Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 120 / Number 1
Gowan Pamphlet: Baptist Preacher in Slavery and Freedom
- Linda Rowe, pp. 2–31
Gowan Pamphlet, the black Baptist preacher who formed a congregation of slaves and free blacks near Williamsburg in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, has for many decades figured in studies of African American religion in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Virginia and the south. Nonetheless, beyond the few concrete details in John Asplund's register of Baptist churches from the 1790s, Robert Semple's early nineteenth-century history of Baptists in Virginia, and a long-standing oral tradition among African American Baptists in Williamsburg, information about Pamphlet's background, legal status, freedom of movement, work, religious development, associates, and ultimate fate appeared lost to history. This article presents findings from ongoing research in public records, newspapers, Baptist records, private papers, and other sources that supply some of the pieces of the puzzle. More about Gowan Pamphlet may yet come to light, but here he emerges as an enslaved tavern worker turned Baptist preacher in Revolutionary-era Virginia who more than once escaped the long arm of the law, wore down Baptist resistance to his ministry, and died a free man in the early 1800s.