John Mason Peck was the indefatigable missionary who first brought the gospel to much of the Mississippi valley. For more than 40 years prior to his death in 1858, he worked among the Indians and whites from Ohio to St. Louis.
In 1822, while leading the First Baptist Church of St. Louis, Peck helped to organize the First African Baptist Church. Five years later the congregation had built a beautiful brick meeting house and called John Berry Meachum, “a free man of color,” to become their pastor.
Thirty-eight years earlier, on this day in 1789, John Meachum was born a Virginian slave. While in the service of others, he was born again and became a servant of God and a Baptist preacher. After he was moved to Kentucky, he was able to earn and save enough money to buy his freedom. His wife however was still enslaved, and her owner moved to Missouri in 1815. John chose to follow her, arriving in St. Louis with $3 in his pocket. Working as a carpenter and cooper, he once again saved enough money to buy his wife’s freedom and eventually that of their children.
The Lord continued to bless the Meachums – spiritually and financially. John, the former slave, began buying slaves himself, whom he taught to work and gave employment. To encourage their personal industry and to give them hope, he promised that after ten years he would give them their liberty. This proved to be a successful plan and through this means he brought about the freedom of approximately twenty souls.
By 1835, while pastoring the African Church and its membership of about 220, Meachum had a number of other ministries, including various missionary outreaches. One of the most outlandish was to build a steamboat, which he provided with a library and made a safe haven from liquor and other vices. He continued as pastor for 38 years until his death in 1864 at the age of nearly 75.