Julia Foote

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
Julia A. J. Foote became a popular addition to the canon of women preachers when William Andrews included her autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, in his collection Sisters of the Spirit in 1986. Very few scholars were familiar with Foote’s ministry prior to the appearance of Andrew’s collection. For the most part, subsequently published information on Foote has relied heavily on this edition of Foote’s autobiography. The telling of Foote’s life generally ends with the conclusion of her book in 1879, yet this article will demonstrate some, not all, new information has been discovered that sheds light on the steps of Foote’s life and the many audiences she touched during her lifetime and after her death.

Submitted: November 30, 2012

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Submitted: November 30, 2012

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Julia A. J. Foote became a popular addition to the canon of women preachers when William Andrews included her autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, in his collection Sisters of the Spirit in 1986.[i] Very few scholars were familiar with Foote’s ministry prior to the appearance of Andrew’s collection. For the most part, subsequently published information on Foote has relied heavily on this edition of Foote’s autobiography. Several sources have included facts regarding her credentialing by the AME Zion Church that occurred after Foote wrote her autobiography. However, the telling of Foote’s life generally ends with the conclusion of her book in 1879. The rest of her life story has remained a mystery, though her ministry continued until shortly before her death in 1901.[ii] The reconstruction of Foote’s life was possible by retracing the iterant footsteps of Foote through her association with Bishop Alexander Walters of the AME Zion Church.

As this article will demonstrate, new information has been discovered that sheds light on the steps of Foote’s life and the many audiences she touched during her lifetime and after her death. For instance, Foote was an independent evangelist of Walters through her own revivals, but she also worked with Walters at times in her ministry until her death, as recorded on her death certificate, dated November 24, 1901. Further evidence that Foote continued her ministry autonomously was demonstrated by her ordination as the first female deacon in 1895[iii] and the second female elder in 1899[iv] in the A.M.E. Zion Church. Contradicting evidence of the aforementioned ordination for Foote as a deacon exists. Bettye Collier-Thomas provided the best validation of Foote’s ordination as deacon via the Minutes of the New York Conference for the date of 1895. However, C. R. Harris claims Foote was ordained a deacon in 1884 as reported in The Historical Catechism of the AME Zion Church, [v] in which Bishop Alexander Walters calling Foote Rev. in 1889, to reiterate this claim.[vi] The reiteration of calling Foote “Rev” by Walters is explained by Bettye Collier-Thomas (2011), “Foote and other women who were not ordained but were licensed evangelists were referred to as "Rev." As such, Walters would have referred to Foote as "Rev. in 1889."[vii]

Moreover, William J. Walls in The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Reality of The Black Church, claims that “…the highest attainment came when Bishop James Walker Hood ordained Mrs. Julia A. J. Foote, conference missionary, a deacon at the Seventy-Third Session of the New York Annual Conference, May 20, 1894, at Poughkeepsie, N.Y.”[viii] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder, states, “In 1895, Foote became the first woman to be ordained a deacon…” and that Foote was ordained a deacon by Bishop James Walker Hood on May 13, 1895, and not on May 20, 1894, as indicated in Walls.

The use of the date for Foote ordination as elder also prevailed to provide contradicting evidence. The following claim Foote’s ordination year as an elder as 1900: Laceye Warner, Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice, C. Eric Lincoln, Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Woman, Book II, Henry Louis Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives, and William L. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit.[ix] Once again Bettye Collier-Thomas provided resounding evidence for Foote’s ordination year as 1899. As she stated in Daughters of Thunder, “…in 1899 [Foote] was the second woman to be ordained an elder in the AME Zion Church.”[x] Collier-Thomas (2011) reported,

“The "contradicting evidence" to the ordination for Foote as an elder cited by Warner, Lincoln and Mamiya, Smith, Gates and Higginbotham, and Andrews -- All hark back to Walls' undocumented statement in his history of the AME Zion Church (p. 112). Walls states the following: "Mrs. Foote was still listed in the roll as a deacon of the New York Conference (1898). She transferred to the New Jersey Conference and was ordained elder by Bishop Alexander Walters before her death November 22, 1900 (Walls error - Foote died in 1901 not 1900)." Neither Walls nor I were able to locate records for the New Jersey Conference. However, through close reading of the AME Church Review andthe Star of Zion between 1898 and 1900, and considering when she died, I concluded that she was ordained in 1899.”[xi]

To begin, Julia A. J. Foote was born in Schenectady, New York, in 1823.[xii] Her mother was born a slave while her father was “born free, but was stolen, when a child, and enslaved.”[xiii] Both of Foote’s parents were free by the time of her birth.[xiv] In her lifetime, Foote received only a limited education. Her father taught her to read by using the bible as their text. Her formal education, according to her autobiography, took place at a country school while living with the Primes for approximately 2 years, from the age of 10 to 12.[xv] Prior accounts have concluded the same method of education, as well as the fact that while Foote was residing with the Prime family she served as a domestic servant. Furthermore, research suggests that Foote actually worked for the Pruyn family, as "uy" is pronounced as "I" or "eye" as in Stuyvesant in Dutch. Foote claimed that the Prime family was large, prominent, and well-to-do. Mrs. David Pruyn, for instance, was instrumental in establishing Sunday schools in Albany, and she went to New York in 1815 to consult with Dr. Buthune, the so-called founder of the American system of Sunday Schools.[xvi]

Foote hungered for more knowledge of God during her life. “I STUDIED the Bible at every spare moment, that I might be able to read it with a better understanding.”[xvii] She experienced conversion at the age of 15 but still sought a deeper relationship with God. As Foote shared, “I had heard of the doctrine of Holiness, but in such a way as to give me no light, nor to beget a power in me to strive after the experience.”[xviii] She struggled in her search for answers to her religious quest. Once she heard an elderly couple speak of holiness or sanctification, their explanation enabled her to understand the doctrine and she realized that this was the sanctification for which she had been searching. For Foote, sanctification was the separation from what she believed was evil, and her heart filled with “…perfect love…”[xix] Through prayer, Foote achieved sanctification.[xx] “I went straight to my mother and told her I was sanctified.”[xxi] Sanctification became both the foundation and the focus of Foote’s theology. Foote stated the connection between sanctification and sin,

“If you are regenerated, sin does not reign in your mortal body but if you are sanctified, sin does not exist in you. The sole ground of our perfect peace from all the carnal mind is by the blood of Jesus, for he is our peace, whom God hath set forth to be a propiation [sic], through faith in his blood.”[xxii]

Here, Foote is saying that humans have the capacity to sin. Yet once one is sanctified, one is clear of sin based on finding a new peace found through the blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, sanctification is an inward spiritual journey that God uses to set us apart through holiness and change our lives, without sin, through Christ. We see life, the world, people, and our personal struggles through the lens of a biblical perspective, meaning that our choices and decisions in life are made through the truth and perfect love of God through Jesus Christ. After her tenure with the Prime family, Foote married George Foote at the age of 16 and moved to Boston. Her marriage lasted approximately ten years. While in Boston, Foote heard the call of God to preach: “FOR months I had been moved upon to exhort and pray with the people, in my visits from house to house; and in meetings my whole soul seemed drawn out for the salvation of souls.”[xxiii]

Foote’s early ministry met with opposition from her husband, pastor, and her own family, yet Foote persevered and continued to share the message of sanctification. For example, her own husband, George, accused her of “…getting more crazy every day, and getting others in the same way, and that if I did not stop he would send me back home or to the crazy house.”[xxiv] While residing in Boston, Foote’s own pastor, Jehial C. Beman, vocalized against her preaching and went so far as to attempt to have Foote excommunicated from the church.[xxv] In the beginning of her preaching, even her own mother was not happy that Foote was preaching. "Well, Julia," said she, "when I first heard that you were a preacher, I said that I would rather hear you were dead."[xxvi] However, Foote’s mother eventually came around to accept Foote as a preacher. Foote persevered, stating “Though opposed, I went forth laboring for God, and he owned and blessed my labors, and has done so wherever I have been until this day.”[xxvii]

Foote restricted her early preaching to women but gradually expanded her audience to include men and white audiences as well. In her autobiography, Foote recorded that she preached in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1849), Cincinnati, Ohio (1849), Poughkeepsie, New York (1849), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (1849), Bridgeport, Connecticut (August 3, 1849), Washington, D.C. (1849), Canada (1851), Binghamton, New York (1854-1855), Ithaca, New York (February 14, 1855- March 7, 1855), Rochester, New York (March 16, 1855 – April 21, 1855), Utica, Schenectady, and Albany, New York (1855), but she did not always provide the dates. According to Gardner (2005), during this time, Foote “…made a powerful friend and ally in Daniel A. Paine [sic] of Baltimore, who would later rise to the rank of bishop.”[xxviii] Around August 3, 1849, after visiting her family and moving on to preaching once again, Foote was in Providence, R.I., and stated, “…received a pressing invitation from Rev. Daniel A. Paine [sic], who is now bishop of the A.M.E. Church, to visit Baltimore, which I accepted.”[xxix]

Following a trip to Canada in 1851, Foote traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, where she reported living for approximately twenty years. Here, as she recalled, she became “afflicted with a throat difficulty…”[xxx] which prevented her from preaching.[xxxi] Foote also recorded that her mother lived with her in Cleveland for a few years. Foote ended her autobiography by noting the death of her friend, Sister Johnson, in 1856, and documented the death of her mother.[xxxii]

The end of Foote’s book in 1879 is the point in which most previous retellings of Foote’s life conclude. However, Foote’s life was not over at this time, and evidence demonstrates that Foote was further active in her ministry after the writing of her autobiography. For example, Foote lived in Cleveland for approximately thirty years, not twenty years as previously believed. Foote’s autobiography begins her residency in Cleveland in 1851,[xxxiii] but census information placed Foote in Cleveland in 1860 and 1880.[xxxiv]

The throat ailment previously mentioned was not permanent.[xxxv] Foote’s ministry did not end with the writing of her autobiography. For example, Foote spoke at the Women’s Holiness Camp-Meeting in 1880. From the Guide to Holiness, magazine,

“This Camp-meeting opened at Mount Tabor, near Denville, N. J., Friday, July 16th. We spent Sabbath, 18th, on the ground. On Saturday, evening, Sister Foote, of Ohio, preached, and gave a thrilling narrative of her experience. On Sabbath morning a good love feast was held. Sister Lizzie M. Boyd, of Wheeling, W. Va.; Sister Foote, of Ohio; and Mrs. Dr. Keller, of Boston, discoursed in the order named. The word at each service was in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Sister Leonard, of Ohio, gave a very thrilling personal experience after the discourse in the afternoon. Effective altar work was conducted after each sermon, and there were seekers of both pardon and purity.”[xxxvi] Foote also “attended Western Union Holiness Convention (WUHC), 1880 (Jacksonville, Ill).”[xxxvii]

Further evidence indicates that her ministry was actively affiliated with the work of Alexander Walters, bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion). She lived with his family from 1884 until her death in 1901.

Conclusively, Foote and Walters worked together in the ministry in 1883 when Foote preached in and around San Francisco with Walters beginning in 1883.[xxxviii] Then, in 1884, Foote moved in with his family. As Walters stated,

“I represented the California Conference at the General Conference, held in Mother Zion, Tenth and Bleecker Streets, New York City. It was my first appearance in a General Conference … Mrs. Julia Foote, the noted evangelist, rendered me most valuable services while on the coast; indeed, from 1884 until the year she died, 1901, she made my house her home. All the members of my family were greatly indebted to this godly woman for her gracious influence in the home. She was a great preacher, an uncompromising advocate of holiness, and who practiced the gospel she preached.”[xxxix]

In Walters’ autobiography, My Life and Work, Walters stated that his home served as Foote’s home base as she continued to travel as an evangelist between 1884 until her death in 1901. Walters also stated his high regard for Foote by use of the following phrases to describe her: “noted evangelist,” “godly woman,” and “great preacher.”[xl] Collier-Thomas (2010) states, “As a young minister, Walters was tutored by Rev. Julia Foote, who shared some of her earlier experiences with him.”[xli] Foote was a guide for Walters in his own ministry, and she nurtured him in his growth in ministry, assisting him in reaching his full potential.

Foote’s autobiography was included in later evangelical prints. However, Foote’s death certificate was not found before William Andrews included Foote’s autobiography in his collection Sisters of the Spirit in 1986. Subsequent research after Andrew’s publication was lacking in verification and made many assumptions, including one regarding the year of Foote’s death. The year of Foote’s death has been a topic of much debate. Yet, after Alexander Walters, My Life and Work, was made available by the New York Public Library through The Digital Schomburg project, more information became accessible regarding Foote.

Following Walter’s life through his book made it possible to rebuild Foote’s life and find her final resting place in New York. By tracking Walters’ footsteps from his life in California and his move to New York, which included Foote’s cohabitation, one could also track Foote’s ministry past her autobiography in 1879. An investigation of church, census, newspaper, and cemetery records, as well as contact with officials from Jersey City, brought to light Foote’s long-lost death certificate. Beyond the significance of now knowing that Foote died on November 24, 1901, the preparer’s written description of Foote’s occupation as “preacher” is notable of the influence she had as a female evangelical preacher in a male-dominated world.[xlii] Even in death, Foote’s calling to ministry was recognized.

In conclusion, Foote serves as a shining example of the perseverance of the human spirit. She overcame a limited education, a family background of slavery, and familial and ministerial prejudice to continually search for knowledge of God and share her wisdom. Through sanctification and prayer, Foote established her ministry to preach to thousands throughout her lifetime. From coast to coast, Foote preached alone and with respected male counterparts to become the first female deacon and second female elder in the A.M.E. Zion Church. With this knowledge, we can see where Foote came from and where she went, as well as many audiences, female and male, black and white, that she touched. Her autobiography, and its inclusion in evangelical writings, carries her life and teachings to future audiences that will also feel her influence.



[i] Julia A. J. Foote . A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch. (Cleveland: Lauer and Yost , 1886). William L. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). I was introduced to Foote at seminary, thanks to Dr. Hal Knight III, and I have been on the quest for more information about her ever since. Thanks to the research grant I received from American Public University/American Military University, I was able to hire researchers across the country to search for and/or verify all information. Overwhelmingly, the new data in this article results from my ten years of efforts to unearth more material on Foote.

[ii] The death certificate was independently discovered by two scholars, Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010), 549, and Dr. Nancy Wack. See New Jersey State Department of Health, Julia A. J. Foote, “Report of Death,” Document 27111, November 24, 1901.

[iii] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justice African American Women and Religion, (New York: Knopf, 2010), 23, 93, 94.

[iv] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010), 94.

[v] C. R. Harris. The Historical Catechism of the AME Zion Church, (Charlotte: A. M. E. Zion Publication House, 1922), New York: The Digital Schomburg, The New York Public Library, http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/harris/harris.html (accessed June 22, 2010).

[vi] Alexander Walters My Life and Work, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917), New York: The Digital Schomburg, The New York Public Library, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/walters/walters.html (accessed June 22, 2010), 55.

[vii] Bettye Collier-Thomas. “Foote.” Nancy Wack. May 27, 2011.

[viii] William J. Walls. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Reality of The Black Church, (North Carolina: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974), 111.

[ix] Laceye Warner, Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice, (Texas: Baylor University Press, 2007), 137. C. Eric Lincoln, Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 285, Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Woman, Book II, (Michigan: Thompson Publishing Co., 1996), 277, Henry Louis Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 301. William L. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1986), 10.

[x] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989), 59.

[xi] Bettye Collier-Thomas. “Foote.” Nancy Wack. May 27, 2011.

[xii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 9.

[xiii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 10.

[xiv] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 10.

[xv] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 18.

[xvi] Cuyler Reynolds, Editor, Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs Volume 1 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911), Google Books, http://books.google.com/books. (accessed September 29, 2011), 144.

[xvii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 36.

[xviii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 37.

[xix] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 44.

[xx] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch. To further understand Foote’s idea of sanctification, see Foote’s “A Threshing Sermon” (1851) and “Christian Perfection” (1894) in Bettye Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989), 64-68. Martha Simmons, Frank A. Thomas, Gardner C. Taylor Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2010 ), 174-175, 178-180.

[xxi] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 45.

[xxii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 122.

[xxiii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 66.

[xxiv] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 59.

[xxv] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 74.

[xxvi] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 84.

[xxvii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 81.

[xxviii] Victoria Boynton, Jo Malin, Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed,, Encyclopedia of Women’s Autobiography, Vol 1 (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005), 224. Gardner does not share how Foote and Payne are acquainted, but believes that Foote’s connection to Payne, “relationships with other black leaders, and a friendship with Thomas Doty…secured a place for her albeit somewhat marginal, in church activities.” 224.

[xxix] William L. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 219. For more information on this topic between Foote and Payne see Andrews footnote 15 on page 244 for details.

[xxx] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 108.

[xxxi] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 108, 109.

[xxxii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 96.

[xxxiii] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 108.

[xxxiv] 1860, 1880 United States Federal Census, Ancestory.com (Accessed August 28, 2010).

[xxxv] Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, 107 – 109.

[xxxvi] “Women’s Holiness Camp-Meeting” Guide to Holiness magazine, LXXVI (August 1880), p. 56

[xxxvii] Charles Edwin Jones, A Guide to the Study of The Holiness Movement, (Metuchen, NJ, & The American Theological Library Association, 1974), 632.

[xxxviii] Alexander Walters, My Life and Work, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917), New York: The Digital Schomburg, The New York Public Library, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/walters/walters.html (accessed June 22, 2010), 46.

[xxxix] Alexander Walters, My Life and Work, 46.

[xl] Alexander Walters, My Life and Work, 46.

[xli] Bettye Collier-Thomas, Jesus, Jobs, and Justice African American Women and Religion, (New York: Knopf, 2010), 100.

[xlii] Alexander Walters states that Foote died in 1901, no date given.


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