William Saunders Crowdy

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William Saunders Crowdy (August 11, 1847 – August 4, 1908) was an American soldier, preacher, entrepreneur, theologian, and pastor. As one of the earliest Black Hebrew Israelites in the United States, he established the Church of God and Saints of Christ in 1896.

Early life[edit]

In 1847, William Saunders Crowdy was born into slavery at the Chilsy Hills Farm of the Charlotte Hall Plantation in Maryland.[1] His father was Basil Crowdy, a deeply religious man who oversaw the drying of clay for the plantation's brick kiln. According to family tradition Basil was descended from the a lesser nobility of the ancient kings of the Ndongo empire,[citation needed] known as a Ngola, until his ancestor was captured into slavery by the Portuguese in the 17th century. His mother Sarah Ann was a cook, which often got her access to the "big house" despite her diminished stature as a slave.[2] Crowdy was originally called "Wilson" by his overseer. The baby Crowdy was born in a one-room slave cabin near the Patuxent River in the middle of a violent nighttime thunderstorm. Crowdy lived his early life in bondage working first by milking the plantation owner's cows. As he grew older he was assigned by the slave overseer to tend the plantation's melon patch, and then to work as a stable boy and tobacco drier.

Life was hard on a 19th-century plantation and the cruel overseer on Crowdy's plantation punished the slaves brutally. Despite it being illegal for slaves to read, Crowdy was a religious and caring man from a young age and learned the Hebrew prophets, especially Elijah. According to oral history Crowdy was beaten by the slavemaster at age 7 for taking too much cornpone from the ration cook to feed his sister. He spent the night locked in a barn for punishment but prayed to Moses to be released from bondage of his captors. Ten years to the day later at age 17 Crowdy escaped from his master. In 1863 he ran away after a fight with a white man.[3] He shed his name "Wilson," regarding it as a slave name,[citation needed] and adopted the more dignified "William" which he then used to enlist at the nearest Union army recruiting station.[citation needed] He immediately took the job as quartermaster's cook. He joined the United States Colored Troops 19th Regiment of Maryland[citation needed] along with his half-brother Daniel[4][5]

Military man[edit]

Crowdy's unit was raised at Benedict, Maryland on December 19, 1863 when the United States Government offered compensation to his enslavers for his freedom to fight. During the Civil War the 19th Regiment USCT fought at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. Crowdy served as a laborer and supply storesman, and participated in the capture of a confederate flour wagon being smuggled into Petersburg, Virginia during the siege of Richmond. Crowdy remained in the Army after the war to become a Buffalo Soldier. He was promoted to quartermaster sergeant in the 5th Cavalry in 1867, receiving his discharge in 1872 . He later became a cook on the Santa Fe railroad.

Religious life[edit]

Former Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Church of God and Saints of Christ during Crowdy's leadership. The building is now known as First Tabernacle Beth El and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Crowdy settled in Guthrie, Oklahoma after his retirement from the railroad. He owned one of the largest African-American-owned farms in the county, at about 100 acres (0.40 km2).[6] While in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, September 13, 1892, he claimed to have had a vision which he believed to be from God calling on him to lead his people to the true religion. However he resisted this, and it was only when he had another alleged vision while chopping wood in 1895. He started preaching in Guthrie, and then set up Tabernacles in Emporia and Lawrence, Kansas in 1896. In these early days he was arrested 22 times. After setting up another Tabernacle in Topeka, he spread his creed in Sedalia, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and several cities in New York, establishing an Elder-in-Charge in each city before moving to the next.

In 1899 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania establishing his permanent residence and organizational headquarters there for four years. By 1901 his congregation had more than 1300 members and he had set up several enterprises: a general store, barber shop, restaurant, and print shop. However he ran foul of the authorities here too and was accused by them of anarchy and preaching false doctrine. At a mass meeting of other ministers held in February 1902, called for him to be stopped. He responded by saying:

"The more they denounce me, the more the people pack my services. I came to this city less than a year ago from Texas and have taken in over 1300 converts. They are jealous of my success. I teach my people to love one another, keep the Ten Commandments, pay their honest debts, and abstain from alcohol and tobacco. If that's anarchy and false doctrine, I am willing to take a back seat. Mayor Ashbridge has seen my work and he finds no offense in me."

In 1903, he bought 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land in Suffolk, Virginia, calling it "Canaan Land." More land was subsequently purchased by Bishop William H. Plummer and this is now the international headquarters of the denomination. In 1905 he sent missionaries to South Africa and by 1906 he declared Chief Joseph W. Crowdy, Bishop William H. Plummer, and Elder Calvin S. Skinner as future leaders of his congregation.

William Crowdy died on August 4, 1908, in Newark, New Jersey and was buried in Belleville, Virginia.

Today the Church of God and Saints of Christ is the oldest living Hebrew Israelite congregation that started in the United States. The congregation, following the teachings of Prophet Crowdy, follows the tenets of the Biblical Jews and adheres to the Ten Commandments. The doctrine also includes observance of the Sabbath and the belief in the medium of prophecy. A key concept is the Exodus, the liberation of people in bondage. The most important festival is Passover, a week-long homecoming in Belleville with a ceremonial Seder.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Elly M. Wynia, The Church of God and Saints of Christ: A History of the Black Jews Taylor and Francis Press, p. 19
  2. ^ Beersheba C. Walker. The Life and Works of William S. Crowdy E.J.P. Walker Press, 1955
  3. ^ Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael. "Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America". p. 62. 
  4. ^ [1] Civil War Regiment Records, National Park Service, Retrieved July 6, 2007
  5. ^ "Soldier Demographic Information: Daniel Crowdy". College of Southern Maryland. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  6. ^ Anthony B. Pinn. The African Religious Experience in America, Greenwood Publishing Co, page 80