Tour A 7. Elisha Weaver & The Repository

Elisha Weaver, photo from Scraps of AME History

Elisha Weaver, c. 1865.
Image Source: Scraps of AME History 

Elisha Weaver (c. 1830-1871) typifies the life of many free Blacks settling in segregated rural communities in southern Indiana during the early statehood period. Weaver was born in 1830 in North Carolina, and his family moved to Paoli, Indiana by 1840.[1] The Weaver’s family life in Gibson County was one of relative prosperity for a free black family, and Elisha probably enjoyed more opportunities than he would have in North Carolina.  He was mostly likely educated in Orange County, Indiana in a  Quaker school.[2] Many Black settlements developed near Quaker settlements, in part because the Quakers tolerated, and even assisted Black settlers by operating schools and even providing financial assistance.[3]  Demonstrating a lifelong passion for teaching, Elisha began teaching in a local AME school by 1846. Weaver would have been exposed to the AME Church growing up, as the AME church served as the center of these African American communities.[4]  He then went to Oberlin College in 1849, one of the few places offering higher education for African Americans. [5]

Historic view of the Georgia Street Neighborhood viewed over today's landscape. Yellow buildings are frame and pink brink. Note the streets vacated for the construction of the Indianapolis Convention Center.      Image Source: Google Earth and 1887 Indianapolis Sandborn Map IUPUI Digital Collections

Historic view of the Georgia Street Neighborhood viewed over today’s landscape. Yellow buildings are frame and pink brink. Note the streets vacated for the construction of the Indianapolis Convention Center.
Image Source: Google Earth and 1887 Indianapolis Sandborn Map IUPUI Digital Collections

While at Oberlin College, Elisha Weaver committed his life to the AME Church, beginning a lifelong partnership with the Church’s leading advocate for education, Bishop Daniel Payne.  Weaver’s passion for learning probably brought him to the notice of Bishop Payne on one of his trips through the Midwest.  Bishop Payne championed education as the critical priority for the AME Church, promoting the publishing of liturgical materials, textbooks and periodicals.  He also advocated expanding educational opportunities for the clergy, viewing them as critically important for the growth of a literate congregation and spreading the Church’s mission of social uplift.[6] As Payne’s protégé, Weaver traveled the country, serving on important national committees in the early 1850s.[7] These connections, as with other itinerant preachers such as Willis Revels, linked AME congregations across the Midwest. This helped not only to spread the gospel, but also building a national network for racial progress and justice.[8] At the same time, Weaver also began his literary career publishing essays in black newspapers.

Bishop Daniel A. Payne Image Source: Scraps of AME History

Bishop Daniel A. Payne
Image Source: Scraps of AME History

In 1854, the Indiana Conference assigned him to the important pulpit in Chicago. While his short tenure in Chicago was marked by growth in the attendance and influence of his congregation, he was impeached by the Trustees in 1857 for promoting “vocal and instrumental music.”[9] Nationally, the AME Church struggled with liturgical style as a large faction of the laity enjoyed a more emotive worship style, marked with the signing of hymns and “corn ditties,” and many in the Church leadership embraced a more restrained, simple worship liturgy, believing that it better projected their middle class aspirations.[10]  Bishop Daniel Payne was also recalled from a congregation in part for his musical taste.[11]  Payne and Weaver both stressed the need for the clergy to set a moral example by subscribing to middle class values, but promoted music in worship. Both saw no conflict of advocating for youth and adult education, literary societies, Church publications and higher education while also supporting music in worship.[12]

After leaving Chicago, Weaver came to larger congregation in Indianapolis in late 1857. Weaver’s tenure marked a change in the nature of the Indianapolis Station AME Church, not only in its physical form but in its community presence.  The congregation moved into a new home with the purchase of the Christ Episcopal Church building in 1858, dedicated January 16, 1858. This “new meeting house with bells and pews,” marked a step up in status for the African American community that met in Augustus Turner’s log cabin. [13] The 1858 Indiana AME Conference Meeting and State Colored Convention were held in the new building highlighting the prosperity to a statewide audience.[14] Weaver garnered national attention in The Christian Recorder for the AME boarding school he also began operating in Indianapolis in 1858.[15]

The history of the first African American Literary magazine is under your feet as you walk in Downtown Indianapolis.

The history of the first African American Literary magazine is under your feet as you walk in Downtown Indianapolis on the Cultural Trail.

Appearance of the Indianapolis Station AME Church, 1858-1864

The probable appearance of the Indianapolis Station AME Church, 1858-1864. No image exists of the church after it was moved from the circle (above) to the Georgia Street site.  Image Source: Eli Lilly’s  The Little Church on the Circle

Elisha Weaver is perhaps most notable for editing the AME Publications The Repository of Religion and Literature and of Science and Art and The Christian Recorder, developing them into nationally significant African American publications.[16]  The AME Church established its first newspaper in 1848, however it was only published sporadically. The first African American literary journal, The Repository was published in Indianapolis in 1859.[17] These publications, which have continued to the present in a variety of forms, were crucial in the development of an African American social protest movement, by linking education and culture to political protest and shaping a broader national African American social justice movement.[18]  The Repository, published in Indianapolis from 1859-1860 and in Baltimore from 1861-1863, included longer format articles on topics from the fields of religion and science as well as more literary pieces such as poems and plays.[19] Weaver partnered with the Indianapolis Journal newspaper to print The Repository, gaining valuable experience and connections in the newspaper business.[20] He utilized his experiences traveling through the Midwest to quickly build an audience of over 500 subscribers living largely in the Midwest and Philadelphia. Beyond just promoting learning, Weaver’s editorial style placed individual people, as opposed to the Bishops and other Church leaders, at the center of the news. This increased The Repository’s appeal and reflected Weaver’s more democratic religious views.   He captured the spirit of itinerant preachers spreading the “good news” from their congregations, uniting, and developing a larger AME community. [21]

The immediate success of The Repository lead Presiding Bishop William Paul Quinn to move Weaver from Indianapolis to Philadelphia to serve as the editor of The Christian Recorder. Quinn, who was less supportive of the literary endeavor than Bishop Payne, believed Weaver’s talents were better served at the church headquarters in Philadelphia. This ended Weaver’s important tenure in Indianapolis, and also spelled the end of the The Repository.  The Repository moved to Baltimore in 1861 but ceased publication in 1863. Today, the work of a national publication of historical and literature survives in the AME Christian Review.[22]

christian recorder

Masthead from The Christian Recorder.
Image Source: Bethel Archives

Initially a publication for church news and business, during the Weaver’s editorship, The Christian Recorder developed as an important national voice for African American issues.[23] The Christian Recorder not only provided an important news source for African American soldiers serving in the Union Army, but also providing war news and battle reports from African American voices, such as Chaplin Garland White.[24] With emancipation, The Christina Recorder helped unite families divided by slavery and provided reliable information on African American politics.  Continuing his work in the The Repository, Weaver’s columns in The Christian Recorder on family and social issues promoted the AME’s views on racial uplift and the importance of the “family alter.”[25]

Weaver turned over editorship of the The Christian Recorder in 1865, and his young death stopped the career of this race leader.[26] Continuing to serve the church in Philadelphia, he married Martha Statia November 14, 1866 and mourned the death of his first child in 1868. The AME Church transfered him to the important active congregation in Buffalo, New York in 1869.[27] He was then transferred to Newark, New Jersey 1870 to begin his work with the Bishop Alexander Walker Wayman, dying shortly after he began this work in 1871.[28]

7. Site of home of Elisha Weaver & The Repository

Forge History

Forge History

Read The Christian Recorder

[1] Coy D. Robbins, Forgotten Hoosiers: African Heritage in Orange County, Indiana (Heritage Books, 2011); Stephen A. Vincent, Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900 (Indiana University Press, 1999).

[2] Robbins, Forgotten Hoosiers.

[3] Vincent, Southern Seed, Northern Soil; Anna-Lisa Cox, “200 Years of Freedom: Charles Grier and the History of African American Settlement in Gibson County, Indiana,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 25, no. 1 (2013): 35–39; Bruce Biglow, “The Cultural Geography of African Americans in Antebellum Indiana,” Black History News and Notes no.  (2008): 4–7.

[4] Shirley Wilson Logan, Liberating Language: Sites of Rhetorical Education in Nineteenth Century Black America (SIU Press, 2008); Lori B. Jacobi, “More Than a Church: The Educational Role of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indiana, 1844-1861,” Black History News and Notes 31 (February 1988): 5–7.

[5] Jacobi, Lori B., “More Than a Church: The Educational Role of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indiana, 1844-1861”; Hilary J. Moss, Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[6] Eric Gardner, Unexpected Places: Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2010).

[7] Daniel A. Payne, Recollections of 70 Years (Arno Press, 1888).

[8] Julius Bailey, Race Patriotism: Protest and Print Culture in the AME Church (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012); Ronald Palmer, “AME Bishop William Paul Quinn” Notes Towards A Bibliographical Chronology of an American Original,” The AME Church Review CXX, no. 395 (2004): 40–61.

[9] James Abbington, Readings in African American Church Music and Worship (GIA Publications, 2001); Gardner, Unexpected Places.

[10] Julius Bailey, Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900 (University Press of Florida, 2005); Abbington, Readings in African American Church Music and Worship.

[11] Payne, Recollections of 70 Years.

[12] While literary historians point to Weaver’s conservative views about family life in his writings, his congregational work suggests that he viewed traditional and religious music not only aesthetically but also as a tool to help the growth the impact of the faith in the community

[13] Indiana Journal, January 16, 1858.

[14] At this time there were seven annual conferences in United States. Palmer, “AME Bishop William Paul Quinn.”

[15] “Knowledge” Repository 1858:39

[16] Gardner, Unexpected Places; Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000); Bailey, Race Patriotism; Clarence Earl Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land: The African Methodist Episcopal Church during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982).

[17] Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land, 14–16. For an extended discussion of the role of education, see also Bailey, Around the Family Altar, chap.  2.

[18] Gardner, Unexpected Places.

[19] There were initially three editors appointed, but Weaver took the lead and the lead. Rev. Willis Revels was initially involved in the project but he took a smaller role, and his name was removed from the masthead.  Bailey, Race Patriotism.

[20] Gardner, Unexpected PlacesIndianapolis City Directory database, IUPUI Digital Archives, accessed April 16, 2013.

[21] As many of the subscribers were churches, the reach of the publication was much wider than this number would suggest. Gardner, Unexpected Places.

[22] Gilbert Anthony Williams, The Christian Recorder, Newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: History of a Forum for Ideas, 1854-1902 (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1996); Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939; Bailey, Race Patriotism.

[24] Logan, Liberating Language, 20; Bailey, Race Patriotism.

[25] Bailey, Around the Family Altar.

[26] The Christian Recorder, 11/24/1866

[27] “Buffalo New York 1869 City Directory,” U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989[database-online] accessed 4/23/13.

[28] 1880 Manuscript Census shows Elisha no longer in household and no children born since 1870 census.  No obituary found in Christian Recorder, nor mention after 1870. See also, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, An Apology for African Methodism, 1867, 175–177; Alexander Walker Wayman, Cyclopaedia of African Methodism (Methodist Episcopal Book Depository, 1882), 18–19; Alexander Walker Wayman, My Recollections of African M.E. Ministers: Or Forty Years’ Experience in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E. book rooms, 1882), 77–100; Donald Yacovone, Freedom’s Journey: African American Voices of the Civil War (Chicago Review Press, 2004), 67–71.