The Founders of the John Chavis Historical Society
Members of the Chavis family, particularly the Granville County, North Carolina branch where Oxford, North Carolina is the County Seat, had heard from their elders for a long time about John Chavis. Older family members related to their children that the revered preacher and teacher of whites and blacks before the Civil War was an ancestor. They also related that he had fought in the Revolutionary War and had taught whites and blacks in the counties of Granville, Durham, Wake, Orange, and Chatham. He had lived in Oxford and was a tax payer in 1819 and 1820.

Helen Chavis was born in 1932 to Benjamin F. Chavis, Sr. and Elisabeth Ridley Chavis. June Chavis her older sister was born in 1931 They followed in their father’s footsteps by attending St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. June met her husband Marvin William Davenport while teaching at a high school in Washington, North Carolina. Helen met her husband Paul Anade Othow from Southern Sudan, East Africa, while studying for her doctorate in English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. She began teaching English at St. Augustine’s College after receiving her M.A. degree from North Carolina College at Durham, now called North Carolina Central University. After receiving the Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin, she returned to continue teaching at St. Augustine’s College. One of her previous English professors at North Carolina College, Dr. Blyden Jackson, while teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, encouraged her to conduct research on her renowned ancestor, Dr. John Chavis. Therefore, after receiving a UNCF grant while teaching at St. Augustine’s College, she conducted her research on John Chavis. The research which continued over ten years resulted in the publication of her book John Chavis: African American Patriot, Preacher, Teacher, and Mentor 1763-1838, published by McFarland and Co. Publishers in 2001. Her research which was a labor of love contributed to her passion to learn as much as possible about her esteemed ancestor. Thus she founded the John Chavis Historical Society in 1986 to expand knowledge about this man and other famous African Americans who devoted their lives to God, their country, their students, and their associates.