BlackFacts Details

Henry McNeal Turner Born

Henry McNeal Turner was born on what is now Hannah Circuit, near Newberry, which was then in Abbeville County, South Carolina. Young Turner was "bound out" to the hardest king of labor in the cotton fields and the blacksmith's trade in Abbeville until his "manhood" at age 12.

He possessed an insatiable craving for knowledge. In some way he procured an old Webster's Blue Back Spelling Book. An elderly white lady and a boy with whom he played taught him the alphabet and to spell as far as two-syllable words, but he no farther then as he was caught in the unspeakable act of learning to read. He found an old slave who did not know a letter, but was a prodigy in sounds and could pronounce anything spelled to him. This helper to Henry was moved to another plantation, and he was again left to his own resources. His mother hired a white lady to give him lessons every Sabbath, but the neighbors were so indignant that they threatened to have the law on her, as it was then against the law to teach a Negro the alphabet.

Three years later, at the age of fifteen, Henry was given work in a lawyer's office at the Abbeville Court House. The men in the office were impressed with his excellent memory and taught him, in defiance of the law, to read accurately, history, theology, and even works on law. He continued to pursue his studies alone, and later went to New Orleans, then to Missouri, and still later to Baltimore, where he had charge of a small mission. Here he studied grammar, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, and theology under eminent teachers.

Reverend Turner joined the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1848 and was licensed to preach in 1853. He was ordained Deacon in 1860 and Elder in 1862. At the beginning of the Civil War (which was called War of the Rebellion at that time), he was commissioned by President Abraham Lincoln as the first Negro Chaplain in the United States Army, and served with distinction throughout. In 1865, the Reverend Henry McNeal Turner, later elected to Bishop, moved to Georgia from South Carolina. Before moving to Marietta, Reverend Turner organized St. Phillips AME Church in Savannah, Georgia. Upon his arrival to Marietta, he found former slaves worshipping without ministerial leadership, so he organized the church under the auspices of the AME Church and was the first Negro pastor of Trinity Church for Negroes and Indians.

He received the degree of L.L. D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1872. He served as Vice-president of the African Colonization Society in 1877. He founded the Southern Christian Recorder and the Women's Home and Foreign Missionary Society. He is credited with bringing the South African Conference into the Connection. In addition to being an author and orator, Henry McNeal Turner also served as a member of the Georgia Legislature.

Taken from