1608 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

South Philadelphia

"First African Baptist Church", slavery, freedom, religion

First African Baptist Church

The First African Baptist Church, located in Philadelphia, PA, was initially organized in June, 1809, with fifteen members. The first pastor was Rev. Cunningham of Eastern Shore, Va.  Although he was a slave, he pastored a band of faithful worshippers. These members asked his master to allow him to go North and raise money to purchase his freedom, but sadly the proposal was refused unless he could furnish security. Cunningham was unable to do this, but two of his members, who were free-born, sold themselves  into slavery to free their pastor, with the hope that their pastor might come to the North and raise the necessary money.  Rev. Cunningham succeeded in raising the money and informed his bondsmen, and expressed his willingness to return; however they said, "No! send us the money and we will satisfy the bond.'' The money was thus sent, and with the bond satisfied, the two bondsmen, with their families together with the family of Rev. Cunningham, left Virgina and joined their pastor in Philadelphia. These three families formed the nucleus of the First African Baptist Church.  Eventually, in 1906, the growing congregation, for their numbers outgrew their otginal place of worship, built a larger church at 16th and Christian Street.[1] 

The main importance or what makes this site significant for me is how this church even came to be.  It takes much honor and uncanny loyalty for two FREE Blacks (that were free 50 years before the Civil War even took place) to sell themselves into slavery, with the only wish that their Pastor was free to have a church built in Philadelphia.  When I first found the area I stumbled into it by accident.  If it wasn't for the signs I would have simply thought it was another old church.  Once finding out that it was much more than that, I look at it as a somewhat hidden yet obvious treasure that holds important and very interesting history.  With much respect, I feel honered to have researched this particualar site.  

  1.  First African Baptist Church Website.  ''About Us: Our Heritage''.  <http://thefabchurch.org/index.php?s=au&nid=116296>. Accessed on 12/1/2010.

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