It is the 1st of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1868
Today I want to tell you the story of two people. Two very different people separated by thousands of miles whose very different lives would intersect for the momentous occasion we will remember today.
The first is Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Armstrong was born in 1839 in Hawaii to Clarissa and Richard Armstrong. The two had been sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Richard was a Presbyterian minister who helped establish several churches on the Hawaiian Islands before serving as the minister of education for the Kingdom of Hawaii. But when he died in 1860, Samuel decided to travel to America to attend his parents' Alma Mater, Williams College. Samuel graduated in 1862 and volunteered for the Union Army. He rose through the leadership ranks quickly and came to command two different regiments in the United States Colored Troops. After the war, he worked for the Freedman's Bureau and with the American Missionary Association. The American Missionary Association had formed out of two other mission boards, which left the former boards to condemn slavery. The American Missionary Association would become a bulwark for both the gospel and civil rights amidst the failure of Reconstruction.
Hold that line.
The next person to meet is Mary Smith Peake. She was born Mary Smith Kelsey in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1823. She was born to an Englishman and a free black woman. Thus she was free but mixed race in the Antebellum South. At 6, she was sent to live with an aunt in Alexandria, where she could attend school. She went to school for ten years before the United States Congress banned all people of color from receiving an education in the aftermath of the Nat Turner Rebellion. Mary moved back home to Norfolk before moving to Hampton, Virginia, where she would marry Thomas Peake. They lived near Fort Monroe, which was the only Union military base in the Upper South. It became known as a "contraband camp" as escaped slaves could claim sanctuary inside the fort. Despite it being illegal, Mary began to teach people from the fort how to read and write. The American Missionary Association would support her as she secretly held classes under an enormous oak tree. Having been unable to receive an education for almost three decades had put the black population at a considerable disadvantage. Mary believed that education in basic skills and vocational training would be necessary for the black community ever to reach parity with whites. Today that oak tree is known as the "Emancipation Oak" as the Emancipation Proclamation was read publicly to the freed slaves under it in 1863. Unfortunately, Mary Peake would die in 1862.
The same Western enlightenment belief in the emancipatory effects of education that drove Mary had also inspired Richard Armstrong during his work in education on the Island of Hawaii. And now that his son was working for the American Missionary Association in the United States, he would look for similar opportunities for service.
And it was on this, the 1st of April in 1868, with the backing of the American Missionary Association, Samuel Armstrong founded Hampton College, a college dedicated to training the head, the heart, and the hands of former slaves and free blacks. The location of Hampton was not an accident. The same AMA that supported Mary Peake would support Armstrong and his college. That oak tree that she taught under that would later become the "emancipation oak" became the school's site. The Emancipation Oak still stands today on the campus of Hampton University, a school founded by the American Missionary Association on the 1st of April in 1868.
The reading for today comes from the Psalms in the Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1650. This is from Psalm 46, verses 9 to 11.
9 Unto the ends of all the earth
wars into peace he turns:
The bow he breaks, the spear he cuts,
in fire, the chariot burns.
10 Be still, and know that I am God;
among the heathen I
Will be exalted; I on earth
will be exalted high.
11 Our God, who is the Lord of hosts,
is still upon our side;
The God of Jacob our refuge
forever will abide.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by nobody's fool, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who reminds you that it is also opening day, Go Angels. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.