Theophilus Gould Steward


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(1843–1924), minister, journalist, novelist, historian, and autobiographer.

T. G. Steward was born in 1843 in Gould-town, Pennsylvania, one of the oldest African American settlements in the state. Little is known of his early life. Ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in 1864, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, immediately after the end of the Civil War to teach and preach among the freed people. His political activities in the late 1860s in Georgia, in particular his published call for federal troops to counteract the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, brought threats on his life. He moved back to the North in 1871, resuming his preaching career in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, and recording his controversial experience in the South in My First Four Years in the Itinerancy of the African M. E. Church (1876). In the 1870s, Steward helped lead protests against inadequate funding for African American Schools in Delaware and Philadelphia. Two of his early theological works, Divine Attributes (1884) and Genesis Re-Read (1885), reflect his conservative views on biblical interpretation.

In 1886, Steward accepted the pastorate of the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., where Federick Douglass and Blanche K. Bruce were among his parishioners. Appointed chaplain of the 25th U.S. Infantry Division in 1891, Steward traveled considerably in connection with his official duties, which gave him the opportunity to comment in magazines such as the Social Economist, the Colored American Magazine, and Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly on domestic racial issues as well as conditions in Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, and Europe. In 1899, Steward was assigned by the army to write a military history, The Colored Regulars in the United States Army, which was published by the AME church in 1904. The year 1899 also saw the appearance of Steward's A Charleston Love Story, or Hortense Vanross, a novel concerned with the deleterious social and moral effects of liberal religion and “free love.” Though the central characters of A Charleston Love Story are white and the questions at issue do not address race explicitly, the novel's setting, Reconstruction South Carolina, allows for a quietly revisionist perspective on the slaveocracy. The novel also offers brief but respectful portrayals of African American soldiers in the occupying army and observes with confidence the rise of the freemen and -women to citizenship in the South. Although it was published commercially in London and in New York, this early African American novel was unknown until the 1980s.

In 1907, Steward retired from the army to become chair of the history department at Wilberforce University in Ohio. In 1913, J. B. Lippincott published Gould-town, Steward's genealogical history of his hometown. The following year Steward completed The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804, which enjoyed enduring popularity as a work of African American history. In 1921, the A.M.E. Book Concern published Steward's memoir, From 1864 to 1914: Fifty Years in the Gospel Ministry, a narrative that attests to Steward's multifaceted professional career and his dedication to social activism as well as preaching the gospel.


Subjects: Literature.

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