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Randy Willis: Paxton's use of the term "Mulatto"
W.E. Paxton's statement about Joseph Willis on page 139 in A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present (1888) that "He was a mulatto" began a debate that has long since been over but I thought I would expound on Paxton's statement for future researchers and historians.
We know that the term was used at the time of Paxton's book as anyone of a mixed-racial heritage. But, if I ever doubted that is not what Paxton meant when speaking of Joseph Willis that was forever dispelled when I read his description of "negros" on pages 452-453. Numerous other pages in Paxton’s book are just as graphic.
Paxton said and I quote, "They are said to be ignorant, lying, thieving race, and that is degrading to teach them." And, that's not near all that Paxton said but I will leave it at that.
Now, compare just a few of Paxton's quotes about Joseph Willis in the same book.
Paxton wrote of him: "…he was a simple-hearted Christian, glowing with the love of Jesus and an effective speaker."
According to Paxton: "Joseph was never ‘daunted’ for his was a high calling, a single-mindedness of purpose."
Paxton wrote that "The zeal of Father Willis, as he came to be called by the affectionate people among whom he labored, could not be bounded by the narrow limits of his own home, but he traveled far and wide."
Paxton also wrote, "Those who loved him called Joseph Willis the 'Apostle to the Opelousas' and 'Father Willis.”
Joseph Willis would tell his grandchildren, Polk and Olive Willis, who were tending to him in his last months, that he left North Carolina "with nothing but a horse, bridle and saddle." Polk and Olive later told their nephew Greene Strother this fact and Greene Strother told me (also see Greene Strother’s Unpublished Th.M. thesis About Joseph Willis and his book, The Kingdom Is Coming).
All of Joseph Willis' grandchildren, including Polk and Olive Willis would also asked him from time to time about the family, and he would tell how his mother was Cherokee Indian and his father was English, and that he was born in Bladen County, North Carolina. Family tradition is consistent among all the different branches of the family that I have traced over 30 years.
Every branch of the family, including some that have had no contact during the 20th century, has this identical family tradition handed down.
That's exactly what historian Ivan Wise wrote in Footsteps of the Flock: or Origins of Louisiana Baptist (1910) and Baptist historian John T. Christian remarked in his book A History of Baptist of Louisiana (1923), and Durham and Ramond’s wrote in Baptist Builders in Louisiana (1934) and other early writers. Ezekiel O’Quin was with Joseph Willis in South Carolina and would later follow Joseph to Louisiana as the second Baptist minister west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. They fought together with Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox in the Revolutionary War. Ezekiel’s son John O'Quin also wrote that Ezekiel "grew up in the same area as Joseph." Joseph and Ezekiel worked together in the ministry in Louisiana for over 50 years.Ivan Wise wrote in Footsteps of the Flock: or Origins of Louisiana Baptist(1910) from an interviewed with John O'Quin about Joseph Willis on page 72, "he was not negro, or mixed with negro." Ezekiel had said the same thing.
So why did other writers that wrote about Joseph Willis write otherwise. The answer is that they misunderstood what Paxton meant by the term "mulatto" and they totally ignored four (as well as others later) incredible early Baptist historian's, Ivan Wise in 1910, John T. Christian in 1923, and both Durham and Ramond in 1934.
To make matters even worst they totally ignored Joseph Willis' own testimony.
Joseph Willis and his children said a man named John Phillips, from the government, came by taking affidavits as to the population’s race. Joseph signed this affidavit and stated that his mother was Cherokee and his father was English. This was registered at the courthouse in Alexandria, Louisiana.