Titus Basfield - From Slave to Associate Presbyterian Church Minister

In the book An Interesting History of the life of Titus Basfield: A Colored Minister in the Associate Presbyterian Church, one catches a rare glimpse of the ministry of an African American Presbyterian pastor before the Civil War. Born into slavery, Titus Basfield would become a successful minister of the Gospel, though not without great troubles in this life. He would have to overcome and survive far greater difficulties than most today, but ultimately Basfield proved a profitable servant of the Lord Jesus.

Basfield was born in Virginia in 1806, and as a young boy his father died. Titus was one of six children. He along with his mother and youngest sister would eventually be taken by a slave trader down to Tennessee where his sleeping sister at a very young age would be sold out of her crying mother’s arms. This event would leave a mark upon young Titus. Titus would wind up near Knoxville, Tennessee, then through successive travels with various masters he would move around from place to place. One master, James Reid, allowed Titus to read the Bible, and eventually allowed Titus to begin to sit under the ordinances of the Associate Church. The Associate Church became something Titus was attached to, on account of the pure gospel preached among them. James Reid was disposed to leave Tennessee, however, and move to Alabama – leaving Titus without his beloved Church. Seeing this to be an issue, Rev. David Carson of the Associate Church stepped in. He knew the young slave had been faithfully attending gospel ordinances and was apt to keep him. He visited Mr. Reid and was determined to buy Titus and emancipate him. Though Reid stood in the way, Rev. Carson threatened him by making it clear that if he removed his slave from gospel ordinances he would not profit him. Eventually it was worked out, and Titus was purchased and freed.

Titus, having a sharp mind, excelled in studies, and after attending Synod one year with Carson was interested in studying for the ministry. Titus left Tennessee for Ohio, and after studying Theology in Canonsburg was licensed the 27th of June, 1842. From there he would go to London, Ontario, to be a missionary to freedmen and runaway slaves. It was here that all the love Titus had for the Associate Church would be most severely tested.  As a missionary he was not properly provided for, and struggled to make ends meet. This put him at constant odds with Presbytery and the Synod. In fact both Presbytery and Synodical courts declined to hear his case. He felt all alone and got a bad name with the Canada Mission. Yet he remained faithful and did what he could.

Perhaps most interesting, Titus Basfield seems to have written this work mostly to guard against the bad name he got on the mission field in London, Ontario. He would contribute one last thing of note: he refused to enter the union between the Associate Reformed Church and the Associate Church, and though he was a small minority, he helpfully wrote down his reasons why he refused to join. These reasons are of great historical significance in understanding the United Presbyterian merger.