Reverend Mahlon Van Horne (1840-1910) had a career that ranged from minister of the Gospel at the black Union Congregational Church at Newport to minister of diplomacy as United States Consul to St. Thomas in the West Indies. He was at heart always a teacher.
Bom in Princeton New Jersey in 1840, Van Horne was graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He taught school at Huntington, Long Island and Charleston, South Carolina, where he was principal of the Zion School. Arriving at the Union Congregational Church in Newport in 1869 as its first permanent pastor in three years, he served the congregation for the next twenty-eight years.
Under his pastorate, noted for its fine sermons, the congregation moved from its old quarters to a new building at 49 Division Street, Newport, now a private residence. Van Horne led the new building campaign as the congregation swelled to 223 members.
With the help of Newport restauranteur and philanthropist, George Downing, Van Horne became the first person of color to sit on the Newport School Committee, a post he held for nearly 20 years. He was also Rhode Island’s first black member of the General Assembly, serving three terms. While Downing led the statewide effort to integrate all the public schools, Van Horne joined him in a letter writing campaign to the Newport and Providence newspapers to explain the new civic role of blacks under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. He also took part in the Colored Union Labor League–a group that helped freed slaves gain employment skills.
In the state legislature, Van Horne frequently reminded legislators that black men had defended American liberties from the time of the American Revolution to the recent sacrifices in the Civil War.
President William McKinley recognized Van Horne’s public service by appointing him the U. S. Consul to the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. Van Horne later became a missionary in Antigua and died in the West Indies in 1910.