John Chavis, teacher of all races and abolitionist

John Chavis
Tue, 1763-10-18

John Chavis, a Black educator was born on this date in 1763. He was born in North Carolina to a legally free family, which allowed him to pursue an education.

Chavis arrived at Liberty Hall Academy in 1795, one year prior to George Washington's gift of 100 shares of James River Company Stock. He was a student when the institution changed its name to Washington Academy. On November 19, 1800, Chavis graduated with high honors and with a license to preach. His academic performance attracted much public attention because it contradicted the belief that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites.

In 1808, Chavis founded a school for the children of White slave owners, training White children during the day and free Black children at night. He prepared the white children for college by teaching them Latin and Greek. The school he opened in Raleigh was described as one of the best in the state. It surely was an excellent school, for some of the most powerful men in white society entrusted their sons’ education to Chavis. His students included Priestly H. Mangum, brother of Senator Willie P. Mangum; Archibald E. and John L. Henderson, sons of Chief Justice Henderson; Governor Charles Manly; The Reverend William Harris; Dr. James L. Wortham; the Edwardses, Enlows (Enloes), Hargroves, and Horners; and Abraham Rencher who became Minister of Portugal and Territorial Governor of New Mexico.

John Chavis' influence was far reaching. A dedicated opponent of slavery, John Chavis was an influential abolitionist leader in the South. The circumstances surrounding his death in 1838 remain unclear, although many suspect that he was murdered because of his work to better the lives of blacks.

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Person / name: 

Chavis, John