Holly, James Theodore (1829-1911)
Missionary in Haiti and first African American to be ordained a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal church
Holly was born in Washington, D.C., of freeborn Roman Catholic parents. From early youth he felt called to participate in the struggle for liberation from oppression and the evils of racism. Though baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1855 and a priest in 1856 with the express commitment to work in Haiti. He went to Haiti as pastor in 1861 with 112 African Americans, but tragedy struck. Within seven months, forty-seven died from illnesses, including his mother, wife, daughter, and one of three sons. Yet he persevered and ministered there as pastor, teacher, evangelist, and counselor for 50 years, often supporting himself and his new family by shoemaking, teaching, tutoring, and secretarial work. He was consecrated as Episcopal bishop of Haiti in 1874. When he died, the Episcopal Church in Haiti had fifteen parishes, seven missions, fifteen national clergy, and a church community of over 2,000 persons. Since he believed that the incarnation of Christ required concern for the bodies as well as the souls of his people, he established schools, medical clinics, and a mutual fund society. Two of his sons became clergymen; four were medical doctors; one was a music teacher. His seven books and eighteen published articles showed erudition in many fields, though much of his education was self-acquired, including his knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Creole. He believed that through centuries of oppression the black race had gained a sense of righteousness, justice, forbearance, and love of peace that prepared them to be specially qualified agents in the coming kingdom of Christ.
Sidney H. Rooy, “Holly, James Theodore,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 300-01.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
James Theodore Holly papers, 1861-1975. Library of Congress. “The collection includes three circulars by Bishop Holly regarding his Haitian mission, 1861-1862; reports by Holly in 1876; a pamphlet, Manuel de théologie dogmatique of the Church in Haiti, 1879; a few items of correspondence by and about the Bishop; and later articles concerning him. Subjects of correspondence include Holly’s overwork, family affairs, labors in Haiti, visits to Maryland and Delaware, financial needs, educational enterprises, and difficulties with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port-au-Prince. Papers deal with relations between the Episcopal Church in America and the Church in Haiti, known as L’Eglise Orthodoxe Apostolique en Haiti, including actions of the Board of Missions and the House of Bishops concerning Haiti. There are nine issues of the Church’s publication, L’Echo de l’Orthodoxie, for the first and second years, 1878-1879, some with articles by Bishop Holly.” From Worldcat.org.
Brown, William Wells. The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements. Boston: R. F. Wallcut, 1863.
Holly, James Theodore. A Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Government and Civilized Progress as Demonstrated by Historical Events of the Haytian Revolution; and Subsequent Acts of that People since their National Independence. New Haven: printed by W. H. Stanley and published for the the Afric-American Printing Co., 1857.
Holly, James Theodore. The Prologue and Constitution of the Sisterhood of the Good Angels; and the By-laws of St. Luke’s Society, of said Sisterhood. New Haven: printed by William H. Stanley, 1856. [“An association or confraternity of the colored ladies of the Protestant Episcopal Church …” Prologue, p.3.]
_____. “A Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Government and Civilized Progress as Demonstrated by Historical Events of the Haytian Revolution; and Subsequent Acts of that People since their National Independence.” New Haven: printed by W. H. Stanley and published for the the Afric-American Printing Co., 1857. Reprinted in Black Separatism and the Caribbean, 1860, edited by Howard H. Bell, 16-66. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1970; and African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents, edited by Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon. New York: Routledge, 2010.
_____. The Establishment of the Church in Hayti. n.p.: n.p., 1860. At St. Mark’s Library of General Theological Seminary, New York, NY, USA.
_____. The Tribute of Hayti to Liberia: or, an Eulogium Pronounced on the Life and Character of the Late Rev. Francis Burns, Missionary Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church to Hayti, before Trinity Congregation, Port au Prince, July 26, 1863. Philadelphia, PA: printed by William F. Geddes, 1863.
_____. First Semi-annual Statement of the Bishop of Haiti: In Regard to the Church Education Fund Under His Charge. n.p.: n.p., [1876?]. At the Trinity College Library, Hartford, CT, USA.
_____. “Appreciation.” In Charles Adiel Lewis Totten, The Riddle of History. A Chronological Itinerary Through the Period of the Judges, together with Other Biblico-literary Excurses. New Haven, CT: Our Race Pub. Co., 1892.
_____. Facts about the Church’s Mission in Haiti: A Concise Statement. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1897. [Includes brief autobiographical account.]
_____. “Letter, 1899 September 28, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Francis Russell.” [Recalls visit to Russell’s parish in 1861 and his host’s comments comparing Frenchmen and Americans.] Archival material at the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT, USA.
_____. “The Divine Plan of Human Redemption in its Ethnological Development.” In Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering: A History of Theodicy in African-American Religious Thought, edited by Anthony B. Pinn. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2002.
Brown, William Wells. The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements. New York: Thomas Hamilton; Boston: R. F. Wallcut, 1863.
Dean, David McEwen. “James Theodore Holly, 1829-1911, Black Nationalist and Bishop.” Ph.D. diss. University of Texas, 1972.
_____. Defender of the Race: James Theodore Holly, Black Nationalist and Bishop. Boston, MA: Lambeth Press, 1979.
Episcopal Church. Dept. of Missions and Church Extension. Handbook on the Missions of the Episcopal Church. No. 5. West Indies. New York: National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Dept. of Missions, 1926.
Gin, Kathryn. “‘The Heavenization of Earth’: African American Visions and Uses of the Afterlife, 1863-1901.” Slavery & Abolition 31 no. 2 (2010): 207-31.
Hatch, Shari Dorantes. Encyclopedia of African-American Writing: Five Centuries of Contribution: Trials & Triumphs of Writers, Poets, Publications and Organizations. Amenia, NY: Grey House Pub., 2009.
Hayden, J. Carleton. “James Theodore Holly (1829-1911), First Afro-American Episcopal Bishop: His Legacy to Us Today.” In Black Apostles: Afro-American Clergy Confront the Twentieth Century, edited by Randall K. Burkett and Richard Newman, 129-40. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.
Jackson, Maurice and Jacqueline Bacon (eds.). African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Love, J. Robert. Proofs of Bishop Holly’s Guilt: Supplement to Is Bishop Holly Innocent?: Some Things Which Every Member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America Ought to Know. Haiti: Typ. de T.-M. Brown, 1883.
Lynch, Hollis Ralph. James Theodore Holly: Ante-bellum Black Nationalist and Emigrationist. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1977.
Wifler, William Louis. “The Establishment and Development of L’Eglise Orthodoxe Apostolique Haїtienne.” S.T.M. thesis. General Theological Seminary, 1955.
_____. “James Theodore Holly in Haiti.” In Pioneer Builders for Christ, edited by Powell Mills Dawley. New York: National Council [of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.], 1956.
Read Holly’s Facts about the Church’s Mission in Haiti: A Concise Statement. (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1897) online at the Canterbury Project. Includes photo portrait of the author and other photos taken in Haiti.
Holly, James Theodore. Facts about the Church’s Mission in Haiti: A Concise Statement. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1897. Opposite title page. Online at the Canterbury Project.