Nicholas Carper

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

17?? - 1840


Whereas, it is satisfactorially make known that Nicholas Carper (a colored man) is an ordained Cumberland Presbyterian minister living within the bounds of Vandalia Presbytery, and whereas, he has not made application for membership. Resolved therefore that in accordance with the rules and usages of this presbytery that the said Carper be and is hereby recognized as a member.

Ordered that Bro. Joel Knight furnish Bro. Carper with a knowledge of what presbytery has done in his case.

[Source: Minutes of Vandalia Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 4, 1838, pages 100-101]

On inquiry it was found that Brother Joel Knight had failed to notify Brother Carper of the preceeding presbytery as his case. It was also found with satisfaction of presbytery that brother Carper has manifested an instruction to act with propriety by sending his letter of dismission and recommendation, which is now in the hands of presbytery. Resolved therefore that his name be regularly enrolled.

[Source: Minutes of Vandalia Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 5, 1839, pages 105-106]

I append an extract from Mr. Clark in reference to a colored preacher of whom I have made mention before:

"The spring session was of more than ordinary interest. Two brethren were ordained, viz., Nicholas Carper and John Linville, whose memory is dear to the Church to this day, though they have long since 'fallen asleep.' Many of our people still remember the melodious voice of the former, in his proclamation of the tidings of salvation to fallen sinners, and the mild, conciliating spirit and pathetic manner of address of the latter. In natural oratory few men of our knowledge have equaled Brother Carper, though he was a man of color--a yellow man--and his success as a minister of Christ has been equaled by but few men in our country. The place of his grave is in Madison county, Illinois, near the city of St. Louis, and, for aught the writer knows, is unepitaphed. Such men should never be forgotten by the Church. The place of his family is unknown to the writer."

[Source: Ewing, R. C. Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, page 362-363]

From Chapter IV - The Third Presbytery--Vandalia

...and there have been thirty-five ordained minister received, viz: ... (by resolution, October 4th, 1838,) N. Carper, (colored,)...

[Source: Logan, J. B. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois, Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Missions, Publication and Education. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, pages 56-57]


"The third that died was Rev. N. Carper, (colored,) and upon the records of Octoab er 2d, 1840, we have this:

"Whereas, It has pleased the Great Head of the Church to remove Bro. Nicholas Carper by death, from his earthly labors, Presbytery would hereby express her high sense of the moral worth of Bro. Carper and the loss she has sustained in the removal of such an esteemed fellow-laborer.

[Source: Logan, J. B. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois, Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Missions, Publication and Education. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, page 58]



One of the earliest ministers of Vandalia Presbytery, and one greatly beloved, was Rev. Nicholas Carper, a colored preacher. Of his early life but little is known to the writer. We find the following reference to his life and early ministry by Judge Ewing in his "Historical Memoirs," which, perhaps, gives the true account of his origin: "The session of 1836 was held at the Bethel church in Boon county. Among the members of this Synod appears the name of Rev. Nicholas Caoper," (evidenly [sic.] a misprint for Carper,) " a colored man of rare endowments as a public speaker. He was a bright mulatto, having a very fine face, and being of large, portly person. I have heard him preach from the same stand at a camp-meeting with Ewing, Morrow, Sloan, and others of the old preachers. I noticed that he was appointed on a committee with S. C. Davis and John M. Foster to examine the minutes of the Barnett Presbytery. He had formerly been a slave, and was the property of William Jack, of Lexington. He obtained his freedom, and became a minister in the St. Louis Presbytery--at least, he appeared from that Presbytery in Synod. I think I never heard a speaker with so fine a voice. It was strong, yet smooth, melodious and musical. When raised to a high key it was like a bugle note from a silver trumpet."--Page 19.

We find his name at an early day on the roll of ministers of Vandalia Presbytery. In the records of the Spring session of 1839 we find Mr. Carper joined by letter, and from other reliable sources we learn that he was then living in the American bottom opposite St. Louis, where he remained until his death. Some where near the little village of Brooklyn, between Venice and East St. Louis, was the place of his residence. The writer never met him, but in St. Louis Presbytery, and Vandalia, also, the older brethren speak of him in the highest terms as a man of extraordinary powers of mind and ability as a speaker. Nor were his abilities of mind and powers of speech more noteworthy than his humility and devout piety.

The following is from Rev. James B. Braly, of Steelville, Mo., who knew Mr. Carper well: "Bro. Carper's education was limited, but still his language was usually chaste, and frequently elegant. He was not a systematic preacher. When he divided his subject he seldom paid any attention to his divisions, sometimes treating the last division first. He was truly eloquent. His gestures were natural and graceful. His voice was shrill but very musical--I think the most musical voice I ever heard. His singing was full of melody. He could always secure the attention of his audience. His preaching was usually very effective. He brought his whole soul into his subject, and his applications were powerful. He was truly a wonderful man. He did not have a great variety. Often he preached from the same text, and would frequently make mistakes, confounding Bible names. But his mistakes were not usually noticed by his hearers, they being carried away by his eloquence. You may think, my brother, that I have overdrawn the picture, he being a man of color; but if you could have seen and heard him, I think you would agree with me that he was a wonderful man." Mr. Braly gives the following incident of Mr. Carper: "He preached occasionally from a text he called the 'Devil's text:' 'Ye shall not surely die.' At a camp-meeting held by the Methodists, I think in St. Louis county, he was invited to preach. It was not long after he came into our bounds. In his preface he told his hearers that there was an old preacher amongst them who had traveled and preached very extensively. He went on to describe him, and said he had done much mischief. There was an old preacher by the name of Heath who lived in St. Louis and had traveled very extensively, and while Carper was talking the preachers all began to whisper and wonder if it was not Heath. But the old man told them after a while that he meant the Devil."

The following letter from Rev. J. M. Bone, for many years a minister in Vandalia Presbytery, will be of additional interest. Mr. Bone now resides at Pomona, Kansas:

"I met Bro. Carper but a few times. Though he was a member of Vandalia Presbytery, yet he never attended any of its sessions. He moved from St. Louis and settled in the American bottom, a few miles above East St. Louis, and soon after he settled there he sent his letter and was received as a member of Vandalia Presbytery. At that time he was preaching to a congregation of colored people in St. Louis, either Congregationalists or New School Presbyterians, I don't know which, and continued to preach to them some time after he settled in Illinois. Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians frequently invited him to assist them in protracted meetings. They loved to have him. He was a good revivalist.

"I met him at a camp-meeting at Beaver Creek, in the south part of Bond county, Illinois, and there I learned from him all I know of his history. He was born a slave. His father was one-fourth French. He was married before he professed religion. He said in a discourse at the camp-meeting, that when he was fourteen years old he knew nothing but to lie with his toes in the ashes and run at the call of his master. He had no knowledge of books or their design. When he decided that it was his duty to preach the gospel he devoted himself to the work of preparing for the ministry; and when he was ordained he stood an examination on all parts of trial required by our Book. He was licensed and ordained by the Lexington Presbytery. He devoted all his time to the work of the ministry. In the meantime he bought and paid for himself, wife and two daughters. Two sons were sold as slaves and taken South. He never saw or heard from them after. He was a large, portly, good-looking mulatto man. He weighed about two hundred pounds, and when I saw him I suppose he was about sixty years old.

"Bro Carper was a good, acceptable preacher. He used good language. His manner was solemn. He presented his thoughts clearly and some times impressively. His preaching was mostly experimental and practical. He was powerful in exhortation. He knew his place in the society of white people. H was modest and retiring, and never intruded himself so as to give offense. But in the pulpit he was at home. There he spoke his mind boldly and independently. He reproved sin sharply, and urged the service of God in Christ tenderly and in love. He died, I think, in the American bottom, but I know nothing of the particulars of his death."

The brief notice of his death by Vandalia Presbytery may be found elsewhere.

[Source: Logan, J. B. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois, Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Missions, Publication and Education. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, pages 212-215.]

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