“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Richmond, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

First African Baptist Church

Richmond Slave Trail

First African Baptist Church Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, April 19, 2011
1. First African Baptist Church Marker
Inscription.  “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 ‘sound 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
Richmond, Va. First African Church image. Click for full size.
2. Richmond, Va. First African Church
Stereograph, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographic Division, Civil War Photographs Collection, LC-B811- 3368 [P&P]
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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
First African Baptist Church Marker facing west on Broad St image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, April 19, 2011
3. First African Baptist Church Marker facing west on Broad St
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
First Baptist Church. Erected 17980. Rebuilt 1876. image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, April 19, 2011
4. First Baptist Church. Erected 17980. Rebuilt 1876.
Now Randolph Minor Hall, Virginia Commonwealth University
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
Erected 2011 by Richmond Slave Trail Commission. (Marker Number 17.)
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Abolition & Underground RRAfrican AmericansChurches & Religion. A significant historical year for this entry is 1841.
Location. 37° 32.305′ N, 77° 25.772′ W. Marker is in Richmond, Virginia. Marker is at the intersection of East Broad Street (U.S. 250) and College Street, on the right when traveling west on East Broad Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 310 College Street, Richmond VA 23298, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within
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walking distance of this marker. A different marker also named First African Baptist Church (here, next to this marker); Monumental Church (within shouting distance of this marker); The Virginia Convention of 1788 (within shouting distance of this marker); Memorial Terrace (within shouting distance of this marker); Egyptian Building (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); St. Philip's Way (about 300 feet away); St. Philip School of Nursing (about 300 feet away); a different marker also named Egyptian Building (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Richmond.
Also see . . .
1. Richmond City Council Slave Trail Commission. (Submitted on April 20, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.)
2. First African Baptist Church (pdf file). National Register of Historic Places (Submitted on April 20, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.) 

3. First African Baptist Church History. (Submitted on April 20, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.)
Credits. This page was last revised on July 30, 2020. It was originally submitted on April 20, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,246 times since then and 17 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 20, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.

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May. 10, 2021