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Middlesex Preacher Rose From Slavery

By Larry Chowning

Holland Powell was born a slave in 1854 in the Amburg area of Middlesex County. As a slave boy, he worked on a farm, oystered for his master, and received no formal education.

Prior to the end of slavery, churches were integrated in Middlesex County with slaves sitting in balconies while whites worshipped below or they worshipped at different times than whites. After slavery Powell’s father and mother, William and Martha Powell, who had been members of Zoar Baptist Church, became charter members of First Baptist of Amburg, an active African-American church in Deltaville to this day.

In Arthur Bunyan Caldwell’s, Volume 6 Book of History of the American Negro, Powell was recognized for his life as a Baptist minister. The book states he was baptized at the a! ge of 13 in 1867 and became a member of First Baptist of Amburg. He was baptized with four others, including his older brother, by Rev. Thomas Washington. Even as a boy, Powell knew he wanted to be a minister. As a small boy, he would take an open oyster and hold the shells in his hands as if he were holding the Bible or hymn book and proceed to preach to the other children.

Caldwell stated that Powell received no education as a slave but was a student in the first mandated public schools for blacks in Middlesex County. It was a seven-month school year in Middlesex, and for three other months he attended a school in Norfolk.

After the Civil War and as part of reconstruction, Middlesex County was required to establish free schools throughout the county for whites and blacks. Powell learned to read and write in a one-room log schoolhouse. When not i! n school, the article states Powell worked on a farm and oyste! red in the river.

In 1873, Powell felt a calling and moved to Washington, D.C., where he entered Wayland Seminary. His parents did not have money to send him, but they would send produce they had grown at their home in Amburg for him to sell to earn some money. He completed the courses there with an AB degree in 1879.

His first regular pastorate was at Grove Baptist Church in Norfolk. He went on to become pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond and later at Second Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. From Detroit, he went to Canada as pastor of Queen St. Baptist Church in Toronto, and afterwards accepted a church in Ohio.

Powell took a job with the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg as educational secretary in the pastoral field. He later accepted a church in New York State and his last p! ulpit was at Liberty Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

The article stated that in politics Powell was “a Republican and a member of the Moses and the Ideal Society. Readers will not be surprised to learn that his favorite book was the Bible.”

He died in 1924 at the age of 70 and is buried at Washington Street United Methodist Church Cemetery in Alexandria.

This article originally appeared in the Southside Sentinel and is republished here with their permission. Dustin Burrell of Stormont provided the book and other information on Rev. Holland Powell for this story. Rev. Powell is an ancestor of Burrell and his family. Some of the information came from the May 12, 1900 Richmond Planet newspaper. The Richmond Planet was founded in 1882 by former Richmond slaves. The newspaper served African-Americans throughout the state for 45 years. It closed in 1929.

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