African Meeting House

African Meeting House
African Meeting House
Location: 8 Smith Court, Boston, MA
Coordinates: 42°21′35.94″N 71°3′55.73″W / 42.3599833°N 71.0654806°W / 42.3599833; -71.0654806Coordinates: 42°21′35.94″N 71°3′55.73″W / 42.3599833°N 71.0654806°W / 42.3599833; -71.0654806
Built: 1806
Architectural style: Federal
Governing body: Private
NRHP Reference#: 71000087
Significant dates
Added to NRHP: October 7, 1971[1]
Designated NHL: May 30, 1974[2]

The African Meeting House, also known variously as First African Baptist Church, First Independent Baptist Church and the Belknap Street Church, was built in 1806 and is now the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States. It is located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, adjacent to the African American Abiel Smith School. It is a National Historic Landmark.




Before 1805, although black Bostonians could attend white churches, they generally faced discrimination. They were assigned seats only in the balconies and were not given voting privileges.

Portrait of Thomas Paul

Thomas Paul, an African American preacher from New Hampshire, led worship meetings for blacks at Faneuil Hall. Paul, with twenty of his members, officially formed the First African Baptist Church on August 8, 1805. In the same year, land was purchased for a building. The African Meeting House, as it came to be commonly called, was completed the next year. At the public dedication on December 6, 1806, the floor level pews were reserved for all those "benevolently disposed to the Africans," while the black members sat in the balcony of their new meeting house.

The African Meeting House was constructed almost entirely with black labor. Funds for the project were raised in both the white and black communities. Cato Gardner, a native of Africa, was responsible for raising more than $1,500 toward the total $7,700 to complete the meeting house. A commemorative inscription above the front door reads: "Cato Gardner, first Promoter of this Building 1806." Scipio and Sylvia Dalton also helped organize and raise money to build the church.[3]

The façade of the African Meeting House is an adaptation of a design for a townhouse published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin. In addition to its religious and educational activities, the meeting house became a place for celebrations and political and anti-slavery meetings.

On January 6, 1832, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society here. During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass and others recruited soldiers here for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments.

The African Meeting House was remodeled by the congregation in the 1850s.


  • Thomas Paul, ca.1805-1829
  • John Peak, ca.1830
  • Washington Christian, ca.1831
  • Thomas Ritchie, ca.1832
  • Samuel Gooch, ca.1833-1834
  • John Given, ca.1835
  • Armstrong W. Archer, ca.1837
  • George H. Black, ca.1838-1840
  • John T. Raymond, ca.1841-1845
  • William B. Serrington, ca.1848-1849
  • William Thompson, ca.1851-1853
  • Thomas Henson, ca.1856-1858
  • J. Sella Martin, ca.1860-1862
  • H.H. White, ca.1864[4]

Synagogue (late 19th c.-1972)

At the end of the 19th century, when the black community began to migrate to the South End and Roxbury, the building was sold to a Jewish congregation. It served as a synagogue until it was acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972.

Museum (ca.1972-present)

It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974.[2][5]

The African Meeting House houses the Museum of African American History, which is a museum "dedicated to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England from the colonial period through the 19th century," according to the Museum's website.[6] The African Meeting House is open to the public. This site is part of Boston African American National Historic Site.


See also

Further reading

  • Paul Dean. A discourse delivered before the African Society, at their meeting-house, in Boston, Mass. on the abolition of the slave trade by the government of the United States of America, July 14, 1819. Boston: Nathaniel Coverly, 1819.
  • George A. Levesque. Inherent Reformers-Inherited Orthodoxy: Black Baptists in Boston, 1800-1873. Journal of Negro History, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Oct., 1975), pp. 491-525.

External links

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