Jabez P. Campbell

Jabez Pitts Campbell was born on February 5, 1815 in Slaughter Neck, Sussex County, Delaware. His parents, Anthony and Catherine Campbell, were born free. However, poverty plagued the small but growing Black community in Delaware. Jane Rhodes writes, “majority of African Americans in the state had some degree of control over their lives. This, however, did not translate into the kinds of opportunities for the free blacks that were possible in the North.”Out of crippling poverty, Jabez Campbell’s father was forced to give his son as a collateral security to a creditor, and upon the elder Campbell’s failure to pay the debt, Jabez Campbell ran away. He fled to Pennsylvania where he was sold, but he persevered to gain his freedom. He recounts his motivation for his perseverance: “I was sold for a term of years, the last two of which I bought from my master, after serving him for four and a half years. At eighteen years of age I became my own master. The primary object which I had in view in making this purchase was an insatiable desire for a good education.”2

Eager to start a new life, Jabez attained jobs—polishing boots, working at a drawbridge in Philadelphia, being a barber, and being a waiter in his early days. At the age of fifteen, he saved enough money to purchase the remaining three years of his time at the drawbridge to study at Quaker High School. During his later days, from 1838 until 1891, he worked as a full-time minister for the AME church, overseeing different churches each year.  

J. P. Campbell

Portrait of J. P. Campbell as a young man

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "J. P. Campbell" New York Public Library Digital Collections

On October 23, 1844, while in Albany, Campbell married Stella Medley of Providence, Rhode Island. This marriage was cut short due to Stella’s unknown cause of death. On June 7, 1855, Campbell married Mary Anne Akins of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.4 Jabez and Mary Ann had a daughter, Harriet, in 1872. Mary Ann Campbell was a well-educated philanthropist. Her community and church activism is well documented: she is a co-founder of the Woman’s Parent Mite Missionary Society and Frederick Douglass Hospital.5 Her activism indicates that Jabez Campbell is supportive of female participation; however, it is clear that he believes that higher official church roles should only be fulfilled by men. Upon learning that Bishop Henry McNeal Turner ordained Sarah Ann Hughes to become a deacon, Jabez Campbell responded: “Man cannot do woman’s work and fill her his place under the divine economy, and woman cannot do a man’s work and fill his place under the same divine economy. . . Women always have been and are now recognized as helpers. . . for that is the will of the Lord.”6


Rt. Rev. J. P. Campbell, Eighth Bishop A. M. E. Church.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. "Rt. Rev. J. P. Campbell, Eighth Bishop A. M. E. Church." New York Public Library Digital Collections

While in charge of the church in Philadelphia, Jabez was appointed by the Bishop as the General Book Steward. In 1856 Campbell became the second editor of a well-known AME. newspaper, The Christian RecorderCampbell resigned as the General Book Steward in 1858 and in the same year was elected President of the Board of Trustees of the Book Concern for the AME Church.


AME Book Concern

Photograph of A.M.E. book Concern building in Philadelphia, PA. 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "A. M. E. Book Concern; Publication department; The Christian Recorder." New York Public Library Digital Collections

On August 9, 1891 in Philadelphia, 76-year-old Campbell died of feeble health. On August 13, 1891, hundreds gathered as he was buried at the Olive Cemetery in Philadelphia. Over the course of his life, Campbell served as the President of the Trustee Board of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, OH. From the same university, he received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.). He also acquired an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Jabez Campbell is known to have lived a selfless life of humility and diligence in ministry.


Submitted anonymously. 

Revised and Edited by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware. 


[1] Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Niteenth Century. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998), 6.

[2] [3] Richard R. Wright, Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Philadelphia: Book Concern of A.M.E Church, 1916), 58.

[4] "Bishop Jabez Pitt Campbell. D. D., LL. D., Of the African M. E. Church, Presides." Cleveland Gazette [Cleveland] 16 Aug. 1884: 1. Print.

[5] Jesse Carney Smith. Notable Black American Women Book II. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1996), 80.

[6] Stephen Ward Angell. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South. (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1992),183