Author: John T. O'Brien


Fields Cook (ca. 1817–1897)

Fields Cook was a Baptist minister and Republican Party leader who wrote a long account of his early years in slavery. Born in King William County to enslaved parents, Cook learned the rudiments of Christianity and how to read from his master’s son. By hiring himself out and saving money, he purchased his freedom by 1850 and prospered in Richmond with his wife and children, whose freedom he also purchased. After the American Civil War (1861–1865), he ministered in Chesterfield County and began working on behalf of the rights of freedpeople. He organized for the Republican Party between 1867 and 1869, but his view of the party was inclusive and made room even for former Whigs and Confederates. In 1869, he ran for United States Congress but received less than 1 percent of the vote. Cook spent his later years in Alexandria, where he worked as a bank agent and pastor, first of the Third Baptist Church and then of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. During the 1880s he supported the short-lived Readjuster Party and its promise of a biracial coalition led by former Confederate general William Mahone. Cook died in Alexandria in 1897.


Albert R. Brooks (c. 1817–1881)

Albert R. Brooks was a Richmond businessman who thrived before the American Civil War (1861–1865) despite his enslavement. In the antebellum years Brooks took advantage of the common though illegal practice of earning wages for his work, which he then invested in an eating house and a prosperous hack and livery stable. Between 1862 and 1865 Brooks managed to purchase his freedom, his wife’s, and that of most of their children. After the war Brooks became a community leader. He helped halt the revival of slavery-era pass laws that governed African American movement in the city and sat on the racially mixed jury that considered Jefferson Davis‘s treason charges. He was also active in the state’s nascent Republican Party. Brooks retreated from political activity in 1868, possibly worried that his white customers would boycott his businesses, but continued to support universal suffrage, equal justice, public education, black uplift, and civil rights. Brooks died in 1881 and is probably buried in Richmond’s Union Mechanics Cemetery.


Joseph Abrams (1791–1854)

Joseph Abrams was a Baptist minister and spent most of his life enslaved in Richmond. His owner, Joshua J. Fry, freed him in 1844 and Abrams managed to gain ownership of his large family and free them, too, in 1851. He was best known as a gifted ordained preacher who served Richmond’s African Americans until it became illegal to do so after Nat Turner’s Revolt in 1831. He continued his church work, however, and became a founding member and deacon of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church. When he died, in 1854, Abrams’s funeral attracted 8,000 mourners of both races.