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Biography of James Theodore Holly

The original settlement, in what is now the State of Maryland, was in St. Mary's county. St. Marys County was the birthplace, and home, of the ancestors of the late Right Reverend James Theodore Holly, D. D., LL. D., the first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Republic of Haiti. Bishop Holly's grandfather assisted in laying out the District of Columbia. The parents of the Bishop moved from St. Mary's County to the District where young Holly was born. He was duly baptized in Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Georgetown, by a Roman Catholic priest who had fled to this country from Haiti, on account of the fury of the blacks during the revolution there. On the 4th of June, 1841, when he was 12 years of age, in the church of his Baptism, he was confirmed by Archbishop Eccleston, of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Archbishop Eccleston was a native of the Eastern Shore, and of one of the most distinguished families of Maryland. The Archbishop was formerly an Episcopalian, and, it was I through another distinguished member of the Eccleston family that Bishop Holly, in after life, was greatly honored. The Rev. J. Houston Eccleston, D. D., was, for many years, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Baltimore. In this congregation are many of the wealthiest and most prominent white people of the State. On several occasions, on invitation of Dr. Eccleston, the rector, Bishop Holly, addressed the congregation. A notable such occasion was on a certain Sunday evening when a great Missionary meeting was held in Emmanuel Church. Quite a number of Missionary Bishops were on the program as speakers. Bishop Holly was one among the number. He being the senior Bishop present, by consecration, was readily accorded every honor of that position. He not only delivered his address, but presented the offering, and lifted up his hands in solemn benediction over that great white congregation. Easily, within a stone's throw of the church, is the monument to Chief Justice Taney, who, about the time Bishop Holly was made a priest, delivered the famous opinion in the celebrated "Dred Scott's case" to the effect that a Negro had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.

Young Holly was born and reared in the Roman Communion, and there remained until he was twenty-two years of age. He was a shoemaker by trade, and, in the interest of his advancement along that line, he removed from Washington to Brooklyn, N. Y. Later, he removed to Detroit, Mich., where, in 1855, he was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church by the Bishop of Michigan the late Eight Reverend Dr. Samuel A. McCoskry. Writing the present author, some years ago. Bishop Holly said, in part: '"I was ordained deacon in 1855 with the express understanding that I should be sent to work in this mission field; as a matter of fact, two weeks after my ordination I set out from Michigan for New York; from whence I was sent ten days later by the Foreign Committee of the Church to collect information, as to the feasibility of establishing such a mission. I returned from thence with a favorable report. Six years were then spent in gaining pastoral experience for the work in view; and to this end I was advanced to the Priesthood by the Bishop of Connecticut, on the 2nd of January, 1856, when I accepted the pastoral charge of St. Luke's Church, New Haven, in that diocese. Aside from the active pastoral work of that congregation, every fitting occasion was seized during those six years, to stir up an interest, by tongue, pen, and the press, in the contemplated mission. In 1861 my face was again set to-wards Haiti, accompanied by a company of 110 persons (of whom I was the pastor); for the practical establishment of the mission in this land."

In October, 1874, in the city of New York, the Rev. Dr. Holly was duly consecrated a Bishop in the Church of God, with jurisdiction in the republic of Haiti. Bishop Holly was the very first man of the African race to be made a Bishop, on American soil, by any of the historic Churches. His was a hard and trying field, in the midst of a population wholly given to the Roman Catholic Church, and un-settled, through frequent political revolutions. Yet, he bravely persevered in his work steadily advancing it, under all the trying and vexing conditions.

Both in America, and England, his character and learning were honored and respected. A number of years ago, while attending one of the '"Lambeth Conferences" embracing the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, through-out the world, he offered up in Westminster Abbey, that most beautiful and striking prayer which will live forever in the hearts of all Christian people of Hamitic descent. Here is the prayer:

"O, Thou Savior, Christ, Son of the Living God, who when Thou wast spurned by the Jews of the race of Shem, and, who when delivered up without cause by the Romans of the race of Japheth on the day of Thy ignominious Crucifixion, hadst Thy ponderous cross borne to Golgotha's summit on the stalwart shoulders of Simon the Cyrenian, of the race of Ham, I pray Thee, precious Savior, remember that forlorn, despised, and rejected race, whose son thus bore Thy Cross, when Thou shalt come in the power and majesty of Thy eternal Kingdom to distribute Thy crowns of everlasting glory.

"And give to me then, not a place at Thy right hand or at Thy left, but only the place of a gatekeeper at the entrance of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, that I may behold my redeemed brethren, the saved of the Lord, entering therein to be partakers with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of all the joys of Thy glorious and everlasting Kingdom."

Bishop Holly was a great student, and intensely interested in every phase of racial life and advance. Until late years, he was a frequent contributor to race newspapers and magazines.

The death of Bishop Holly occurred at Port au Prince, Haiti, March 13, 1911. With respect to the funeral services, the following, from a private letter, received at the time, will give some idea of the esteem in which the Bishop was held by the people of that country. It says:

"No one remembers seeing such a funeral. The President sent a company of his Guard of Honor the Palace band (the best in the West Indies) and four aides-de-camp. There were six magnificent wreaths, and a profusion of bouquets. The crowd that followed was immense the sidewalks and balconies were crowded with people to see the funeral go by. The mayor of the city sent to inquire through what streets the procession would go, and then sent to have those streets perfectly cleared. People have told us that after the funeral they could not find a piece of mourning in town; everywhere they were told that Bishop Holly had cleaned them out,' so great was the number of those who thought it their duty to take mourning for the Bishop. The funeral services began punctually at eight in the morning and it was one o'clock when we were leaving the Church yard where he was buried. There were eleven clergymen in attendance."

A Writing of Bishop Holly

The following is a portion of a letter received by the author from Bishop Holly, nearly a quarter of a century ago:

It is well for us to bear in mind that the day for the full and final deliverance of our race from political and ecclesiastical thralldom, will not dawn for us until that Great Event takes place. The Mosaic dispensation was Semitic. The Gospel dispensation is principally, Japhetic. But the Milennial dispensation will be Hamitic. In the words of the Prayer Book version of the Psalms: "When God shall scatter the nations that delight in war, then shall Princes come out of Egypt, and the Morians land (Ethiopia) shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."

This will be the moment for the political and ecclesiastical deliverance of the African race. It will take place when the King of kings and Lord of lords shall have scattered the nations which delight in war. These are emphatically the Japhetic nations, nominally Christians, but armed at this moment to the teeth to destroy one another in defiance of the Gospel which they profess to believe whose first sentence is, 'Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace and good-will towards men." Then that race whose son carried the Savior's Cross, while the Semitic and Japhetic races united to crucify Him, will wear the Dispensational Crown; being also the race, which in the person of the Ethiopian eunuch, furnished the first convert of pure Gentile blood (through a Jewish proselyte) and who hastened to stretch out his hand to God, when Philip drew near to him; and even to ask himself for Christian Baptism. The Lord is at hand. He is now knocking at the door of the Laodicea Church. Let us stand in our places and heed the exhortation which He addressed to all therein. Thus we shall be prepared to fulfill our mission in His Kingdom soon to be established on this earth. He was buffeted and spit upon in the presence of the Chief Ecclesiastics at His First Advent. He supported all patiently. If we would be like Him and have part with Him in His Kingdom, we must show the like patience under injuries. The condition of servitude meted out to our race for four thousand years, since the days of Noah, has been our training for greatness in the Kingdom of God.

It has indeed been our reproach during this domineering period of the Semitic and Japhetic Gentiles. But it will be no longer in Christ's Kingdom. For lie that has fully imbibed the spirit of being the servant of all shall be the greatest of all therein. The Master has given us that assurance. And He illustrated what kind of service He meant at the Last Supper by serving at Table Himself, and by washing His disciple's feet after Supper. This is the kind of service in which we have been trained and so far as it has been followed in the right spirit, we cannot doubt what will be our great reward when the war like Japhetic nations shall be dashed in pieces at His Coming. Hence, I would exhort against anything like a schismatic spirit.

The Semitic and Japhetic nations are essentially schismatical. They divide all their religions up into sects, and schools of thought, and ecclesiastical parties. Our contact with them has produced similar divisions amongst us. But it is not a religious peculiarity innate in the African mind. There is a unity in the dead level of African fetishism. The unity in the truth for which the Savior prayed so earnestly after Supper and before He went forth to His Agony in the Garden, will come forth from beneath this dead level of error as the glad response at last, to His earnest prayer, when the Spirit of God shall sweep over the valley of African dry bones around the Congo, on the Niger, and on the banks of the St. Paul; when He shall come in His Glory."

 Maryland Biographies | Maryland AHGP

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


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