Today is the 153rd anniversary of the liberation of Richmond, Virginia, by Union forces during America’s Civil War, 1861-1865. The first soldiers to enter Richmond were the “colored” regiments of the Union Army, ranks formed of free and formerly enslaved African-Americans.
Our own ancestors were a part of this collective sacrifice and struggle for freedom, escaping slavery where they were held in bondage, and serving with the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 36th, and 37th Regiments of the United States Colored Infantry, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of the United States Colored Cavalry, and as domestics, laundresses, and messengers in and around Union camps and hospitals. This post reflects just a few of the sites I’ve visited over the years that chronicle the long road to freedom.
On March 3, 1891, legislation passed creating a Normal and Industrial School in Elizabeth City. The school was founded with the express purpose of ‘teaching and training teachers of the colored race to teach in the common schools of North Carolina.’
The bill began in the House of Representatives and was championed by Hugh Cale, an African American who represented Pasquotank County. Cale, who was a free person of color before the Civil War, had been involved in African American education immediately following the Civil War and served on the Pasquotank County Board of Education.
The “In Memoriam” series continues with a biography of Reverend Isaac Arnold (1867-1935), pastor of St. Thomas Baptist Church (1904), Portsmouth, Virginia.
“North Carolina has contributed many strong men of both races to the religious and educational life of Virginia. Among the leaders of the Baptist denomination who came from the Old North State must be mentioned Rev. Isaac Arnold, pastor of St. Thomas Baptist Church, Portsmouth.
He was born in Washington County, N. C., and there grew to manhood, dividing the days of his boyhood between the farm, on which he did all sorts of manual labor, and the short-term schools were he laid the foundation of his education. He was a steady boy whose mind turned toward the preaching of the Gospel at a very early age, even before his conversion.
The date of Rev. Arnold’s birth was November 10, 1867. His father, Jack Arnold, was the son of Sam Davenport, and his wife, Twenty Davenport. She was so named by her mother because she was the twentieth child born to her. Rev. Arnold’s mother, before her marriage, was Miss Anne Newberry, a daughter of Bill Arnold and Maria Newberry. The divergence in names is due to the fact that under slavery, the name of the slave usually followed that of the master.
On December 19, 1894, Rev. Arnold was happily married to Miss Mattie Armstrong, a daughter of Anderson and Angelica Armstrong, of North Carolina. Of the nine children born to them, eight are living. They are, Luther I., Eva G., Mary A., Johnnie W., Rose Lee, Lilly Bell, Moses, and James H. Arnold.
When young Arnold was about fourteen years of age, he experienced the new birth and identified himself with the Zion Grove Baptist church, by which he was ordained to the full work of the ministry. Since then he has led an active life as a preacher, devoting his whole time to the ministry. All the early years of his ministry were spent in North Carolina, where he rose to some prominence in the denomination and was for one year Moderator of the Roanoke Missionary Baptist Association. His first pastorate was Bagley’s Chapel in Perquimans County, which he served for seven years. He preached at Alligator Chapel in Tyrrell County two years. He served the church at Columbia eight years and remodeled the house.
He pastored Chapel Hill three years and Second Baptist, Plymouth, two years. During a pastorate of ten years at Colerain, a new house of worship was erected. He also preached at White Oak Chapel in Chowan County, one year and Powell’s Point one year. His first week in Virginia was at Willow Grove, where he preached two years. He served Little Piney Grove in Princess Anne County, eighteen months, and built a church at a cost of about twelve thousand dollars. He pastored Divine Baptist Church at Deep Creek six years and remodeled the house and preached at Kempsville nine years. Being called to Mt. Zion on the Eastern Shore he served that congregation six years and built a church. A new church edifice was also built at Wachapreage where he served the Herbert Baptist Church. Of course, it will be understood that many of these pastorates overlapped, as frequently Rev. Arnold would be serving three or four churches at the same time. In 1917, he
resigned his country work to accept the call of the St. Thomas Baptist Church at Portsmouth, which has taken on new life and has greatly prospered under his administration. He was called back to Deep Creek, which he gives an evening appointment and where he is very popular. He pastored First Baptist Church at Gilmerton, Va., six years with great success.
Rev. Arnold has done a great deal of evangelistic work and has been blessed with an unusually fruitful ministry. He has baptized at least three thousand into the membership of the church. Since moving to Portsmouth where he owns a comfortable home, he has been chosen president of the Baptist Ministers’ League of that city. He believes that the greatest needs of the race today are co-operation and self-confidence.
Rev. Arnold spent two years in the Albemarle Training School, Edenton, N. C., during which time he led his class. He completed in two years a course which held some others four years. Later, he was trustee of the same institution and was at one time a trustee of the Roanoke Institute at Elizabeth City, N. C. He believes in liberty and freedom for all men, and is of the opinion that the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, will bring universal peace. He does not think it can be brought about by man-made plans.” (Biography from The History of the American Negro and his institutions, by Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, 1921).
(Author note: Rev. Arnold and his wife, Mattie, lived on Summitt Avenue, Portsmouth. Mattie A. Arnold, a native of Belvidere, Perquimans County, North Carolina, passed on September 1, 1962. Her funeral, held at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, was conducted by Rev. E. W. Davidson of Noble Street Baptist Church. The Norfolk Journal and Guide noted that Mrs. Arnold was “a veteran member of Ebenezer Church and missionary society, and a member of Brighton-Truxtun Prayer Band and Sarai Tent 32.” – Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 15, 1962).