Baptists and the American Civil War: November 18, 1865

Map of Virginia 1860sIn Virginia’s eastern panhandle Freewill Baptists, under the leadership of Rev. Nathan Cook Brackett, lead the way in helping establish Freedmen’s schools.

A native of Maine and in the closing months an assistant field agent with the United States Christian Commission in Winchester, Virginia, Brackett following the conclusion of the war suggested that Freewill Baptists focus their educational and missionary efforts in Winchester and the Shenandoah Valley. Under the auspices of the American Missionary Association, they do just that.

In October Brackett returned to Winchester representing the AMA, only to discover that the Old School Presbyterians controlled the town. Brackett’s supervisor thus reassigned him, on behalf of Freewill Baptists,  to Jefferson and Berkeley, where in short order he obtained the use of an abandoned government building for Freewill Baptists’ area missionary headquarters.

The building, it turns out, is no ordinary structure. It is located on Camp Hill, Haper’s Ferry, the site of John Brown’s failed abolitionist insurrection attempt in 1859. Brackett is thrilled and delighted that Freewill Baptists “have the honor of occupying the ground where John Brown made himself immortal, both by his ‘deeds and death.'”

This month school classes for freedmen begin at Harper’s Ferry. In the months following Brackett establishes more schools. By mid-1866 some 400 freedmen are attending his schools altogether.

Source: John E. Stealey, III, editor, Jefferson County Historical Society Magazine (2002), pp. 34-35 (link)