African Meeting House: The Oldest African Baptist Church Still Standing

Written by Rewindingblack

The African Meeting House, also known as First African Baptist Church, First Independent Baptist Church and the Belknap Street Church, was built in 1806 and is now the oldest church still standing in the United States.  After undergoing restoration the building is still standing and located in Beacon Hill’s neighborhood of Boston, MA. During 1806 Black people were allowed to attend White churches in Boston. However, they were only allowed to sit up in the balcony far from the Whites, and they have to sit in their assigned seats. Although, in the North they still had no voting whites as well.

Thomas Paul, an African-American preacher had been preaching to the African-American people from the Faneuil Hall before forming the First African Meeting House. In the year 1805, Paul and twenty members purchased land for the purpose of building the first African Meeting House. During the dedication ceremony December 6, 1806 the first-floor pews were given to those who greatly influenced the Africans, the members of the church set in the balcony of their new church.

Although, the church was for the Black community, there were many White people who contributed to the church. Not too long after the dedication of the church, Primus Hall who had an established a school in his home, was looking for a way to fund keeping the school open. He sought funding from the community, including African-American sailors, to help pay for expenses to run the school. Although he tried numerous of times, he could not raise enough money to pay for the expenses in his home. So, he moved the school to the African Meeting House by 1806. He kept his fund-raising going to up until 1835 to help pay for the school.

The church offered the Black community especially the children the opportunity to receive a quality education, and be able to get decent jobs upon completion. The church was also a meeting place for abolitionist activities, history lectures and political gatherings during the 19th century. The church was one of the first places were abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass spoke out against . The church was one of the very first places that provide Blacks with a safe place to go to school, meet and discuss issues, form political groups, and even unite with White abolitionists. However, before the church was formed there were no places that people could do this except for in the secrecy of someone’s home.

The African Meeting House also served as the place for Black volunteers to gather to enlist in the Union Army. People came as far as Haiti to enlist. Some people served under the supervision of Robert Gould Shaw in the legendary 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first official black units to fight in the conflict. After the war the Black population began to migrate to different parts of Boston. In 1972 the meeting house was sold to a Jewish congregation. However, now it has been purchased by the Museum of African-American History, and has been deemed as a landmark in Boston. The meeting house was restored to its first appearance during 2006.




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