James Theodore Holly was born on October 3, 1829, in Washington, DC, USA. He was one of the first three African-American bishops in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States and the first Episcopal Missionary Bishop of Haiti where he established many churches, hospitals, and schools over the course of 50 years.

He is the author of several books, lectures, and essays including a bound edition of FACTS ABOUT THE CHURCH’S MISSION IN HAITI: A CONCISE STATEMENT. He died at the age of 81 on March 13, 1911, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Episcopal Church honors him on that date. However, some parishes transfer his feast day to November 8, the date of his consecration as bishop.

His grandfather was a former slave who moved his family from Maryland to Washington, DC, in 1799 to work construction on the new U.S. Capitol building when James’s father was 13 years old.

His father grew up to marry and raise James and his siblings in Washington, DC, as Roman Catholics:

The family attended Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown, as most conveniently situated to our residence, West 26th, Washington. I was baptized, confirmed, and made my first communion in that church. — FACTS, Page 6

James attended private and public school until at age 14 in 1844 he moved with his family to Brooklyn, NY, where he learned the shoemaker’s trade from his father along with his brothers.

In 1851, at age 22, James married Charlotte and withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church because the copy of his bible:

Although full of explanatory notes in the Roman Catholic sense, gradually weaned me away from the unscripted ways of that church. — FACTS, Page 6

He and Charlotte joined the Protestant Episcopal Church before moving to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, on the border with Detroit. James worked at a weekly newspaper called Voice of the Fugitive, and he helped organize the Amherstburg Convention of free blacks.

In 1854, he moved with his family to Buffalo, NY, and began working as the principal of a public school. That same year, James attended the first national Emigration Convention in Cleveland and became a commissioner of the National Emigration Board. Here his interest in Haiti became public action.

Haiti had been in the forefront of the news since 1804, when after a sustained slave revolt due to horrific conditions on sugar plantations; Haiti won its freedom from French rule and became its own nation under the leadership of the head rebel.

This news fascinated African American people at this time, many of whom suffered as slaves in the south or under heavy discrimination in the north. (Anna Julia Cooper wrote her doctoral thesis about French slavery and Haiti’s revolt in 1925. More recently, author Amy Wilentz wrote several books about Haiti’s history and modern condition.)

About twenty years after the revolt, the American Colonization Society began helping thousands of African Americans to emigrate to Haiti where they could be free. However, many returned to the United States due to the difficult living conditions on Haiti.

In 1854 (seven years before the beginning of the American Civil War), James focused less on the harsh conditions and more on the idea of escaping the discrimination he and his social class suffered as free blacks and on building a new life for himself and his fellows. He traveled to Haiti to see if it was a suitable place for blacks to begin a new life free of discrimination.

Finding it so, he returned and began sending requests for a missionary commission from the Board of Mission of the Episcopal Church, but was denied each time. Meanwhile, he entered seminary and was ordained a deacon on June 17, 1855, in Detroit, MI. He co-established the Union of Black Episcopalians to address discrimination against blacks in the Church. (About 40 years later, Anna Julia Cooper wrote about this situation as well.)

James was ordained a priest on January 2, 1856, in New Haven, CT. He served as rector of St. Luke’s Church in New Haven from 1856-1861. During that time, he made several trips to Haiti and gave and published lectures such as Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Governance and Civilized Progress.

His many requests for missionary funding from the Episcopal Church and the U.S. Government were denied. Nevertheless, in 1861, he resigned as rector at St. Luke’s and traveled with his family and 110 African Americans (mostly from his former congregation) to Haiti.

He and his people were well received by the leadership of Haiti. James was named a citizen of Haiti after only two weeks.

Tragically, rampant disease and poor living condition did terrible damage to the group. Forty-three people died within months from yellow fever, typhoid, or malaria:

During the contagion, five members of my own household had been laid away in the silent tomb. Of my family of eight persons of which, when we sailed from New Haven, CT, on the 1st of May, 1861, I was the head, but the 1st of February, 1862, nine months after our arrival in Haiti, only three remained alive, myself and my two little sons, aged respectively three and five.” — FACTS, Page 9

Historic records show that James lost his wife, his mother, his daughter, and one of his sons. (The fifth family member’s identity is unknown, perhaps an infant, or James’s sister, sister-in-law or aunt.)

About half of the remaining group returned to the United States even though the American Civil War had started and it was a dangerous time and place.

It should also be noted that the United States was not free from epidemics of disease. For example, in 1878, St. Constance and her Companions became martyrs as they fought to care for the ill during a city-destroying outbreak of yellow fever in Memphis, TN.

Although James traveled regularly to the United States to request funding and for speaking engagements, he, his sons, and the other hardy emigrants created lives for themselves in Haiti. They also established churches, schools, and hospitals for their fellow citizens in need.

In 1865, the American Civil War ended and the Episcopal Board of Missions finally began to financially support his mission.

He particular focused on creating schools for pastoral training in order to spread the Word and staff the churches with Haitian clergy.

He served as consul for Haiti and Liberia from 1864-1874.

At some point, he married again. His second wife, Sarah Henley, and he had nine children.

In 1874, James earned a Doctorate of Divinity from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

On November 8 of that same year, he was consecrated Missionary Bishop of Haiti by the American Church Missionary Society, a branch of the Episcopal Church, at Grace Episcopal Church in New York.

Along with his family and dedicated missionaries, James Theodore Holly worked in Haiti (as well as Liberia and the Dominican Republic) caring for the body, mind, and especially spirit of his fellow citizens.

Bishop Holly died on March 13, 1911, and is buried on the grounds of St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. In 1936, the Haitian Government honored his memory with the National Order of Honor and Merit. Plans made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his death were postponed due to the terrible earthquake of January 12, 2010, the after effects of which continue to spread throughout the whole everything of Haiti.

Most gracious God, in his quest for life and freedom, James Theodore Holly led your people from bondage into a new land and established the Church in Haiti. Grant that, inspired by his testimony, we may overcome our prejudice and honor those whom you call from every family, language, people, nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. — Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints

For More Info:


Episcopal Archives – The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice

Boston University – History of Missiology

Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed

In order to understand the level of good created by Bishop James Theodore Holly in Haiti, one must understand Haiti, and to truly understand Haiti one might invest practically a life’s work. So, dear worthy readers, let’s just shoot for a general knowledge of Haiti. Something of which I was certainly lacking.

I found what I was looking for (and more, of course) in a book called, FAREWELL FRED VOODOO: A LETTER FROM HAITI by Amy Wilentz. This book is a work of history, literary non-fiction, and an autobiography all in one. I highly recommend it. It answered all of my questions about why Haiti is the way it is now. I’m embarrassed by my naiveté and my donations to at least one wrong charitable organization after the 2010 earthquake. I greatly appreciated being set straight by the author, and while I don’t necessarily share her deep cynicism after her 20-year relationship with Haiti, its condition, and its people, I totally get it.

First off, she delved into the history of an island whose native population was completely destroyed by invaders who established colonies and sugar plantations which they operated with the “unlimited” supply of fresh slaves from Africa to replace those they worked to death. Then, she describes the revolt of these slaves against France. Next, she discussed the greedy, cruel regimes that cared not so much for the actual people of Haiti. She also explained how all the foreign interference over the years caused many problems and continues to be of not much help, to say the least.

She explained that Fred Voodoo is a cliché name journalists had for the average Haitian citizen who isn’t part of the tiny, but powerful, wealthy class. A few days after the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, she was watching the news from her kitchen in Los Angeles, CA, shortly before she made the decision to travel back to Haiti herself:

That’s how the camera crews were shooting. You didn’t need to say Fred’s name in order to summon the sentiment, which is a kind of condescension filled with pity. . . Yo, the morgue is just a scene of damnation! Look how bad it is over here! Can you buh-lieve people are living like this? (That was always an aspect of Haiti coverage, but especially after the earthquake.) The objectification of the Haitians’ victimization – that’s one aspect of the Fred Voodoo syndrome. How beautiful the Haitians look in their misery; they always do. You can count on them. — FRED, Page 15

Here’s what she had to say about the collapsed buildings and houses that were assembled in a hodgepodge — never quite finished, always adding on, with cement roofs being the norm:

Black Rouge doesn’t think about how things might have turned out if his house had been built to some code or standard. This is not because he is irresponsible or unthinking, but because he lives inside Haitian reality.

Since here there is no state as one thinks of it elsewhere, no long arm, no reach into the daily life of people, (except as a vacuum or omission, a negative force, a blank space), the idea of norms, standards, and regulatory control is not part of the common language. When such concepts are introduced, mostly just on theory, they are often batted away as just too expensive or difficult or as unacceptable intrusions or personal freedom.

In this way, Haiti can be seen as a libertarian’s dream. The lack of responsive government has understandable generated a civic tendency toward rejection of regulation. In many ways, Haiti feels like a country still in the throes of self-creation – something like the Wild West in the United States, little more than a century ago. That’s also why the country attracts so many rogues and speculators from the outside. — Fred, Page 71

And aid workers — Large aid organizations and people who are trying to reshape Haiti into their own vision. While acknowledging that much of the aid the country received, especially immediate after the earthquake was vital, the author believes the massive amount of financial aid (much of it spent in lining the pockets of the already rich) has caused some serious problems with Haitian finances on a national as well as an individual basis.

Amy sees value in micro-aid organizations such as “little Protestant churches” with schools and medical clinics. Also of value are aid workers that are in Haiti for the long haul, people like Bishop James Holly and Dr. Megan Coffee.

Dr. Coffee is a specialist in infectious diseases who traveled to Haiti immediately after the earthquake and stayed because she was needed. She established a tuberculosis ward first out of tents and then in the building the hospital provided for the new department after she had shown it was necessary. She and a team of nurses took expert care of the patients. Right after the earthquake, she was able to obtain lifesaving supplies through her friends in the United States. She also received funding from her social media fans to whom she tweeted about her challenges and observations in Haiti. She didn’t live in the “safety” of the compound or eat in the hotels. She slept in borrowed housing and got herself to work in whatever transportation was the most convenient. She learned how to speak Kreyol (Creole).

I believe that Bishop James Holly would appreciate a traditional Haitian recipe for his feast day, so I’ll share the ones I learned from Dr. Megan Coffee and author, Amy Wilentz.

For many months after the earthquake, the only food the displaced people of Haiti had to eat in the tent camps was spaghetti with a particular kind of sauce they invented themselves.


1 pound uncooked spaghetti

4 tablespoons ketchup

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

Boil spaghetti according to instructions on package.

Divide into four servings.

Add one tablespoon of ketchup and one tablespoon of mayonnaise to each serving.

The sós (sauce) is a necessary part of this recipe providing the same umami (Japanese for “yummy”) flavor found in meat, according to the authors of THE COMPLETE VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK.

The other night, I tried it for myself. It was a pretty good snack that filled me up and kept me going while I prepared the next course of our dinner. But what if this was dinner tonight and tomorrow night and the next and the next?

This second recipe is a typical meal prepared by Haitian working-class families about nine months after the earthquake who were still living in the tent camp because of the delays in rubble removal and the rebuilding of their homes and work places.


4 cups cooked rice

1 tablespoon margarine

1 small onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 cup water

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 can sardines (or one cup cooked beans or diced cooked chicken)

Cook rice according to package instructions. (1 cup uncooked rice equals 4 cups cooked rice.)

Melt butter in pan, sauté pepper and onion over medium high heat.

Add water, tomato paste, mayonnaise, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir until mixed thoroughly. Add sardines (or other protein).

Cook until heated through. Serve over rice.

My family and I enjoyed this second course immensely. It was flavorful, varied, and nutritious. But what if the four of us had to share this meal on one plate with one spoon, and what if it was our only meal of the day?

This next recipe meal is really the main course of a dinner in the hotels where most of the foreign aid workers, wealthy class, and other foreigners eat at the end of the day. The dish would be served with bread, rice, salad, fruit, wine, and dessert. It’s also served regularly in the homes of the wealthy class.


1 beef bouillon cube

2 tablespoons water

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ pounds beef sirloin, cut into ½ inch cubes

10 wooden skewers, soaked in water for one hour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Crush and dissolve bouillon cube in water. (Heat water a little in microwave to make this easier.) Pour into bowl.

Add garlic, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Toss meat in marinade, cover. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours to marinate.

Place about seven pieces of beef cubes on skewers.

Preheat grill to high heat.

Coat each kebob with vegetable oil, either with a brush or by rolling each one in oil poured onto a plate.

Grill kebobs, turning frequently for about 12 to 15 minutes until cooked to taste.

Beef is much desired by the poor of Haiti who simply can’t afford it. But sometimes, they can afford to buy the street-vendors sausages made with some sort of meat or meat-by-products. Definitely not grilled beef, but pretty good with ketchup.

By the time my son finished grilling our beef kebobs for our third course, I was no longer hungry. But my family enjoyed it, so I’ll probably make it again at some point.

But what if we ate less beef and redirected some of our grocery or dining out budget to a quality charity group working in Haiti?

What if?

TiKay Haiti – Tikay means “little house” in Haitian Kreyol and is the medical non-profit organization started by Dr. Megan Coffee and Haitian health care workers. Follow her on Twitter @doktecoffee.

Episcopal Relief and Development

(Originally posted on 3/13/2015 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: