(Part 1 of 6)
The Rev. John Henry “Jack” Yates was a phenomenal man! He is considered to be the Founder of Freedmen’s Town. Not only did he change the history of the freed slaves in many ways, including being one of the first homeowners, he was also the first black pastor of some of the first black churches in Texas, which just so happened to have originated in Fourth Ward! Rev. Yates was a slave, artesian fisherman, husband, father, minister, educator, community advocate and humanitarian!
Rev. Yates’ story is a phenomenal one and it deserves to be told. It will be the focus of the next several writings in Examiner.com. His many contributions to Freedmen’s Town as well as to the African American heritage must be shared. Every Houstonian, regardless of their ethnicity, should know about Rev. Yates — who he was and what his contributions were (www.dampfang.com/x-58697-Fourth-Ward-Christianity-Examiner). Every African American citizen should have some knowledge of this phenomenal man.
Because Rev. Yates was such an important citizen in the Fourth Ward community and contributed so much to the African American heritage, a snapshot of his historical life will be revealed through this section of dampfang.com.
John Henry Fields was born in slavery in Gloucester County, Virginia, on July 11, 1828 to slaves, Robert and Rachel Yates. He was the second of six children. When Mrs. Fields, his mother’s Mistress, died, Rachel Yates, his mother, was given the task of taking care of George Fields, Mrs. Fields’ son. Even though it was illegal back in those days to teach blacks how to read and write, George Fields taught Jack how to read and write as he himself learned.
Jack was an artesian fisherman and made small amounts of money from fishing. Being a fisherman allowed him the flexibility to move freely from one plantation to the other.
As a young boy, Jack would take his reader, Bible, and song book to the field with him to sing songs and read Bible stories. While attending religious gatherings for the slaves, there he was converted. Jack also met his soon-to-be wife of 25 years, Harriet Willis, at one of these religious gatherings. Harriet lived down the road from Jack at the Willis Plantation.
When slavery challenged the institution of their union, Jack changed his name to Jack Yates, symbolizing his new status and new life as a free man. Together, Jack and Harriet had eleven children.