1887, he was ordained to the ministry, called as pastor of the First Baptist Church, and hired as a teacher at Storer College. He remained at that position for four years, "sometimes teaching four, sometimes five subjects at the college, and pastoring in the church" (p. 27).

Arter taught and preached in various positions until 1899, when he accepted a call to open a Bible school in Cairo, Illinois. He worked closely with the institution in many capacities including teaching, giving sermons, lecturing, and working in the field. In 1908, Arter accepted a position as "principal of the graded and high school and president of the Seminary" of the West Virginia Industrial School, Seminary and College at Hill Top, West Virginia (1908). Unfortunately, a mere two weeks after officially beginning at the school, an accidental fire completely incinerated the school. However, Arter did not allow this event to deter him. He quickly procured funds from local businesses to rebuild the school. Arter was successful, and the school was soon back under way. In fact, when he left the school in 1914, the total value of the land and property of the school, "clear of debt valued $20,000" compared to the value of $5,000 when he first arrived (p. 63).

After leaving the school, Arter once more returned to Harpers Ferry and Storer College. Upon his return, Arter helped the members of the Baptist church there to become more "spiritually revived and strengthened" (p. 67). During the years 1920-21, relations between the school and the church grew disharmonious. Arter came to the conclusion that "in the interest of peace . . . a separation between church and pastor should take place" (p. 68), and as the reputation and status of the church was "greater than ever before," (p. 68) Arter decided to resign and accept an offer to take charge of the ministerial department of Simmons University in Louisville, Kentucky.

The autobiography concludes with transcripts of a few of the many influential and powerful sermons given by Arter.

Works Consulted: "Jared Maurice Arter," West Virginia Division of Culture and History, 26 Nov. 2011; "John Brown and the Harper's Ferry Raid," West Virginia Division of Culture and History, 26 Nov. 2011.

Ryan Palmer

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