He is regarded as one of Virginia’s most prominent enslaved preachers. For his community, John Jasper was the icon to listen to during a burial service because he could make anyone listening cry when they needed to and laugh when they needed to. According to Preaching, his gift lay in his ability to paint colorful imagery of reality delivered through an oratory skill second to none, which made him always sought after by many.
To say he was a well-known African-American preacher in the nineteenth century would be an understatement of the large footprints he left in his stewardship. On July 4, 1812, Jasper was born to Philip and Tina Jasper. He grew up on the Peachy Plantation in Fluvanna County, Virginia, as the youngest of 24 children. His father was a Baptist preacher, and his mother was a devout Christian. His parents were most likely the source of his inspiration for his vocation.
His father died two months before he was born. Family and friends urged his mother to name him after her late husband. But she resisted the urge and named him after the biblical John, one of Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples. Jasper became a Christian when he was 27 years old. In 1849, he was baptized. According to the African American Registry, he began preaching at a funeral service on the same day he was baptized. Many people were drawn to him because of his oratory skills and knowledge of the Bible.
The First African Baptist Church granted him a license to preach 30 days after his baptism. According to legend, Jasper baptized 300 members of his congregation in four hours. His power peaked in 1867, when he organized the historic sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church. After years of rolling the mill in Richmond, he was finally granted his freedom in April 1865. He began the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in a horse stable with nine members and a weekly salary of $9.
He rose to national prominence in 1878 as a result of his sermon “the sun do move,” which he delivered more than 250 times, including once in front of the Virginia General Assembly. An argument between two members of his church about whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth revolves around the sun inspired the sermon.
When the matter was brought to Jasper’s attention, he decided to dedicate a sermon to resolving the disagreement. His proposal gained popularity because it challenged Darwinism, a new scientific theory developed by English naturalist Charles Darwin.
It was called into question because it lacked scientific backing. However, Jasper based his argument on the gospel in Joshua 10:13, which mentions the sun and moon stopping to allow Israelites to fight their enemies. His sermon attempted to demonstrate that the sun moved around the earth.
Jasper also had a church full of people who wanted to hear him preach. He was the last of the enslaved preachers of old. Hundreds of books have been written about his black religious experience and how he changed people’s long-held beliefs about the gospel.