First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church (HMS1V)

Location: Richmond, VA 23219
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 32.305', W 77° 25.772'

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Richmond Slave Trail

"As for the singing, when the vast congregation poured out its full soul in the old-fashioned songs, the long and loud bursts of praise reminded one parishioner of the ound of many waters."

Slave Missions & the Black Church in the Antebellum South
Janet Duitsman Cornelius (1999)

Enslaved people in Virginia benefited at some times and suffered at others from white Christians' attitudes or policies concerning African men, women, and children. On the one hand, the establishment of the first southern Baptist churches dates in the wake of late 18th century fervid religious enthusiasm throughout New England. In Richmond, congregations such as First African Baptist wore only the faintest stain of the racially driven tension on the rise in other parts of the region at the time. Espousing a liturgical message of equality, a few Baptist churches welcomed both white and black members, including both the free and the enslaved — in the eyes of the faith, skin color had no bearing on the worshipper's capacity for rebirth and conversion. Some Baptist churches offered opportunities to its black members that were denied to them elsewhere, such as leading prayer services and delivering funeral sermons. On the other hand, many enslaved Africans were forced to attend their owner's church and to hear repeatedly such sermons as "Obey your master; be a good servant." This reliance on white ministers' religious control of enslaved men and women often created deep tension, particularly when numerous enslaved people accepted Nat Turner as a prophet and rebel. Private spiritual movements spread among some enslaved people while some Africans were able to continue their ancestors' religious practices.

Lott Cary, a black physician and the first American Baptist missionary to visit Africa, and John Jasper, who "poured forth a gospel full of every passion that ever flamed in the human breast" both began their long and illustrious careers at Baptist congregations in the years prior to the Civil War.

The First African Baptist Church was founded in 1841, after white members of First Baptist Church sold the building to its ca. 1,000 African-American members, both free and enslaved, for $65,000. Although law required a white minister, enslaved and free African deacons and other church officers administered community matters as well as church affairs. The church became a center for Christian worship and an anchor for free and enslaved community development at a time when gatherings outside of church were prohibited. The current building replaced the original structure (shown in picture) in 1876. Today's First African Baptist Church congregation now worships on Richmond's North Side.

Sources: Taylor, Quintard "First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia (1780-)". The Black Past, Remembered and Reclaimed.; "Old First African Baptist Church". African American Heritage; Hatcher, William E. Rev. "John Jasper and His Ideas: Famous Negro Preacher Was, it Seems, a Man of Power as Well as Originality"; Brooks, Walter H. "The Evolution of the Negro Baptist Church, 1851"; The Journal of Negro History 7, No. 1

About the Trail

Designed as a walking path, the Richmond Slave Trail chronicles the history of the trade in enslaved Africans from their homeland to Virginia until 1778, and away from Virginia, especially Richmond, to other locations in the Americas until 1865. The trail begins at the Manchester Docks, which, alongside Rocketts Landing on the north side of the river, operated as a major port in the massive downriver slave trade, making Richmond the largest source of enslaved blacks on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860. While many of the slaves were shipped on to New Orleans and to other Deep South ports, the trail follows the footsteps of those who remained here and crossed the James River, often chained together in a coffle. Once reaching the northern riverbank, the trail then follows a route through the slave markets and auction houses of Richmond, beside the Reconciliation Statue commemorating the international triangular slave trade and on to the site of the notorious Lumpkin's Slave Jail and leading on to Richmond's African Burial Ground, once called the Burial Ground for Negroes, and the First African Baptist Church, a center of African American life in pre-Civil War Richmond. - Richmond Slave Trail Commission - 2011 -
Title image: "After the Sale: Slaves Going South", 1853, Painted from live by Eyre Crowe, courtesy the Chicago History Museum
HM NumberHMS1V
Year Placed2011
Placed ByRichmond Slave Trail Commission
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Friday, October 17th, 2014 at 10:09am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 285346 N 4157377
Decimal Degrees37.53841667, -77.42953333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 32.305', W 77° 25.772'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 32' 18.30" N, 77° 25' 46.32" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)804
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1400 E Broad St, Richmond VA 23219, US
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