Autobiography of John B. Smith


In these excerpts from the Autobiography of John B. Smith, Smith describes his journey from being born into enslavement in Campbell County to becoming a founding pastor of several churches, a teacher, and a member of the board of managers of Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg. As a demonstration of the role that faith has played in his life, he includes two of his sermons.


I was born July 25, 1835 on a plantation in Campbell County, Virginia, at the extreme South-west. The plantation was owned by a man whose name was Ralph Smith. He, of course, owned my mother but not my father. They were both slaves. My father was owned by the well known, Charles Henry Lynch, who, was a nephew of John Lynch, the founder of Lynchburg. Ralph Smith died Sept., 22, 1848. Thence [illegible] were hired out. Although I was belonging to the children, the widow Smith hired me for four years. That seemed to be the overruling hand of Providence. For it placed me where I could wait on my dear, sick mother at night and care [illegible] children that were younger than myself. My [illegible] March 24, 1849. I was then 13 years of age.

But even at that age, she and my dear father had made and indelible impression of religion on my heart. I had then to take the children wholly in charge, without any advice or counsel from mother or father; for after the death of the mothers of slaves, the fathers had no more business on that plantation. It was only to raise stock anyway, as we were called. My father and mother were ignorant of the Bible, yet they were strictly religious. The children were [illegible] on my hands, but how to make a provision for them, I could not see. But, however, the same blessed [illegible] me along. The baby died and the rest were hired out. The loss of my dear mother and the struggle with the children brought me [illegible] consideration about my soul. I saw and felt the great [illegible] the counsel of my dear fostering mother so horrible it made me think about the friend of [illegible] that she had so often [illegible] about to me. Sometimes the children and myself were compelled to go to bed at night cold and most distressfully hunger. July [illegible], 1851, I was born again, but [illegible] of that corruptible [illegible]; but the incorruptible, and [illegible] and that fadeth not away. I was then in my 16th year. That day will

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Never be forgotten by me. In January 1853, I was put on the auction block with the rest of the hirelings to be taken down by the highest bidder. I was hired out in that way for four years.  That caused me to fall in the hands of different men and to have various annual homes.

I learned the alphabet and how to spell a little in 1855. Although it was unlawful for a black man to read and write, I determined to do both if possible. I had a great desire to read the Bible, the word of God and to sing from a hymn book. William T. Burton hired me in 1856. I was now ten miles from my original home. The white children of the [illegible] family would assist [illegible] one of the old servants who wished to read, they would do that very privately, as it was against the law. I now being ten miles from them, after feeding three horses, cleaning them off and [illegible] wood enough to last all day, I would set out on Sunday for the old home to get the children to dictate my lesson.


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Alas! and did my Savior bleed,

and did my Sovereign die?

Would he devote that sacred head

 For such a worm as I? etc.

That hymn was not very difficult to learn, because I had heard my dear father word it so often just as it was printed, although he did not know a letter of the alphabet. It was the first hymn I ever undertook to sing in public. The widow Smith died Oct. 5, 1856. Then the entire estate was sold November 1856. We were then scattered abroad, I fell into the hands of a human seller. One who bought and sold his dark skinned brother, to accrue [illegible] aggrandizement. He sent me to Richmond, Virginia to the great slave market of the South, to be sold. I suffered there [illegible] months the coldest winter that I ever have experienced. He could not get as much there as he gave for me. I was therefore sent back to him. Finally he sold me to a man whose name was Charles Boulding, of North Carolina, in March 1857, for much less than he gave for me. I lived in North Carolina 20 months. There I took my wife. I met only one black person while I was

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In North Carolina that professed to be a Christian. Every black person who lived on the plantation with me was unconverted. I would hold pray-meetings once a week and exhort them to get religion. I was beginning at that period to read the New Testament very well, and to sing many good sounds from the hymn book. But still I found an aspiration increasing in my mind by day by day. Although I had thought that I would have all the education that I would ever want if I could only read the Bible and sing from a hymn book, I found it to be very different. I wanted to learn how to write, though it was unlawful. I would carefully examine all the script work I could find, but I could not understand it. Finally, Charles Boulding, hired a young white man whose name was William Cheatham. He, though white, thought a great deal of me, I also prized him very highly. He and I worked in the field together. One day we sat at the end of the row, I said to him, “Bill you can’t write.” He replied, “What is the reason I can’t write.” I had a small piece of paper and pencil in my cap. I gave them to him, and said to him, “let me see you write the ABC’s.” He took them and wrote the capitals and small letters too very neatly and gave them to me, I looked at him as though I cared nothing for them; I threw the paper down. We then arose and went to work. But when we had gotten entirely out of sight of the place, I said, “Bill, I want some water.” I stopped and went towards the spring, but I hastened by the spring and to the place and got that paper and put it away. I learned how to write from those very letters. In 1858, Charles Boulding gave his slaves to his son Ephraim. He shipped us to Prince Edward County, Virginia, and sold us to his uncle Hawson A. Clark. He then became my fifth owner. I lived with him nearly five years. There I joined the Baptist Church in 1859. I had lived out of the church eight years, owning to all of my owners were leading pedo-baptists and each one desired me to join his church, but I would not, for by that time I could read for myself and I was convinced that the Baptist was right. I was baptized by Rev. Dr. Daniel Witt. I was sold away from my church and wife in 1863, because I could write. That was done by a law that was made by the aristocrats of the country.

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The law was that all persons of my race that could write should be sold out of the country or their fingers should be cut off. But the same blessed hand that had provided for me all along still prepared the awy. A man bought me and my wife, that married the favorite girl of the old Smith family: “That brought me back to where I was born and lived under the same roof that my dear mother died. That man was my sixth owner. His name was Milton Bishop. He was Methodist preacher, the very man under whose meeting I embraced religion, in 1851. However, I was not satisfied to make the old plantation my home after the emancipation. Notwithstanding I was without money and provision, I moved away Dec., 1865. I moved about 25 miles eastwards in Campbell County, about 12 miles South of Lynchburg. My purpose was to go back to my church, in Prince Edward County, the next year. Although I was among strangers I became satisfied to dwell with them. I obtained my transfer from my original church, Sandy River and united with the Mount Vernon Baptist Church of Campbell Co., Va. The whites and blacks of that church continued in one body until 1870.

The members of my color were organized May 12, 1870 under the name of the Long Mountain Baptist Church, by Rev. R. E. Booker with 75 members. June 19, 1869, I was licensed in order to become a regular ordained minister of the gospel. That action of the church was performed without my knowledge of it, and even against my will, because I did not feel that I was competent to fill such a high and responsible station. I was called before the church Dec. 2, 1869 to be examined before the body of Rev. R. E. Booker for ordination. That was also surprising to me and against my wish. Nevertheless, I was sent by the church, before a presbytery Dec. 19, [illegible]; and was ordained to the public ministry by Revs. R. E. Booker and John S. Mason, both white. The Long Mt. Church called me to take charge as pastor September 20, 1870.

I reluctantly consented asking the prayers of the church. I was obliged to act as Secretary of the church and Sabbath School and teacher of the Sabbath School and Superintendent and even as sexton a great while. It was wholly for the want of readers and writers among the members. The church united with the Shiloh

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Baptist Association Aug., 1871, that meeting convened in the city of Richmond. I felt at that meeting, I suppose, like the little beasts feel when the lions begin to roar, that is, I felt like hiding myself. I made resolutions there that I intended to study and follow them around. I knew nothing of geography, grammar, history, arithmetic, hygiene or any other science. The Bible was my all, I studied hard mostly by night to help myself and others. I taught a little private school to help the young to read and write for 25cts. a pupil per month and never got half of it. I was examined by the county superintendent of the public school and obtained a second grade certificate and became a public school teacher in 1872. I have been teaching ever since. I have been examined as a teacher 25 times. I hold the first grade certificate, now. I have met my ministerial brethren in our different religious annual meetings all over the State, and out of it too. They have always greeted me with the greatest of fraternity. In the beginning of my labor with my first churches, I was entirely too poor to go to school or to buy the books that I really needed. The American Baptist Publication Society made me a present of twenty-five dollars worth of important books, stating at the time that my condition and assumed usefulness had been described to her by Rev. T. J. Chick. I would not take fifty dollars for the books to day.

My annual income at that time from every source did not exceed one hundred and seventy-five dollars, per annum. It has never gone beyond the average of three hundred and fifty dollars at any time; I had to walk around to my appointments for several years. I farmed some and worked at the carpenter’s trade, endeavoring to make an honest living for myself and family and to obtain books. I have never had a day in school, owing to poverty. I was in the convention that was called in Lynchburg May 11, 1874 to form the Hasadiah Baptist Association. I was chosen there to preach a missionary sermon at its first sitting which convened in Farmville, Va., Sept. 9, 1874. My text was “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of the wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matt. 10:16. The next meeting was held at Long Mt. Baptist Church. I was called in 1872 to take charge as pastor of the following churches:

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Stonewall and Union Grove Baptist Churches of Appomattox Co. They are known now as Mt. Obed and Mt. Shiloh. I planned and helped the three churches to build good and valuable houses of worship and kept them out of debt. I served Mt. Shiloh 14 years, and resigned for a good cause. I baptized 225 persons during my labor there. I am still laboring at the Long Mt. and Mt. Obed: I have baptized 369 persons at Mt. Obed, and we are still going on with good success. I have baptized 745 persons at the Long Mt. I have served her 27 years, as pastor. Number of marriages 260. Number of funerals 280.

It should be remembered that when I began my labor at the Long Mt. Church I had to act as a teacher, superintendent and secretary both for the church and Sabbath School for the lack of readers and writers. But there have gone out from that church 13 public school teachers; 3 preachers, 1 first class physician, and the old and young are generally up with the times in information I was called by the Chestnut Grove Baptist Church of Appomattox Co. Dec. 2, 1888. I served her two years. The distance being too great for the necessary labor, I therefore resigned. I baptized 40 persons during my work there. I was called by two churches at the same time just as I resigned the last mentioned. I responded to the one now called Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Appomattox Co. I commenced my work there July 19, 1891. I have baptized 83 persons there. I was chosen as chairman of a committee to revise the constitution of the Hasadiah Baptist Association in 1882, I did not see any of the committees during the year, neither had they written a line. They simply adopted what I had done, and carried it before the body for approval or not. With a very little alteration, the body adopted it article by article. There have not been many changes made since. I had the honor conferred upon me to preach the ordination sermon in Lynchburg when Dr. J. E. Jones was ordained to the ministry. I served the Hasadiah Baptist Association as Vice Moderator from September 7, 1876 to September 11, 1879. I was chosen as Moderator by the same body Sept. 7, 1881, I served in that position until Sept. 8, 1886. As I have been honored so many times by the bodies to which I am, and have been connected with to preach annual sermons of various names, I hope it will not be

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loathsome to many who may feel disposed to read this brief sketch of my life and work, or consider it egotism in me to address and insert two of them, as I feel assured that I shall never undertake to write any more of this kind to come before the public.

The first will be on temperance, Sept. 11, 1885, Text: Woe unto him that giveth his neighbors drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken:–Hab 2:15. “Intemperance and its attending miseries began with the very earliest period of antiquity. The second father, we may say, of the whole human race, was addicted to this vice. From Noah to the present day, strong drink has disturbed the peace and harmony of the nations and blighted their religion. The monarch, the prince, the statesman, the soldier, the pauper and alas! the preacher of the gospel, have all bowed their heads together in willful submission to the shrine of Bacchanal, a shrine whose rays have dimmed the eyes and scorned the souls of more people than now inhabit this continent.

The love and use of strong drink have produced a misery so great that it may be truly said, that is alcohol and its compounds were unknown, that half of the sin and crimes, and nine tenths of the poverty, shame and unhappiness of the world would disappear. Intemperance, according to the specific and every day use of the word, signifies that loss of reason by unnatural and unnecessary excitement, which the drinking of some alcoholic and intoxicating liquors cause to be felt. Such drinking produces intemperance by creating a needless and a very unnecessary increase of animal and menial actions, which destroys the reasoning and disturbs the equilibrium of man. This is called drunkenness. This privation of reason brings the rational creature down to irrational brute, and opens up the way for madness and [illegible],

The mind is the great power of man that makes him the master of the world. Deprived of his rationality, he becomes a dangerous associate, yet thousands of men are daily destroying the faculty of reasoning by use of some ardent substance. They might resemble Holy Angels of heaven, but strong drink has made them more like the accursed angels of hell. The effect of intoxicating liquor is the excitement of every evil passion in

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one’s nature. It stimulates every vice and sin in the heart, and suggests all kinds of wickedness; or in other words, it does the betrayal of secrets, carries on folly, lewdness and blasphemes the God of heaven and earth; and when drunkenness is habitual, it brings on ruin temporal and eternal, such as the loss of peace, reputation, friendship, fortune, health and heaven. It also mars the body, destroys the intellect, and kills that social affection that is so essential to the human happiness on earth, and lays waste property and character. The dangers that are in the train of even the so-called moderate drinking of intoxicating loquors [sic] have never been over estimated, nor can they be. Look which way you my, or will, the picture of the destroyer is legible. Nearly every family in the land, one way or another, has sacrificed one or more victims to the old monarch; and yet the work of death goes on. As one generation of victims sink into dishonored graves, another is educated, by moderate drinking, to fills its place.

There is no station, however, high or low, in church or state that is exempted from the assaults of the great old giant evil—whiskey. All who have entered upon the course of moderate drinking are in the path way to danger, if not to destruction. Strong drink is a destroyer of the soul; but cannot the old king be satisfied with less? Is it not enough that the monster has slain the infant, prostrated the intellect of the lawyer, sent the statesman to asylum and the preacher of righteousness to levity and shame? He has laid waste the affection to humanity and extended his curse to wife, children and friends.

Although the text was written about 630 and 629 years before Christ, yet we should not ignore the divine threatenings contained in the passage. Many nowadays declare that God made the whiskey and intends the men shall drink it. But this I deny and say with the strongest emphasis that God never made nor intended that it should be made by man, the poisonous micture that men are murdering themselves with today. God condemned the pure juice of the grape, as a beverage, more than a thousand years before men learned to take a little juice, and put in  a little capsicum, copperas, molasses, logwood, deadly night-shade, salts, vitriol, tobacco, sulphuric acid, opium, pokeberry, cochi

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neal, indigo, red carrots, potash, poverty, murder and death.

But still it is a very dry mixture after all, to make man thirst for their own destruction. We think it is proper here to recite a passage that was spoken by our Saviour himself concerning drunkenness: “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, my Lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken: the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”—Matt. 24:49-51. Alas! No drunkard shall inherit eternal life. God has said it. Let man tremble and bow his head in humble obedience, and say Amen. Allow me to ask a few questions: (a) Are we not as Christians, commanded to shun all the appearance of evil? (b) Have we not seen evil done from the use of liquor? (c) Have we not known men brought to poverty and shame by the use of ardent spirits? (d) Have we not heard men curse and blaspheme that worthy name by which we are called by being under the influence of some alcholic [sic] drink? (e) Should Christians advocate and indulge in any sinful thing that causes men to curse and kill each other? (f) Are not God’s people the light of the world? (g) Will not God hold us to account for the souls of those men whom we may lead to ruin by indulging in alcholic [sic] liquors ourselves and continue at it?

There are about 1,000,000,000 of human beings in the world and each year about 33,000,000 die: and each day 91,335 die; and each hour 3,600 die; and each minute 60 die; and from the 33,000,000 nearly 100,000 die each year from the effect of intoxicating liquors. Four hundred and eleven die each day, 180 each hour, and 3 every minute from the use and effect of ardent spirits, which leaves 300,000 orphan children to want for bread, while upon an average, annually, $800,000 is spent for liquor, and only $200,000 spent for bread.

The census of 1990 show the figures as follows:

Spent for liquor…$900,000,000

Spent for cotton and woolen goods…452,000,000

Spent for bread…505,000,000

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Spent for meat…303,000,000

Spent for iron and steel…296,000,000

Spent for boots and shoes…197,000,000

Spent for sugar and molasses…155,000,000

Spent for tea, coffee, cocoa, etc….145,000,000

Spent for public school…96,000,000

Spent for clergymen’s salaries…12,000,000

Spent for home and foreign missions…5,500,000

What Christian can know the half of these things and yet persist or indulge in use of liquor as a beverage without trembling? Almost a majority of the professing Christians in the world are doing as the man did when drowning, who cried out, “Good Lord, good devil!” And when rescued, he was asked why he called on both; he said he did not know whose hands he might fall into, and he wanted to keep in good friendship wish both. So many or the majority of the so-called evangelical Christians are crying out, “Good gospel, good liquor, good gospel, good liquor!” for they cannot tell which fountain they will fall into—gospel or liquor.

Allow me, in conclusion, to consider briefly four great laws the great giant propels men to violate, viz: Physical, economy, moral and divine.

(a) The preservation of one’s health is the first law of nature. How often is this law abused by men under the influence of ardent spirits. Men expose themselves by lying on the damp or wet earth for twelve long hours at a time. There they lie, not knowing whether they are in the world or out of it. Many men are hurried to their graves by the spirituous nature of the liquor itself.

(b) Men who are addicted to the use of alcoholic drink will curse the law of economy and trample its value under their feet. One drink calls for another, and they will have it then, let it cost what it may. God made man to be the provider for his household; he cannot therefore waste what he chooses without violating the law of economy.

(c) When a man becomes inebriated he will encroach upon neighborh and insult his friends wife and daughter. He will scorn and ignore virtue and justice, and disturb the quietude of his neighbors and friends.

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(d) The use and the effects of liquor causes more violation of the divine law than any one thing on the earth. Men fill themselves full of the infernal stuff, and then they go strutting and their tongues talking through the earth. Men who are agitated by liquor will profane the name of God who made him and scorn the redeemed church and her Redeemer. Execreation [sic] is on his lips day and night, while Jehovah’s law is flashing in their faces form the summit of Mount Sinai at every turn, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

The way of holiness the drunkard knoweth not,

The earth may ring from shore to shore

With echoes for a glorious name;

But he who drinks the poisonous dose

Will leave behind him no good [illegible].

Come, let us join our hand and heart;

And no more from the banner part;

‘Tis Him who lives and tries to reign

Can He the Hon in bonds and chain.

Here follows an Introductory sermon that I delivered before the Hasadiah Baptist Assocation Sept. 7, 1887. (Preliminary Remarks.)

“Twelve months ago, I was appointed by the body to preach what is termed an Introductory Sermon before you at this hour. Whether my ideas, relative to the true meaning and purpose of an Association are correct or not, I cannot tell. To introduce is to bring in, to make known; an Association is a union of persons in a society for some particular purpose. It is presumed that your purpose of convening here is to interchange views and ideas will each other, and to advise plans for the good and welfare of the churches which you represent, and to promote the general interest of the Redeemer’s Kingdom on earth, by a mutual and fraternal council.

We now call your attention to the following passages:”

“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;

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Forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” –1 Cor. 15:57-58.

Christians are held forth under various metaphorical characters in the Holy Scriptures of truth. They are sometimes called laborers in God’s vineyard, sometimes travellers, sometimes merchants, sometimes racers, sometimes wrestlers and very frequently they are called soldiers, good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and they fight not as one that beateth the air.

We will characterize you to-day as soldiers fighting for one common cause and end. And the combat in which you are engaged is not an imaginary one, but real, and a strenuous one too; but you have this in comparable advantage, you war a good warfare, and in it “no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that riseth up against you, ye shall condemn. This is the heritage of the soldiers of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me saith the Lord their Christ. Victory supposes warfare, and so warfare supposes enemies. The chief enemies of God’s soldiers are sin, the world, satan, death and the grave. The prize is the crown of life. Let us notice the acquisition. How is the victory obtained? In other cases winning a victory is gaining a victory; but here observe—first, it is given: “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is true we gain it, but He giveth it. It is true we fight, but it is equally true that He causeth us to triumph.

He not only furnishes the crown, but He also gives us the capacity by which we acquire it, therefore it is dispensed through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning to the end of our salvation, the propriety, the expediency, the necessity of Jesus as a mediator is not for a moment left out. Is God well pleased with us? “In Him,” says God, “I am well pleased.” Have we exceeding great and precious promises? They are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. Are we redeemed? “In Him we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of sin.” Are we heirs? “In Him,” says the Apostle, we have obtained the inheritance.” Are we blessed? “In Him we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.” In Him it hath pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell. Thus we see light is around us, but not a ray is transmitted through

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any other medium, All is goodness around us, but not a blessing comes to us through any other channel. He is all, and in all. Not only is this victory a divine donation, and dispensed through the mediation of the blessed Son of God; but, thirdly: it is gradually exemplified and accomplished. It is not said that He will give us the victory, though this is true, for that is already promised, but He giveth us the victory, and this is true because it is gradually conferred and experienced. It is not the effect of an hour, month or year. This victory is not acquired at once, it is carried on through the whole course of a believer’s life, and perfected at death, or rather at the resurrection of the dead. The Apostle tells its that the good work is begun in us the day of conviction; but he says it is not performed until the day of Jesus Christ. Already the Christian has many a time overcome, and says, as David said, when he thought of his victories that he had obtained, “By thee I have run through a troop, and by my God have I leaped over a wall.” And this encourages believers with regard to the future to say: “Through God we shall do valiantly, for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” This victory, therefore, is both present and future; the future is the complete accomplishment, the present is the earnest in its gradual and partial accomplishment even now. Although these things are true, yet there are dangers ahead of every soldier of Jesus Christ. The author of the text exhorted the Ephesian Christians to take unto them the whole armor of God, that they might be able to stand in the evil day.

So I may and do entreat you to take on the whole armor of God, which is the girdle, breast plate sandals, shield, helmet and the sword. The girdle is words and deeds of truth, the breast plate is holiness of heart and life, the shoes are love and peace; the shield is the confidence in the word of God, “for without faith it is impossible to please Him.”—(Heb, 11:6.) The helmet is a trust in God for salvation, and the sword is the Bible, the word of God. These you cannot do without, for the soldier must be well equipped to confront the undaunted foes. I said above that “the chief enemies of God’s soldiers are sin, satan, the world, death and the grave.” These are never ceasing enemies while life lasts. “But thanks be unto God, which giveth us

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The victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We shall conquer though we die. Sin is the evil of the heart that wars against the conscience to bring about a violation of the divine law.

Satan is the great adversary of man that fights against all the pure motives of the mind. He is the prince of the world or the heir, and rules in the heart of the majority of mankind. He is the father of all lies and unrighteousness. The world is a tempter that wages war against holiness, and causes many to bow their heads in her vanities and curse the God of heaven. Death is the king of terror. But thanks be to God that the soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ can challenge him with all his daring looks and venomous stings, and say: “ O death, where is thy sting?” The grave is a receptacle of the works of death, but thank God [illegible] conceal forever, for the soldiers will say, by and by, [illegible] where is they victory?” “The sting of death is sin, [illegible] strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through out Lord Jesus Christ.” Fight on brethren, god chant the good old song—

Am I a soldier of the cross,

A follower of the Lamb

And shall I fear to own his cause

Or blush to speak his name?

Must I be carried to the skies,

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas? Etc.

The victory is just at hand, and the prize is just before. God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has promised a crown of life to all who are faithful unto death.—Rev. 3:10. “And he that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.”—Rev. 3:26. “And I will give him the morning star.”—Rev. 3:28. The crown now awaits every soldier that loves the appearance of the blessed Son of God. Work, for the night is coming when you shall work no more. Take the Bible with you wherever you go; it is the sword of the spirit, you will need it. Labor to take the field for Jesus, for you know that your work is not in vain in the Lord.

Although my means were so limited that I could not purchase necessary books for myself or to attend school, yet I did all I could to improve myself in every way I could; and at the same time while struggling to help myself. I was doing all I could for others. I taught private school for the promise of $5 per month and board myself, in order to assist others, but did not get more

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Than half of that, I have taught public school 26 years. I can now rejoice to see many of my puils in good positions and circumstances. I meet many of them by the way who extend to me a cordial hand of congratulation, telling me that I inspired them to acquire an education and to business. I have subscribed to nearly every colored paper or journal that has been gotten up in the state.

I have taken stock in some of them, and lost my subscription and share two. But I did not despond for that, because I did not identify myself with them any way, for personal benefit alone, but to help my people. Neither did I subscribe to them because I believed that they were all good and first class matter but because they were my own race journals struggling against the waves of poverty in order to come to the front to defend my race against slander that rises from prejudice. I was so much interested in the matter of education among my people in 1880 I contemplated the founding of a graded school at the Long Mount Church. At that time the church itself consisted of 540 members. The old Oxford Furnace, in two and a half miles from the church, was at work which caused the neighborhood to be very numerous with people old and young. But however, being single [illegible], I did not attempt to do anything more than recommend and help as many as possible off to high schools. But, oh, what do you think happened in 1887? I was in the grand meeting of the Virginia Baptist State Convention when it met at Danville, Va., May 1887, and gave my voice for the establishment of the Virginia Seminary at Lynchburg, and my name went down as one of the board of managers. There I felt that my long desire was coming to view. I came forward then and there in the —- of the Institution, and nothing has changed me or prevented me form working for it, nor shall any thing hinder me but death.

Many who started out with me in the work in the beginning have lagged behind or withdrew. I was present when the corner stone was laid, in July 1888. I took an active part in the work on that occasion. I held the money that was collected that day. In the beginning of the word, I subscribed $30 without having a dollar of it earned. My salary for teaching school was $30 per month. I divided it when I got it and paid one half to the Institution and used the balance in my family. I got many

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of my people to contribute for the purpose. I served for several years on the educational board, and also as a committee on the executive board of that grand Institution, the Virginia Seminary. The work lingered a great while after the foundation had been laid, by unwise management. But I did not despond. I believed that some change would take place, and I would live to see a magnificent building and a grand school on the ground owned and run by the colored Baptists of Virginia. My hope and expectation did nor have not been entirely blasted.  I had the honor and pleasure too of being a member of the board of managers that met in the city of Lynchburg on the 18, day of Sept. 1891 to consider the matters that caused the impediment of the work and remove them if possible. That day is the great era of the Virginia Seminary.

On that day one was chosen as president of the grand Institution, though he was entirely a stranger to me who came forward and seized the flag of the greatest phenomenon that the colored people had in the Old Dominion, and has held it up with honor and credit until now. Although he has had many difficulties to confront, yet he has kept the flag out of the dust, and the Institution out of the hands of those who would have gladly swooped it up long ago. That power and friend to the race and all true lovers and friends of the Virginia Seminary is known by the name of Prof. G. W. Hayes, A. M. Although I am sixty two years of age, and severely troubled with the kidney affection, yet I am holding a first grade certificate as a public school teacher, and am teaching in my old native state and county, Campbell, Co., Va., making an average of 45 pupils per day. I have charge of three churches, and am going on building and remodeling [illegible] houses as in the beginning of my labor. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” Rev. 2:10, is before us.

I know the beginning of my mortal race

But the end is hidden from my face

Now heaven itself is in my view,

And from this world of sin below,

Soon I shall go to the shining shore

Where peace and parting are no more

To live with God around his throne

Where pains and sorrow are never known

Their saints will sing redeeming song,

And all the [illegible].

Then I shall be there –Amen.

J. B. Smith

APA Citation:
Smith, John B.. Autobiography of John B. Smith. (2023, February 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Smith, John B.. "Autobiography of John B. Smith" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (14 Feb. 2023). Web. 20 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2023, February 15
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