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James H. Holmes
*James H. Holmes was born on this date in 1826. He was a Black minister in Richmond, Virginia.
James Henry Holmes was born a slave in King and Queen County, Virginia, to Delphia and Claiborne Holmes, slaves on the plantation of Judge James M. Jefferies. Holmes had 15 siblings and worked as a cowboy on the farm. In 1835, he was hired to Samuel S. Myer's tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. In 1842, he was baptized into the Baptist religion by Rev. Robert Ryland at Richmond's First Baptist Church. In April 1846, he married the daughter of John Smith.
When Smith and his wife escaped on the Underground Railroad to Massachusetts, he wrote a letter to his daughter. The letter fell into the wrong hands, and Holmes was charged with planning to escape himself. He was imprisoned and then bought by a slave trader named Silas Omohundro. He remained in jail for twelve weeks and, in 1848, became the property of a New Orleans man named Pipkin. The move to New Orleans left his wife and two children in Richmond. In New Orleans, he worked on the levee. When a steamer blew up at the pier in 1849, Holmes had an arm dislocated and suffered head injuries.
In 1849, he joined the Second Baptist Church in New Orleans, and in 1850 he was elected deacon. In 1851, he married a second wife. About that time, Pipkin committed suicide, and Holmes was sold to Royal Parrish, who owned Holmes' wife in New Orleans. Parish, Holmes, and his wife moved to Richmond in 1852; Parrish died in 1855. Around that time, Holmes was elected deacon of the First Baptist Church in Richmond, where he had worshipped years before. In 1862, Holmes' wife died. He then bought himself from the widow of Royal Parrish, paying $1,800 in Confederate Dollars. He still owed $100 Confederate to the lawyer who drew the papers when the war ended and was free.
He was a deacon until 1865, served as a church clerk, and kept a grocery store for Richard Gregory. In 1866, he was elected assistant pastor and in 1867, pastor at the First African Baptist Church. In 1863, he married his third wife, by whom he had seven children. His church became one of the largest churches in the country. In 1871, he baptized 600 people; in 1878, he baptized 1100. In 1876, the congregation built a new church costing $35,000 and installed an organ costing $2,500, the largest organ in any Black church.
Holmes was an organizer and served as the first president of the Colored Home of Richmond, formed to care for needy Blacks in the city. He was also elected an officer of the Educational and Historical Association of Virginia, a Black academic lyceum led by John W. Cromwell. Among his congregation was Maggie L. Walker, whom Holmes baptized in 1878; they frequently worked together. He also served as president of the Colored Orphan Asylum. In 1896, Holmes appeared on behalf of Solomon Marable's widow to return his body after his execution and partial dissection by Medical College of Virginia students. The College's janitor, Chris Baker, legally seized the body. In 1896, his third wife, Maria Holmes, died.
In 1898, Holmes was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity by Shaw University. In about 1899, he married Susanna Watkins of Richmond. Holmes announced his retirement in October 1900. Holmes died the morning of Sunday, November 25, 1900, at his home in Richmond.