The John Chavis Historical Society
The John Chavis Historical Society was founded in 1986 with the purpose of preserving the history of African Americans in general and the history of John Chavis in particular. John Chavis , an African American, who was born in 1763 was the first person of his race to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1800. However, before his preaching career, he had enlisted around 1780 at the age of seventeen in the Fifth Virginia Regiment and served for three years in the Revolutionary War. Captain Mayo Carrington, in a bounty warrant written in March 1783, certified that Chavis had “faithfully fulfilled [his duties] and is thereby entitled to all immunities granted to three year soldiers.” Following his tour of duty in the Revolutionary War, Chavis was recommended to attend Princeton University by two white men in Oxford, North Carolina, the Rev. John Blair Smith and Rev. Henry Pattillo, Chavis’s teacher and mentor. After attending classes at Princeton University from 1792 to 1795 taught by the Rev. John Witherspoon, who was President of Princeton University, Chavis attended Washington College in Lexington, Virginia. He completed his college studies there in 1802. What is most outstanding about John Chavis’s career is his return to North Carolina as a teacher of Latin, Greek, and English from 1807 to 1831. He taught many prominent North Carolinians and prepared them to enter college: Willie P. Mangum, who became a U.S. Senator and president of the U.S. Senate; Senator Mangum’s brother, Priestley Hinton Mangum, who became a lawyer; Archibald E. and John L. Henderson, sons of Chief Justice Henderson; Governor Charles Manly; Rev. William Harris; Dr. James L. Wortham; the Edwardses; the Enloes; and the Hargroves. Another one of Chavis’s famous students was Abram Rencher, who became U.S. Minister to Portugal and territorial Governor to New Mexico. However, Rev. John Chavis’s career of teaching and preaching was cut short following the Nat Turner insurrection in 1831. Many southern states, including North Carolina , enacted laws forbidding Blacks from preaching and teaching. These laws had a profound impact upon the renowned preacher and teacher.

One of the goals of the John Chavis Society has been to find the gravesite of John Chavis. Dr. George Clayton Shaw, founder of Timothy Darling Presbyterian Church and Mary Potter High School in Oxford, North Carolina states in his book John Chavis, published in 1931 that Chavis is buried in the family cemetery on the Mangum property in Rougemont, N.C. As a result of expeditions to the site by the John Chavis Society, we discovered in 1988 the Old Cemetery where Senator Mangum’s mother and father are buried, and we are certain that John Chavis’s grave is there. The North Carolina State University School of Forestry is in charge of the former Mangum Plantation, now called Hill Forest. One of the Forestry students was the first to discover the cemetery which was used in 1829, following the death of Senator Mangum’s mother. There are at least 35 graves,; some unmarked are the graves of slaves.