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Biography of Eli Worthington Stokes

I Way back in the ''forties,'' in the city of Baltimore, were two brothers, Eli and Darius Stokes, who figured conspicuously in the life of the colored people of the city. Darius was a local preacher in Bethel A. M. E. Church, while his brother, Eli, was a prominent member of St. James First African Church. These two colored congregations were the only ones having colored pastors. The buildings of each were only about two blocks distant, and good Christian feeling, and cooperation, existed between the members of the two congregations.

The first important notice of Eli Stokes is in connection with his ordination to the Episcopal ministry. The edifice of St. James was erected in the year 1826-7, and, the ordination of Mr. Stokes was the first to take place therein. It occurred on the 1st day of October, 1843, and the celebrated and learned Bishop Whittingham officiated. As High Churchman as was Bishop Whittingham, yet it is a fact that he was most kindly disposed towards many of the African Methodist preachers of that day. The present author distinctly remembers a conversation between the venerable Bishop Henry M. Turner, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, some years ago, at the Episcopal Residence in Baltimore, and the late Bishop Paret, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in which conversation, Bishop Turner declared, that many years before, he had gained his first knowledge of Greek in that very house from the lips of the late Bishop Whittingham. Possibly it would be quite interesting to note, that the occasion responsible for the presence of Bishop Turner at the Episcopal Residence, was in response to an invitation from the late Bishop Paret, to the entire "house of Bishops*' of the A. M. E. Church, at that time holding session in the city of Baltimore. The invitation was generously accepted, and every one of the Bishops were present. The interview which was most cordial, all around, lasted for nearly three hours. We have digressed to make mention of this unusual occurrence, which is without a parallel, anywhere the United States.

But, to return to the ordination of the Rev. Mr. Stokes. In making the entry of the ordination, Bishop Whittingham said:

On the 16th Sunday after Trinity, October 1, at a special ordination held in St. James First African Church, in Baltimore, I admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons, Elie Worthington Stokes, a colored man presented by the Rev. J. N. McJilton. His case involving some peculiarities, I consulted on it both the Standing Committee and a council of Presbyters especially convened and acted finally under the advice of both."

Upon being ordained, Mr. Stokes did not tarry very long in Maryland, but, going to New Haven, Conn., he succeeded in gathering sufficient colored communicants together, from the various white churches, and organized St. Luke's Church of that city. This church was organized in June, 1844, and during that very same month was duly received into union with the diocesan convention of Connecticut. Mr. Stokes remained in New Haven about two years, during which time he was advanced to the Priesthood by the Bishop of Connecticut. The occasion of his leaving Connecticut was in response to an invitation from his old friend (formerly the Rev. Mr. Henshaw, of Baltimore) then. Bishop of Rhode Island, to accept a similar work in the city of Providence. Here he remained for about four years, but, in that time, not only did good work, but with the approval of his Bishop, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, visited England and collected sufficient money to free of debt his little (Christ) Church, Providence. The mention of this visit, by Bishop Henshaw, in his Episcopal address, is extremely gracious. In part, the Bishop said:

"At the time of the meeting of the last convention, the Rev. Eli W. Stokes, rector of Christ Church, in this city was absent in Europe for the purpose of soliciting funds to liquidate the debt by which that parish has been embarrassed ever since their house of worship was erected. In consequence of a certificate, required by the laws of England, furnished by me, he was received with great kindness by the Archbishops, Bishops and Clergy of our Mother Church and I am happy to inform you that his mission was crowned with entire success, and the liberal contributions which he received in that distant land enabled the gentlemen holding the property, in trust, to make a satisfactory settlement with the mortgagees."

But, Colored Episcopalians in Providence were few and poor, and, not being able to obtain an adequate support, Mr. Stokes accepted an appointment as Missionary to Africa. There he labored most faithfully. As early as in the "fifties," Mr. Stokes, together with the late Rev. Dr. Crummell, who was then in Africa, assisted in organizing the "Liberian Church," hoping thereby, to force the Church in the United States to give to the African Mission a Negro Bishop.

After hard, incessant, and heroic labors, as a missionary he died on the field, in Africa. An account of his death, under date of February 27, 1867, was furnished the "Spirit of Mission," from which the following is taken:

"His death will be greatly felt just now in our Mission. Mr. Stokes was a thorough going, energetic, working old man. He went to Crozerville with his heart set to make and to leave the work of his divine Master's hand upon the place. He died in the faith of the Gospel he had preached. Though Mr. Stokes was not a strong and able bodied man, he was full of faith and abounded in charity towards the poor. How often he has divided his last crust of bread, God only knows. It appears to us, that on these points, he never calculated his own interests. He was reduced more by the want of the real necessities of life, at last, than by sickness, is the opinion of the doctors and all who saw and attended him. Nourishment could not rally his exhausted strength. The people of his own parish were very poor, and Eli Stokes was not the man to look upon this and not act. The people at Crozerville had already learned to love and respect him. His work told that he was on the ground. He had established day and Sabbath Schools, and preached and held services at Crozerville and Carysburg. He was found in a hut lying on a mat, and an old blanket under his head. Mr. David, senior warden of St. I John's, New York, heard of his illness and visited him; he was brought in almost a dying state to his house. Dr. McGill, of the firm of McGill Brothers, was soon on the ground (eighteen miles from Monrovia) with such nourishments which would, it was hoped, bring him upon his feet again. The doctor repeated the visit, and Mr. David, wife and friends, did all that could be done, but he sank until the 26th of February and died. Nearly all of his talk, as long as he could talk, and when he could not be understood, seemed to be of the Missionary work here, and the troubles that retarded it. He was buried at Woodlawn, by a brook, under a Palm tree."

 Maryland Biographies | Maryland AHGP

Source: Gazetteer of Maryland, by Henry Gannett, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904.

 

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