Harry Hosier (17??–1806) was born sometime around 1750. The exact date and place of his birth are unknown, as he was born into slavery. At some point in his early life he was freed, either by his master or by purchasing himself. Harry Hosier’s family, early years, and salvation experience are all uncertain, but what is certain is that he met Francis Asbury—famed Methodist preacher—sometime around his thirtieth year, and proceeded to spend the rest of his days traveling with Asbury and many other well-known Methodist preachers and leaders as an itinerant or circuit preacher.
Harry was illiterate but had such a gift for memorization that he could quote entire hymns and passages of Scripture from memory. Richard Allen, another black preacher, tried to teach Harry to read but was told by Harry that when he tried to learn to read he lost “the gift of preaching.”1
Harry began his ministry with Asbury by traveling through Virginia and the Carolinas. He was originally brought along by Asbury to preach to the black people who came to hear preaching as Asbury went from town to town, but it soon became clear that Harry’s masterful preaching skills were attracting white people as well. In fact, when Asbury would finish preaching he would announce that Harry would be preaching to the black people soon after, and many times the white people would stay to hear Harry as well. Once a crowd gathered that was too large to fit into the room where Harry was preaching, and someone mistakenly thought they were listening to Asbury, remarking, “If all Methodist preachers could preach like the bishop, we should like to be constant hearers.”2 Once informed that the person who had been preaching was actually Asbury’s “servant”, the listener remarked that if this was the way Bishop Asbury’s servant preached, Bishop Asbury must be a remarkable preacher indeed.
The truth was, however, that according to both the crowds who came to hear them and the men who were contemporaries of them, the consensus was that Harry was not only a better preacher than Asbury but, “the greatest orator in America,”3 and “one of the best preachers in the world.”4
Thomas Coke, another famous Methodist leader, came to America from England several times, and during one of his trips Asbury suggested that Coke take Harry with him as Coke rode throughout New England preaching the gospel. Coke was very impressed with Harry’s powerful preaching, and recorded in his journal, “I sometimes give notice immediately after preaching, that in a little time Harry will preach to the blacks; but the whites always stay to hear him.”5
Another famous preacher Harry rode with was Freeborn Garrettson. They went through Connecticut and Massachusetts. Garrettson spoke of Harry often in his Journal.
Harry exhorted after me to the admiration of the people[…] The people of this circuit are amazingly fond of hearing Harry[…] Harry exhorted after me with much freedom. I left Harry to preach another sermon and went on to the center of the town[…] At six Harry preached in the meeting house to more than one thousand people[…] I have never seen so tender a meeting in this town before, for a general weeping ran through the assembly, especially while Harry gave an exhortation.6
Harry continued his ministry throughout the late 1790s and into the early 1800s with Richard Whatcoat and John Walker. In 1803 and 1804, William Colbert heard Harry preach and was amazed at the power he still had on his preaching.
There are rumors that towards the end of his life Harry became an alcoholic, but that he repented to the Lord and was delivered. He died in May of 1806 and was buried in Philadelphia.
To learn more about Christians in Black History, check out The Malachi Project.