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Charles H. Pearce

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Charles H. Pearce (1817–1887) was a politician and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister in Florida from 1865 until his death. As an African American missionary, he helped bring the AME Church to Florida and worked to build its congregation during and after the Reconstruction Era. It was the first independent black denomination in the United States. Pearce was born into slavery in Maryland and bought his freedom then moved North to New Haven, Connecticut, where he was ordained, and later to Canada, where he served as a preacher and became a British citizen. In 1868 Pearce was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1868 of Florida. Later that year he was elected to the state legislature from Leon County, Florida. He served numerous terms in the legislature, working to gain support for public education for all Floridians.

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Early life, education and career as minister

Pearce was born into slavery in 1817 in Queen Anne's County, Maryland. As a young man, he purchased his freedom by saving his portion of earnings from being "hired out." He moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he studied and was ordained as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Founded in 1816 by free blacks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this was the first independent black denomination in the United States.

Pearce later moved to Canada and became a British citizen, as it was still a colony. An estimated 20,000 -30,000 refugee African Americans from the United States had settled there to gain freedom from slavery. He preached there until 1865.

AME missionary to the South

In 1865, after the Civil War, Pearce moved to Florida as an AME missionary. Based in the North, the church sent numerous missionaries to the South to aid the freedmen and plant new churches. Pearce settled in Tallahassee and Leon County, Florida.

Pearce said, "A man in this State, cannot do his whole duty as a minister except he looks out for the political interests of his people."[1] Pearce became a prominent black officeholder in the Reconstruction era, a time when threats, the KKK, and white animosity to freedmen was high.[2] White insurgents formed paramilitary groups to disrupt elections and intimidate black voters, in an effort to suppress the Republican Party.

Political career

While helping establish new congregations of the AME Church, Pearce also joined the Republican Party and built political power through these networks. Most freedmen joined the Republicans. Pearce was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1868 of Florida. He was expelled by moderate Republicans because of his British citizenship.

Later in 1868, Pearce was elected as a Republican to the Florida Senate, serving one term until 1870. He was elected again in 1872, and served to 1884. In this period, during the Reconstruction Era, he was considered the political boss of Leon County, Florida,[3] where the freedmen constituted the majority of the population. Pearce was influential in his support (and, in some cases, opposition to others seeking office or in office).

Pearce also helped establish educational institutions, including the predecessor to what became Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, which was affiliated with the AME Church.[4] He also gained state legislative support of education for all Floridians.[5][6]

In an act of political payback, in November 1876 Pearce was challenged and disqualified as an elector for the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and William Wheeler ticket, at the time that votes for electors were still being tallied from various counties. He had been convicted by a circuit court in 1870 of a felony for offering a bribe. Although he was pardoned on April 29, 1872 by Acting Governor Samuel T. Day and E. M. Randall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as certified in December 1876 by the Secretary of State in Florida, votes cast for him in the presidential election were not accepted. His opponents noted there was no provision under Florida law to allow a convicted felon, even though pardoned, to regain his right to vote or serve as an elector.[7] Through the waning years of Reconstruction, white conservative Democrats made other efforts to dispute and prevent the seating of black electors, or voting by blacks for other Republican candidates, and there was considerable violence and intimidation at the elections.

Pearce also had rivals within the AME church and among the leaders of the black Baptist Church in Florida. Many of the latter had quickly established independence with their congregations after the war from the white-dominated Southern Baptist Church.[5]


  1. ^ Canter Brown Jr., Florida's Black Public Officials, 1867-1924, (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1998), p. 4
  2. ^ Dorothy Dodd, "'Bishop' Pearce and the Reconstruction of Leon County", Apalachee (1946), p. 6.
  3. ^ Foner, Eric (1996). Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction. Louisiana State University Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780807120828. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  4. ^ History Archived 2015-10-13 at the Wayback Machine Edward Waters College.
  5. ^ a b Larry E. Rivers, Canter Brown Jr.Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895, University Press of Florida, 2001
  6. ^ portrait
  7. ^ Congressional Edition, Volume 1733, pp. 14 and 387
This page was last edited on 4 January 2020, at 05:27
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