Wilmington in New Castle County, Delaware — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
The Big Quarterly
referring to the break with the Asbury Methodist Church of Wilmington,
Reverend Peter Spencer
The August Quarterly, originally known as the Big Quarterly, is the oldest continuously celebrated African American festival in the nation. First celebrated in 1814, and every year since, the festival commemorates the founding of the first African American church to be independently incorporated in the United States, the Union Church of African Members.
In the early years, the festival became a kind of "independence day" for blacks of the Delmarva Peninsula. On condition that they return at the end of the weekend, slaves were permitted to gather once a year to celebrate the freedom to worship in their own unique way, free from discrimination. Relatives and friends separated by slavery were reunited to spend the weekend worshipping, showing off their finest clothes, telling stories, and sharing African music, dance, humor and food. Eventually delegates from over 600 churches representing more than 25,000 members in the United States and Canada assembled annually
Prior to the Civil War, the gathering provided a forum for slaves and free men and women to publicly discuss colonization and other issues of slavery. For a few, it offered the chance to escape. Many runaways were aided along the Underground Railroad in Delaware by "conductors" and abolitionists of the stature of Thomas Garrett, Harriet Tubman, John Hunn and Samuel D. Burris. Suspicions were aroused when a few of the elders in the black community referred to the festivals as "big excursions on the Underground Railroad."
After slavery ended, the August Quarterly tradition continued. The Wilmington Morning News of August 31, 1885, reporting on the annual gathering stated, "The incoming trains of Saturday and yesterday up to noon brought large numbers of colored persons from points along the lines of the different railroads. The steamers Champion and Delaware brought excursions from Camden and Salem, N.J. respectively. The steamers Wilmington and Brandywine also brought a goodly number of persons from Philadelphia, Chester and Marcus Hook, most of whom returned by rail." Today the festival continues to draw people from around the nation.
This painting by Simmie Knox, a former resident of Delaware, depicts the August Quarterly around 1950. In the background is the Mother Church as it stood in the 800 block of French Street before it was razed in 1971 under a program of urban renewal. In the foreground is the Church's founder, Rev. Peter Spencer. In 1805, Spencer, who had been born a slave and purchased his own freedom, led a group of forty followers out of the white Asbury Methodist Church of Wilmington to establish their own congregation. It was not until 1813 that Spencer, with his associate William Anderson, was finally able to found the Union Church of African Members. Now, as in every year following Spencer's death in 1842, the festival includes a wreath-laying ceremony to honor the Church's founder.
Erected by Riverfront Wilmington.
Location. 39° 44.204′ N, 75° 33.168′ W. Marker is in Wilmington, Delaware, in New Castle County. Marker is on Rosa Parks Drive east of South Market Street (Business U.S. 13), on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 80 Rosa Parks Drive, Wilmington DE 19801, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Great Railroad Boom (here, next to this marker); Harriet Tubman (a few steps from this marker); South Market Street Bridge Dedicated in Honor of Senator John E. Reilly, Sr. (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Freedom Lost (about 300 feet away); a different marker also named The Great Railroad Boom (about 300 feet away); Frank Furness Railroad District (about 400 feet away); a different marker also named The Great Railroad Boom (about 400 feet away); South Market Street Bridge (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Wilmington.
Categories. • Abolition & Underground RR • African Americans • Churches & Religion •
Credits. This page was last revised on March 4, 2019. This page originally submitted on March 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 21 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on March 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.