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Henry N. Jeter (Henry Norval), 1851-1938
Pastor Henry N. Jeter's Twenty-five Years Experience with the Shiloh Baptist Church and Her History. Corner School and Mary Streets, Newport, R. I.
Providence, R. I.: Remington, 1901.


Henry Norval Jeter (1851-1938) was born in Charlotte County, Virginia, to Ryland and Mary Jeter. He and his family were freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War when Jeter was fourteen. Soon after, Jeter was sent to live with and work for his uncle, who owned a boot and shoe store. "Such was his desire for an education" that he attended night school and read books whenever he could (p. 15). When he was eighteen, Jeter's father was shot by a veteran of the Confederate States Army. His last words to his son were "be a good boy, meet me in heaven" (p. 15). His father's request "impressed him as never before" and Jeter immediately pledged to "[give] his heart to Christ" (p. 3). Without delay, he entered Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., to prepare to preach the gospel as a Baptist pastor. In 1878, Jeter married Thomasina Hamilton, "a very cultured and accomplished Christian lady" who helped him in his ministry and in raising their eleven children (p. 15). Jeter left the seminary after eight years of training and moved to Rhode Island to begin his pastorate at the Shiloh Church in 1875. He helped the congregation flourish by establishing a written constitution, expanding the choir, and diligently uniting the people despite obstacles. His reputation for devotion to God and to his congregation throughout his twenty-five years of service became a source of inspiration and motivation for many throughout the region. Other records reveal that in 1897, Jeter was invited to the White House by President McKinley as an honored guest. Jeter died in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1938. He was buried in Brayman Cemetery with his wife and deceased children.

A letter written by the nationally renowned black orator and minister, Charles S. Morris, prefaces the text, whose full title is Pastor Henry N. Jeter's Twenty-five Years Experience with the Shiloh Baptist Church and Her History. In his letter, Morris endorses Henry's reputation to readers, describing him as a man with "a lover's fondness, with a hero's courage, with a martyr's constancy" (p. 3). He further lauds Jeter for his "devotion and obedience and reverence in his own family" as well as "in the community, that state, and all over the country" (p. 3).

The first section of the narrative describes the establishment of the Shiloh Church in May 1864, by Rev. Edmond Kelly. Subsequent sections give a chronological history of the pastors and congregations within the Shiloh meetinghouse, focusing on Jeter's twenty-five-year pastorate. Along with brief biographical sketches of the various pastors who served in the church, the text includes details about the congregations' activities and fundraisers, constitutions and duties of the members, problems that arise and how they are solved. The stories that Jeter includes focus on the conversions of freed African Americans who feel "the need of a Savior" and decide to "give their heart to Christ" (p. 12). They also highlight the power of the members' faith and the growth of the church. Jeter recounts the story of Rev. Kelly, who successfully founded a church against the advice of fellow pastors because of a lack of members and funds. Jeter describes how within a few years, Kelly's "little band of Baptists" outgrew the small house in which they met (p. 12).

One of the most devastating obstacles to the church and the congregation, which Jeter uses to illustrate that the church can only be supported by the "self-denying and efficient labors of the pastor, supported by the willing and affectionate co-operation of the people" (p. 42), is in the section called "Church Trouble of 1894" (p. 40-48). While Jeter is on medical leave, a visiting minister, Joseph Murphy, "bewitched some of the leading members of the church . . . and entered into a conspiracy to unsettle [Jeter]" (p. 41). Murphy is later put behind bars for felonies he had committed elsewhere, but division remains between the members and the pastor, "not only destroying [the church's] peace and its good name, but . . . even imperiling its existence" (p. 42). Jeter decides to resign in order to reestablish peace and harmony within the church, but so many members and other Pastors "expressed an earnest desire . . . for [Jeter] to remain" that he decides to withdraw his resignation (p. 82). Letters of support from the members and pastors are included on pages 64-81.

Throughout the text, Jeter includes many references to race, praising a few individuals who are kind "toward [his] church and [his] poor oppressed race" (p. 55), while criticizing organizations that treat African Americans unfairly. In "Memorial services in Honor of the Late Rev. Warren Randolph, D.D.," Jeter eulogizes Randolph, who was a white minister who often "travelled in [the black's] interest" (p. 53). He was revered by the African American Baptist community for never showing "any of the unbrotherly feeling that sometime manifests itself in the relations sustained by Christians of different races" (p. 53). In the following section, Jeter reveres another white resident of Shiloh, Mrs. Fitts, for aiding the church. He calls her "one of the noblest of Christian women that ever breathed the breath of life" because "she knew no one by his color, race, or previous condition" (p. 55). Further in the same section and again in his final words at the end of the text, Jeter criticizes other "prominent professors of Christianity," as well as the United States government for treating men differently "on account of [their] color or condition" and for not giving the black man "that which is justly due him" (p. 58, p. 97). He expresses his hope for a day when "the black, the white, the poor and the rich, [will] all go to one altar" (p. 58).

The final section, "Professional and Business Men," includes short biographies of various influential African American men and women of the time. The story of B.F. Morrell, who became the first black teacher of a white school in the South and the first "first colored man ever appointed ordinance sergeant in the United States army," closes the text (p. 97).

Works Consulted: "Rev. Charles S. Morris Describes the Wilmington Massacre of 1898," accessed 14 Nov. 2011; Clark, Edward, Black Writers in New England: A Bibliography, with Biographical Notes, of Books by and about Afro-American Writers Associated with New England in the Collection of Afro-American literature, Suffolk University, Museum of Afro-American History, Boston, African American National Historic Site, Boston: National Park Service, 1985; Simmons, William J. and Henry McNeal Turner, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, Ohio: G.M. Rewell & Co., 1887; "United States Census, 1930 for Henry Jeter," accessed 15 Nov. 2011.

Susanne McGann

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