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Alexander Latimer

Rev. Alexander Latimer Blackford An American Presbyterian missionary in Brazil

 born on January 9, 1829, in Martins Ferry, Ohio.

He  graduated  from the Western Theological  Seminary in 1859 and decided to  work in  Brazil  as  an  assistant of  Ashbel  Green  Simonton.   On  March 5, 1865, he  organised the  Presbyterian Church in São Paulo and became its first pastor.

Blackford later organised the Presbyterian Church in Brotas in November 1865, the third  Presby-terian  church  in  Brazil.  With  3 organised congre-

gations,   Simonron  and  Chamberlain  organised  the  Presbytery  of   São Paulo on December 16 of the same year.

From  1880   Latimer  worked  to  develop  Presby-terianism  in  Salvador, Bahia. In 1888 he became the first moderator of the Presbyterian Church

of Brazil.

In 1890 on vacation in Atlanta, he became severely ill; he died on March 14.


Trecho da História da Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil no qual consta a participação de Alexander Latimer Blackford Archived A


Trecho da História da Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil no qual consta a participação de Alexander Latimer Blackford Archived A

The Life of Rev. Alexander L. Blackford

Per Agreste Presbyterian - March 12, 2018

Alexander L. Blackford was born on January 6, 1829 in Martins Ferry (Jefferson County), in eastern Ohio, and his Christian parents were very pious. It is reported that he was a direct descendant of an English reformer and martyr, Bishop Hugh Latimer (1485-1555), hence his middle name. He spent the first moments of his life in the rural area bordering his parents. After studying at Washington College, in the city of Washington, in southwest Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1856, he joined the Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, on the outskirts of Pitts-burgh, in the same state, graduating in 1859. He was licensed on April 21, 1858 and ordained on April 20, 1859 by the Washington Presbytery. He presented himself to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, based in New York, and shortly afterward he met Ashbel G. Simonton, coming to marry his sister, Elizabeth (Lille). After a tumultuous and dangerous three-month sea voyage, the couple arrived in Brazil on July 25, 1860, almost a year after Simonton's arrival.

At first, Blackford cooperated with his brother-in-law in Rio de Janeiro. Eventually, he concluded that it would be advisable to move the mission headquarters to São Paulo. He came to visit this city in early September 1861, but could not find a home available.

In his absence, Simonton wrote to the New York Board suggesting the occupation of the colon, which was finally accepted. For some time, in 1861, Blackford worked as secretary of the American Legation in Rio de Janeiro. From November 1861 to January 1862, he made an extensive journey of reconnaissance and canvassing in the Province of Minas Gerais, visiting Juiz de Fora, Barbacena, and São João Del Rei. With that, he stopped participating in the organization of the Church of Rio de Janeiro, which occurred just before his return.

He replaced Simonton in the pastorate of the Church of Rio during his prolonged trip to the United States (March 1862 to July 1863). On May 15, 1863, he was elected pastor of that church, with Simonton and Francis Schneider being elected co-pastors. This act allowed the official registration of ministers with the government, in order to obtain authorization to perform the wedding of non-Catholics.

From the beginning, Blackford realized the strategic importance of São Paulo. On October 9, 1863, the couple took up residence in the capital of São Paulo, while Simonton remained in Rio de Janeiro. There they found two lay workers from the Fluminense Evangelical Church: the English merchant William Dreaton Pitt and the Portuguese canvasser Manuel Pereira da Cunha Bastos, from the American Bible Society. On the 18th, a Sunday, Blackford began his work, celebrating a service in English in the English reading room, at Rua da Constitution, currently Florêncio de Abreu. The services in English were held for a year at various points: at the home of William Pitt, at the office of Robert Sharp and Filhos, at the residence of Daniel W. Fox, the superintendent of the Santos-Jundiaí Railway, and at his own Shepherd, people. For a few months there were prayer meetings in the homes of some English workers, possibly railroad workers. In the same month of October 1863, Blackford went to Rio Claro, where Rev. Francis JC Schneider had been working for some time. On that trip, he had his first contact with the priest and future presbyterian minister José Manoel da Conceição, whom he would baptize a year later, on October 23, 1864, in Rio de Janeiro.

After this trip to Rio Claro, on November 29, 1863, services began in Portuguese, at William Pitt's residence, at Rua da Boa Vista, nº 5, and then at Rua da Constitution. Pitt was a great contributor to Blackford and came to be ordained to the ministry. Later, the services started to be celebrated in the own pastor's house, also in Rua da Constitution. The first celebration of the Lord's Supper took place on May 29, 1864 and the second on January 8, 1865. In December 1864, a house was rented at the beginning of Rua Nova de São José (now Líbero Badaró), next to the Largo de São Bento, where Rev. Blackford transferred his residence. There were Sunday morning and evening services, as well as Wednesdays, and Sunday school.  In February 1865, the missionary made his first visit to the village of Brotas, in the interior of the province, where he found the land prepared by the work of ex-priest Conceição. A few years later, on March 5, 1865, he organized the Presbyterian Church of São Paulo, with the profession of faith of the first six members: Antônio Bandeira Trajano, Miguel Gonçalves Torres, Manoel Fernandes Lopes Braga and José Maria Barbosa da Silva, his wife Ana Luíza Barbosa da Silva and her stepdaughter Olímpia Maria da Silva. On the same occasion, the Lord's Supper was celebrated for the third time, with eighteen participants participating.


At the end of the same year, Blackford spent about twenty days in Brotas, accompanied by José Manoel da Conceição, preaching and teaching in the village and in the farms. On November 13, 1865, with Conceição present, he organized in that locality the third Presbyterian community in Brazil. The act took place at the residence of Antônio Francisco de Gouvêa (1825-1902) and included the families of his brothers Joaquim José de Gouvêa and Severino José de Gouvêa, father of the future Rev. Herculano de Gouvêa. Antônio Francisco de Gouvêa for more than fifty years provided services to the community with his own preparation, effective in the treatment of snake bites; he died in São Paulo and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery. Brotas had been Conceição's last parish. Due to his influence, several people became interested in the gospel, which resulted in some missionary visits through-out that year: Blackford (February), Simonton and George W. Chamberlain (March and April), Blackford and Conceição (October and November) . On the date of the organization, Blackford received eleven people as a profession of faith and baptism, all from the Gouvêa family, and ministered the Supper for the first time. In the following month, on December 16, the existence of three churches allowed the creation of the Presbytery of Rio de Janeiro, with Blackford being elected its first moderator (and re-elected three times in a row). On the 17th, ex-priest Conceição was ordained to the ministry.

Blackford also visited other points in the interior of São Paulo, such as the Paraíba Valley, Sorocaba and Bragança. In this last one he preached three times in January 1866 and found a good welcome, but he was forbidden to continue by the city delegate. On May 25, he made another visit to Bragança, meeting Rev. Conceição, who had started his missionary trips in February. He preached for five days to auditoriums of one hundred to two hundred listeners (only in 1927 would the Presbyterian church be organized). On March 25, it received in São Paulo the second group of members, composed of eight people, including Portuguese Modesto Perestrello de Barros Carvalhosa and his cousin Pedro Perestrello da Câmara.

The following year, at the third meeting of the presbytery, he read the study “Some considerations on the obstacles to the progress of the gospel in Brazil” (16-07-1867).

In late 1867, with the unexpected death of the pioneer Simonton, Blackford returned to Rio de Janeiro, where he remained for almost ten years at the head of the mother church. In 1868, he went to the United States on his first vacation, having been appointed delegate of the presbytery before the General Assembly, to meet next May in New York. Rev. George Chamberlain replaced him in Rio de Janeiro. In the following years, the Presbyterian work expanded greatly in the old capital, having its own facilities. In December 1870, after the church had its last provisional seat for a few months (Campo de Santana, nº 67), the property of Travessa da Barreira, currently Rua Silva Jardim, was acquired next to Morro de Santo Antônio. On October 3, 1872, the Presbytery of Rio de Janeiro was incorporated into the government in order to definitively legalize the property. Finally, on March 29, 1874, the first Presbyterian temple in Brazil was inaugurated there. Over the years, Blackford organized other churches, such as the ones in Lorena (17-05-1868), Sorocaba (09/01/1869), Petrópolis (03/19-1872) and Campos (03/11/1877). He was editor of the newspaper Imprensa Evangélica and taught at ―Seminário Primitivo‖ (1867-1870), which formed the first national Presbyterian pastors: Antônio Bandeira Trajano, Miguel Gonçalves Torres, Modesto Perestrello Barros de Carvalhosa and Antônio Pedro de Cerqueira Leite.

Between 1877 and 1880, Rev. Blackford worked as an agent for the American Bible Society, traveling in much of the Brazilian territory. During the year 1877, he visited the provinces of Minas, São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina, covering almost five thousand kilometers, almost always on horseback. He preached in many cities and spread 2360 copies of the Scriptures. In 1878, he visited the northern provinces. On August 11 of that year, he participated in the organization of the Presbyterian Church in Recife, alongside Rev. John Rockwell Smith. He was in other provinces of the region, going to Pará. In 1879, he and some colleagues produced a “Brazilian version” of the New Testament, based on the original Greek (published by the Society for Religious and Moral Literature, based in the Church of Rio ). His assistants were Rev. Modesto Carvalhosa and Dr. José Manoel Garcia, professor at Colégio Pedro II. In the same year, on March 23, Blackford's wife, Elizabeth, died, being buried beside her brother in the Protestant Cemetery, in São Paulo. Two years later, on March 24, 1881, Blackford would later marry Nannie Thornwell Gaston, daughter of Dr. James McFadden Gaston (1824-1903), an American physician and elder who resided in Campinas and wrote the book Hunting a Home in Brazil (1867). Another daughter of Dr. Gaston, Keziah, married in 1884 to missionary John B. Kolb.

In 1880, Blackford reestablished his relations with the Junta de New York and for ten years devoted himself to missionary work in Bahia, residing in Salvador. He made countless propaganda trips on the coast and inland. He was the first missionary to preach in Sergipe and organized the Laranjeiras Church on December 28, 1884. That same year, Blackford was again elected moderator of the Presbytery of Rio de Janeiro. The following year, his alma mater, Washington College, awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD). In 1888, he had the satisfaction of participating in the organization of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, of which he was the first moderator. At that time, he was elected professor at the future Presbyterian Seminary, a position he did not exercise. One of the children of the Blackford couple, Joseph Simonton, In April 1890, Blackford went with his family (wife and three young children) to Atlanta, in the United States, where his father-in-law resided. He was on vacation, after many years of work in the field, and intended to attend the Presbyterian Church General Assembly meeting in Saratoga, New York. A few weeks after arriving (April 27), he suffered a serious illness that caused his death in just four days (May 14), being buried in the beautiful cemetery of Westview. In his last moments, he returned in thought to Brazil, to which he had dedicated thirty years of service. The minutes of the mission say that, just before he died, Rev. Blackford sang "hymns in the language of Brazilians, the people he loved dearly, praising his King and Father, whom he had served with firmness and constancy".

Blackford left several sermons in the Evangelical Pulpit; he wrote the treatises Jesus' Sympathy and Christian Baptism, as well as the Sketch of the Brazil Mission booklet, narrating the first seventeen years of Presbyterian work in Brazil.

It was the compiler of Sacred Canticles, a collection that for some time served as a hymnbook to Presbyterians. He translated into Portuguese some hymns, among them "Always from you, Lord" and "To heaven I go", included in the Psalms and Hymns. It preserved valuable historical data about the early years of Presbyterianism in Brazil (1860-1868). The Foreign Missionary published a large number of letters and reports sent by him about work in Brazil. Rev. Blackford had a strong temperament and could be very demanding of himself and his col-leagues. However, he was a deeply dedicated, sincere and hardworking missionary , leaving indelible marks on the history of national Presbyterianism.

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