John Jasper was a prominent Virginia preacher who believed that he was called to spread the word of the Bible by God. He spent most of his life at the center of crowds and controversy.
Jasper was a former slave and the youngest of 24 children born to Nina and Phillip Jasper on the Peachy Plantation in Williamsburg, Virginia. His father was also a well-known preacher whose footsteps he followed. Slaves were not generally allowed to preach, a restriction which constrained the ministry of Jasper’s father. But with his master’s approval, Jasper preached often to his fellow slaves.
John Jasper had a major conversion experience and his master encouraged him to share it with everyone, so he spent his life spreading the good news of Christianity. Jasper attracted wide attention as a Baptist minister during the 1880’s with his flaming oratory, and dramatic sermons. Jasper’s most famous sermon was “The Sun Do Move.” During this sermon, he argued that the earth is the center of the solar system and that the sun and other heavenly bodies removed around it. Although his theory had been proven differently by Galileo, in the 17th century, millions of followers of Jasper still believed that the earth stood still at the center of things. Many ministers did not believe in Jasper’s teachings but did not argue against him because few could out explain him and his teachings.
Jasper preached to both white and black congregations in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington, and Maryland. Many newspapers would announce the sermons and appearances of Jasper, and it was usually a major event. Even London, Paris and German scholars took note of Jasper’s views even when they disagreed with them. Jasper was the founder of the 6th Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he preached until his death.