James Theodore Holly

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James Theodore Holly was born in Washington, D.C. on October 3, 1829, to Jane and James Overton Holly. James Theodore Holly is known for being a minister, abolitionist, the first African American Bishop in the Episcopal Church, and the Bishop of Haiti. Holly was baptized and raised as a Catholic but didn’t stay a Catholic because of racism and discrimination against ordaining blacks. He was involved with the abolitionist movement with Lewis Tappan in his hometown and in Brooklyn, NY.

James Theodore Holly married Charlotte Holly in 1851 and moved to Windsor, Canada shortly after. In Canada, James helped a free slave named Henry Bibb with the editing of his newspaper Voice of the Fugitive. “Holly also endorsed the Refugee Home Society and organized the Amherstburg Convention of free blacks in Canada” (blackpast.org, par3). James converted to the Episcopal Church in 1852. He also always believed that African Americans did not have a future in America.

He was involved in the first Emigration Convention that took place in Cleveland in 1854. The following year he was a commissioner on the National Emigration Board. He also had jobs as a shoemaker, teacher, and school principle.

James founded the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church among Colored People in 1856. This society “argued that blacks should be allowed to participate in seminaries and Diocesan Conventions” (Wikipedia, par 37). At the age of 27, James was ordained and was a pastor at St. Luke’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut. During that time he also taught in public and private schools.

James’ strive for emigration led him to encourage blacks to move to Haiti. This was expressed in his published lectures, the Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self Governance and Civilized Progress in 1857. U.S. Congressman Francis P. Blair helped Holly get aid from the government for the move to Haiti. Another thing he did to get money for travel was lobby the Board of Missions of the Episcopal. A few years after that, in 1861, he settled in Haiti with his family and a group of blacks. Living conditions were tough in Haiti and many settlers died of disease. Holly’s wife, kids, and mother were included in the victims of malaria and yellow fever. However, James survived to start the Holy Trinity Church in 1863. Many other churches, schools, and medical programs were started by James in Haiti, and he also trained many priests. Holly came back to the states many times to get financial support for his missions. It wasn’t until 1865 that the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church decided to sponsor his work in Haiti.

The American Church Missionary Society ordained James as a bishop at Grace Church in New York City. In 1874, Holly became the first black Episcopal Bishop in Haiti, and he was actually the second bishop of any major white Christian church. “During this time, Haiti was split with the Vatican and most men of Haiti supported their religious sentiment through the symbolism and observance of the Masonic Lodge” (AA Registry, par 3). Holly had knowledge and experience with of Masonry, and he even did Masonic funerals.

After spending 15 years in Washington, D.C., he moved to Brooklyn, NY. He made friends with Frederick Douglas and was involved in many of his programs.

James remarried and had nine children with his wife Sarah Henley. James Theodore Holly died on March 13, 1911 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

BibliographyAfrican American Registry. “African American Registry.” 2005, 2006. 15 July 2009.


Bullitt, Scott and Dorothy. “Holly, James Theodore (1829-1911).” 2007-2008.

15 July 2009. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/theodore-james-holly-1829-1911.

Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church. “Bishop James Theodore Holly.” 1 January 2009.

15 July 2009. http://specbuffalo.bfn.org/bishop_holley.htm.

Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church. “James Theodore Holly Bishop of Haiti andDominican Republic (13 March 1911).” 18 November 2006. 15 July 2009.


Wikipedia. “Episcopal Church, United States.” 27 July 2009. 31 July 2009.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episcopal_Church_(United_States).