Richard Henry Boyd: Shaper of Black Baptist Identity

By Early, Joe, Jr. | Baptist History and Heritage, Summer-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Richard Henry Boyd: Shaper of Black Baptist Identity


Early, Joe, Jr., Baptist History and Heritage


Born into slavery on March 15, 1843, in Noxubee County, Mississippi, to Indiana Dixon, Richard Henry Boyd was given the name Dick Gray. He was named Dick after his maternal grandfather, Richard, and, as was the common practice of the day, he assumed the last name of his owner.

Tie Gray family and their slaves moved in 1848 to Lowndes County, Mississippi, and then to Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, in 1853. (1) After he death of Martha Gray, the wife of his owner, Boyd's family was sold to relatives of the Gray family in 1859, and Boyd was sold to Benoni W. Gray for $1,200 and taken to the cotton fields of Washington County, Texas. Boyd spent the next several years as a mule boy hauling cotton on the Gray plantation. Indiana and her three daughters were sold to a family that moved to Houston County, Texas. Boyd did not see his mother again until after the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Gray and his three sons entered the Confederate army. Boyd accompanied them as his owner's body servant. (2) At a battle near Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November 1863, Gray and his two eldest sons were killed, and the youngest was seriously wounded. Boyd carried the surviving son back to Texas, where he slowly convalesced. To protect his young master when it was rumored that Union forces were near Washington County, Boyd took him to Mexico until it was safe to bring him home. Upon returning to Texas, Boyd managed the Gray plantation and sold its cotton in Mexico until 1867.

Following Benoni Gray's death, the family was unable to maintain its estate for long and eventually had to sell it. His wife went to live with her daughter, and the former slaves scattered across Texas in search of work. Boyd worked as a cotton trader, a cowboy, and as a mill foreman in Montgomery County. Everywhere he went and at every job he worked, Boyd learned valuable skills that would later benefit his own business endeavors. During this time, he changed his name from Dick Gray to Richard Henry Boyd. (3) He kept his grandfather's given name, Richard, out of respect, but never explained why he selected the name "Henry Boyd." In 1868, he married Laura Thomas, but she died eleven months after they were married. Three years later, Boyd married Harriett Albertine Moore, who bore him six children who lived to adulthood. (4)

A self-educated man, Boyd did not learn the alphabet until he was twenty-two years old. While working in Texas, he hired a white girl to teach him to read. (5) The first books he read were Webster's Blue-Backed Speller and McGuffey's First Reader. In 1870, Boyd enrolled in Bishop College, an American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) Freedman School, in Marshall, Texas, but he was forced to leave after two years because he could not afford to pay the tuition and support his family at the same time. (6)

Boyd was baptized into the membership of Hopewell Baptist Church in Navasota, Texas, on December, 19, 1869. Shortly after his conversion, he felt called to ministry. He was ordained in 1871 and became very active in all aspects of black Texas Baptist life. Boyd pastored the Nineveh Baptist Church in Grimes City, the Union Baptist Church in Palestine, and the Mount Zion Baptist Church in San Antonio. He helped organize the Texas Negro Baptist Convention (TNBC) and served as its missionary and educational secretary from 1870 to 1874. (7) He was also instrumental in organizing black Baptist churches in Waverly, Old Danville, Navasota, Crockett, Palestine, and San Antonio, and he contributed to the founding of the Lincoln District Baptist Association of Navasota in 1875. In 1876, Boyd served as a black Texas Baptist representative at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and he was the moderator of the Central Baptist Association of Texas in 1879. In Reconstruction Texas, land was inexpensive and the Boyds were able to purchase property in Montgomery County, Palestine, and San Antonio. (8)

Racial Prejudice and Paternalism

Boyd's life and motivation are best understood in the context of racial prejudice and paternalism.

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