Noah Davis (1804-1866) was born March, 1804, a slave in Madison County, Virginia. His family belonged to Robert Patten, a wealthy merchant, who lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Davis enjoyed an unusually good life in comparison to other slave-boys in Virginia. He was reared in a united family with strong Christian beliefs.
The early educational experiences began during the formative years of Davis. Noah’s father, John Davis, made a regular practice on Sundays to spend his time in the instruction of his children and the neighboring servants in New Testament studies.
After his father’s death in 1826, the family moved to Fredericksburg, and Davis was turned over to Thomas Wright to learn the trade of boot and shoe-making. During the years of apprenticeship, Davis started to frequent the Baptist Church in Fredericksburg. In 1831, he was converted and joined the church.
In order to advance the gospel, Noah Davis gained permission from his master to purchase his freedom. The price of freedom was fixed at $500.00. He was given a permit to travel to such places as Philadelphia, New York and Boston to raise funds for the purchase of his freedom.
In 1847, the Maryland Union Association and the Southern Baptist Missionary Convention engaged the services of Davis to serve as a missionary among the Black people of Baltimore.
While in Baltimore, Davis raised the money to purchase his wife and two of his children. He worked steadily to increase the city’s small Baptist population, establishing a church and a Sunday school. In 1855 the church moved to a new building and was christened the Saratoga Street African Baptist Church. Despite the increased financial burden of his church’s new facilities, Davis managed to purchase the freedom of two more of his children.
In 1859 he published a slave narrative entitled A Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis, a Colored Man, Written by Himself, at the Age of fifty-four.
His autobiography can be found at http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/davisn/davis.html
Interesting quotes follow from Noah Davis:
“I was the first child the Lord gave my parents; and my mother who before my birth had dedicated me to Him, named me Noah, believing that I also should be made a preacher of righteousness. Of course no pains were spared by my parents, to instruct me in religious truth, and bring me up in the fear of the Lord. Though they had the grief to see me like others taking the downward course, and drinking in iniquity like water, yet my mother held fast her first impression, that I should be ransomed by electing love, and made to preach the word of God to dying men.”
“Whilst at school, whether from diffidence or some other cause, I could at no time take a part in the exercise of public speaking, a proof that I was not then preparing for my present avocation.”
“I had enjoyed religious instruction from my parents, both of whom were members of the Baptist church before I was born. It would be improper for me to let this opportunity slip, without bearing my testimony to the value of parental admonition. My parents placed before me religious truth, as soon as I was capable of understanding anything, and endeavoured to teach me the fear of the Lord. No doubt, they looked with anxiety for the fruit of their labors, and that it cost them grief of which I knew nothing, when they afterwards saw me following iniquity with greediness. For as the parental government began to be slackened, I gave less heed to the duties I owed, both to them and my Creator. But owing to the impression which their authority had made upon my mind, I was preserved from the gross sins into which I saw many others running.”
“Prior to this time, I had no abiding impression of my state by nature, nor of the awfulness of my standing before God. It was in Philadelphia, that my vile heart first revolted against attending strictly on the worship of the Sabbath day. I was not compelled to labor throughout the week, and surely, thought I, Sunday at least may be my own. But in vain were my murmurings. My respected employers knew the worth of immortal souls, and acted upon the good resolution, that they and theirs should serve the Lord.”
“I cannot remember any particular sermon that had a more than usual effect upon my mind. If my mind was ever operated upon by the Holy Spirit, it was in a manner silent and calm. The first material change of life, that I remember, took place in the winter of 1818-1819—when I found myself almost imperceptibly led to the practice of daily prayer; and on Sabbath afternoons, I spent my time in reading and prayer. Under this change of my views and habits, I began to hear the word of God with increased attention, and obtained a better comprehension than I had previously had of divine things. I began to acquire a greater relish for the services of the sanctuary, and attended upon them more from choice than compulsion. The administration of the ordinance of baptism, in Sansom street church, had several times a very powerful effect upon my mind. Shortly after this, I wrote to my parents, informing them of my religious exercises, and of my desire to become a member of the church of Christ. They were the first to whom I made known my feelings and sentiments, in relation to the concerns of my soul. I mentioned my exercises to Mr. Fassitt, at the same time requesting him to state my case to Dr. Staughton who was then pastor of the Baptist church in Sansom Street. This he did, giving the Dr. an account of my experience, with which he appeared to be satisfied. After examination, the church consented that I should be baptized at their next regular meeting, which took place July 4th, 1819. I had made known my intention to be baptized on that day, and to my surprise, my father came from his distant resident to Philadelphia at that time, almost purposely to witness the scene. Indeed it appeared to be one of a very affecting kind to him. In the afternoon of that day I was received into the visible church by the right-hand of fellowship, presented by Dr. Staughton, the pastor; and for the first time partook of the Lord’s Supper. O what a day to me! With what regret should I remember how poorly I have sustained the profession then assumed. In the church of which I became a member, I found the interchange of religious affection most delightful; the services of the sanctuary became interesting, and I could sing “There my best friends, my kindred dwell.”
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen
Memoir of Nathaniel Ripley Cobb, A Concise Account of the late Noah Davis
Historical files of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
Oxford University Press, The African American National Biography, Noah Davis