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Musings and Memories

A truly unique preacher

Doug Dezotell
Posted 2/12/22

When John and Charles Wesley set foot on American soil for the first time in 1736, they wanted to not only preach to the white congregation of the new Anglican church in the colony of Georgia, but John wanted to evangelize the Indians.

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Musings and Memories

A truly unique preacher

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When John and Charles Wesley set foot on American soil for the first time in 1736, they wanted to not only preach to the white congregation of the new Anglican church in the colony of Georgia, but John wanted to evangelize the Indians. But they were told they were there just to minister to that new congregation.  

The early Wesleyans that came later as missionaries to the American Colonies came with a desire to minister to the white colonists, the Indians, and the black slaves. Some of the earliest converts of those men were black people, slaves and freemen. And there were some among those converts who later became preachers themselves.  

One of them was a man by the name of Harry Hosier. An illiterate black preacher, former slave, and friend and traveling companion of Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury, Harry Hosier (sometimes written “Hoosier”) once said, “I sing by faith, pray by faith, preach by faith, and do everything by faith; without faith in the Lord Jesus, I can do nothing.”  

Known as “Black Harry” in early American Methodist and Christian circles, Hosier was considered by many Christians as the best preacher they’d ever heard, black or white.  

In fact, Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician, Christian abolitionist, and one of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, called Hosier the “greatest orator in America.”  

Thomas Coke, who, along with Francis Asbury, was one of American Methodism’s first two bishops said of Hosier, “I really believe he is one of the best preachers in the world. There is such an amazing power that attends his preaching, though he cannot read; and he is one of the humblest creatures I ever saw.”  

Those early Methodist preachers came from England, each being ordained by the founder of Methodism and Church of England priest, John Wesley. Wesley sent them as missionaries to the American colonies.  

According to black scientist, educator, and writer, Booker T. Washington, “Methodism had started in England among the poor and the outcast; it was natural, therefore, that when its missionaries came to America they should seek to bring into the Church the outcast and neglected people, especially the slaves.” 

One of these lives invited into the Wesleyan community was Harry Hosier. Washington said Hosier, “was the first black American Methodist preacher in the United States… He traveled extensively through the New England and Southern States and shared the pulpits of the white ministers whom he accompanied. But he seems to have excelled them all in popularity as a preacher.”  

Hosier never learned to read or write, but he was able to memorize large portions of the Bible, and then preach from those scripture texts fiery sermons that, moved by the Holy Spirit, left many hearers repentant and in tears.  

When asked by a friend if he wanted him to teach Harry how to read, Harry said, “No.” Hosier considered his illiteracy as a gift from God, and he told his friend that if he learned to read he feared his anointed gift to preach the Gospel would go away.  

Hosier preached across the nation with his employer and friend, Bishop Francis Asbury, often called the father of the American Methodist Church. Hosier’s role with Asbury initially was to drive his carriage and serve as his assistant as Asbury preached across the colonies.  

Hearing Asbury read passages aloud from the Bible as they traveled from county to county, Hosier was able to remember those passages that were read to him, word for word, and he was soon preaching heart-stirring sermons after Asbury preached. He began by exhorting the crowds after Asbury’s sermons, urging the listeners to apply the preacher’s words to their lives.  

The first reference to Hosier in Asbury’s personal journals says, “If I had Harry to go with me and meet the colored people, it would be attended with a blessing.”  

His preaching style became so popular that when Asbury went on preaching tours, crowds were actually hoping to catch a glimpse of Hosier and hear him preach as well as the Bishop. At first, Asbury would preach to the white audiences, and then Hosier would preach to the black audiences. But it wasn’t long, and those white people would stay on to hear Hosier preach his sermons as well.  

Courtland Perkins, writing in The Christian Coalition, says, “One account of Hoosier’s preaching marveled, ‘His voice was musical, and his tongue as the pen of a ready writer.’”  

Perkins continues, “Hoosier skillfully used melodic speech to extol the glories of God in salvation, while demonstrating a rare ability to bring hearers to moments of emotional tension. He ministered with zeal, prayed with power, and often dramatized biblical stories to proclaim the urgency of salvation. At a most unexpected time, he arrested the hearts of mixed-raced audiences all over the East Coast.”  

Some 18th-century Quaker communities thought that Hosier spoke by “immediate divine inspiration.” On one of Bishop Thomas Coke’s preaching tours in America, Asbury suggested that he take Hosier with him to preach to the black audiences.  

Coke did and he was amazed at Hosier’s ability to preach the Gospel and marveled at how he swayed the crowds with his anointed messages from God. Not much is known about Hosier’s early life, other than that he was born into slavery around 1750, somewhere in North Carolina. It’s thought that he was possibly sold to a prosperous Methodist man in Baltimore, Maryland.  

The man, by the name of Harry Gough, gave Hosier his freedom around the end of the American Revolution. Hosier may have returned to North Carolina to see his mother, and it was there he met Asbury in 1780; a meeting Asbury considered “providentially arranged.”  

It was always Harry Hosier’s desire to be ordained as a Methodist preacher, but that desire was unfulfilled by the time of his death in 1806.  

Harry Hosier was a man who made quite an impact on early America; and he is a man worth knowing about 

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