Henry Evans




Henry Evans (1760-1810), a freeborn native of Virginia, was a black preacher who laid the foundation for the first Methodist church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His life was one that encouraged his community in the pursuit of righteousness.
 
Henry became a Christian at a young age, and later became a licensed preacher. In about 1780, Henry traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to pursue work, but he stopped in Fayetteville on his way. The spiritual state of the slave population there burdened Henry so greatly that he resolved not to proceed on his journey but to remain in Fayetteville. He noticed that most people were ignorant of the gospel and had not heard “preaching of any denomination…living emphatically without hope.”1 Henry’s determination to stay and preach would soon reap a harvest of many souls.
 
As Henry’s preaching became popular among the slaves, he began to experience strong opposition from white townsmen. Slave owners would often push Henry into the surrounding hills and prohibit him from preaching. Yet even in the face of such hostility, Henry’s voice was still heard in the sand-hills of North Carolina. Henry continued to preach in the woods, hosting meetings in various locations to prevent confrontation from angry mobs. Henry’s burden to preach the gospel strengthened him to withstand much opposition.
 
Eventually, the fruit of Henry’s toil was seen in the lives of the slaves, and the opposition to the gospel was silenced. Slave owners began to notice a change in the behavior of those who heard Henry preach. The word of God accomplished its task and those who once rejected Henry’s preaching had a change of heart. Shortly after the noticeable transformation of the slaves, Fayetteville’s white townsmen received Henry as a preacher.
 
Henry took his calling to the church of Fayetteville seriously. He was a dedicated student of Scripture and he spoke with boldness in and out of the pulpit. He was “conversant with Scripture…[his] conversation was…instructive to the things of God.” He was filled with boldness as he studied the Word, and he was described as a “Boanerges; and in his duty feared not the face of man.”2
 
Around 1800, a small building was erected in the town for Henry and his new congregation. The structure measured out to be twenty by thirty feet and was called the “African Meeting House.”3 The humble accommodation was the first church building in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
 
Henry worked at his trade during the week and tended to his flock on Sundays. His popularity extended beyond the boundaries of the town as visitors would often refuse to leave without hearing Fayetteville’s famous black preacher. The congregation consisted of both white and black townspeople and, although the seats were segregated, many white men and women “crowded out of their appropriate seats, [and] took possession of those in the rear.”4 The meetinghouse soon became too small and additions were made to increase the size of the sanctuary. The patchwork building became known as “the slab chapel” and Henry took residence in the west end of the building.
 
In 1808, Henry’s health problems caused Henry to release responsibility of the slab chapel to Bishop Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church.5 Two years later Henry gave his last words to the congregation in the slab chapel. William Capers, the pastor at the time of Henry’s death, remembered Henry’s speech as the greatest triumph of the preacher’s life. Sick in body yet strong in spirit, Henry announced the hope of glory:
 
“None but Christ. Three times I have had my life in jeopardy for preaching the gospel to you. Three times I have broken the ice on the edge of the water and swum across the Cape Fear to preach the gospel to you. And now, if in my last hour I could trust to that, or at anything else but Christ crucified, for my salvation, all should be lost, and my soul perish forever.”6
 
Many attended Henry’s funeral, and he was buried under the chapel. Congress ratified a bill in 1989 that honored Henry as a “staunch apostle of hope” and a preacher who displayed “the true meaning of the freedoms and guarantees contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”7 A historical marker commemorates the life and labors of Henry Evans near the place of his burial.8
 


1. William M. Wightman, Life of William Capers (Nashville, Publishing House of the M.E. Church, South, 1902), 125.
2. Ibid., 124-125.
3. Ibid., 128.
4. Ralph Hardee Rives, “Henry Evans,” NCpedia (1986) http://ncpedia.org/biography/evans-henry.
5. Wightman, 127.
6. Elizabeth Lamb. Compil. Historical Sketch of Hay St. Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Fayetteville: From Church Records and Other Sources, 1934), 7.
7. Wightman, 129.
8. General Assembly of North Carolina, http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Resolutions/PDF/1989-1990/Res1989-1…

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