by Lisa Y. Henderson
Elder Ralph was a colored man, and at first a slave belonging to a man in Anson county, N. C. Soon after making a profession of religion and being baptized, it was discovered that he had impressions to preach; he was licensed by the church of which he was a member. His owner proposed to sell him, and the brethren bought and gave to him his freedom. Soon after this, he was ordained to the work of the ministry. He travelled and preached a great deal in the counties of Anson, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, and Davidson. He became a good reader, and was well read in the Scriptures. He was considered an able preacher, was frequently called upon to preach on funeral occasions, was appointed to preach on Sabbath at the association, and frequently administered the ordinance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He was of common size, was perfectly black, with smiling countenance, especially in the pulpit while speaking. He was very humble in his appearance at all times, and especially when conducting religious services. Great personal respect was always shown him by the brethren whom he visited in his preaching excursions. Elder Joseph Magee, a Baptist minister, became his warm friend, and travelled and preached with him. Such was their attachment for each other, that they agreed that the surviving one should preach the funeral of the one that died first. Elder Magee moved to the West, and died first. Upon his deathbed, he bequeathed to Ralph his riding horse, overcoat, Bible, and fifty dollars in cash, and requested his family to send for Ralph to come and preach at his funeral. In company with a white brother, Ralph went to the West and preached the funeral sermon from a text the deceased had selected. The brother that went with Ralph stated to Elder N. Richardson that he never before saw so large a congregation. At the conclusion of the sermon, Elder Magee’s brother stated to the congregation what provision his deceased brother had made for Ralph, and added, if any of you would like to give him any amount, it would be thankfully received; the congregation soon made up fifty dollars, which was given to him. While this contribution was being made, a Methodist came up and handed to Ralph one dollar. A Presbyterian, who observed it, said to him, He was singled out by a legislative act that forbade him from preaching to Black congregations. You ought not to give Ralph anything. “Why not?” said the Methodist. “Because,” said the Presbyterian, “he has torn your system all to pieces.” The Methodist replied, “I believe he has preached the truth, and I will give him the dollar.”
Ralph was able in illustrating and unfolding the doctrines of grace. Elder N. Richardson (to whom we are indebted for this biographical sketch), has baptized a number of persons who dated their convictions to the preaching of Ralph.
When the anti-mission party was formed, we have been told that Ralph became an anti-missionary.
When the legislature passed the law prohibiting colored men from preaching, Ralph was greatly mortified and had the sympathy of many brethren. Ralph was, no doubt, a truly pious and humble Christian, he had the confidence and esteem of thousands, and died in the full assurance of a blessed immortality.
From Elder George W. Purefoy, The History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association (1859).
Ralph Freeman‘s headstone: RALPH. Died about 1838/ He was a Primitive Baptist/ Preacher of much force and /usefulness./ His freedom was/ purchased by the/ Bear Creek Association/ Erected 1907.
Photo courtesy of http://www.ncmarkers.org.