MAAP | Mapping the African American Past

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Kenneth Jackson on the John Street Methodist Church
Kenneth Jackson, Columbia University Professor of History, describes the John Street Methodist Church.
Then
Now

The John Street Church welcomed Peter Williams and other African worshipers, but blacks and whites were segregated. In the early 1800s, a group separated to form the first black church in the state.

Peter Williams, c.1810 (oil on canvas)

Today the John Street Church is still located at 44 John Street. It includes the Wesley Chapel Museum, which tells the story of the “The Oldest Methodist Congregation in America.”

Current view: the site of John Street Methodist Church

John Street Church

At the opening of the John Street Methodist Church, the priest addressed "those in the gallery," welcoming the African Americans. The segregated black worshipers could cook the food, clean the homes, and care for the children of the white worshipers, but they could not pray together with them. In other churches, the segregation was far worse. Some churches had “hidden galleries,” small closed rooms out of sight. Other churches had “negro pews” in corners or over stairways. Black parishioners could not vote or preach, but they could offer their services in the form of labor.

At the John Street Church, African Peter Williams was a sexton. He probably dug the graves, swept the church, and kept up the grounds. James Varick was a deacon, a church officer who probably helped the priest give communion to the black worshipers—only after the whites had received communion.

Williams and Varick had attended the church since it was founded in 1766. This was a time of change. During the Revolution, British soldiers occupied the city.  After that, General George Washington came to reclaim the city and the slaves that had fled to the British there. But the church’s practice of segregation remained the same. Williams, Varick, and other black worshipers began to hold separate meetings. Then the group decided to form a separate church. In October of 1800, the African Methodist Episcopal Church at the corner of Church and Leonard Streets was dedicated. It would become an enduring place of worship and struggle.

This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International

Related Media


Video
Kenneth Jackson, Columbia University Professor of History, describes the John Street Methodist Church.

Images
Today the John Street Church is still located at 44 John Street. It includes the Wesley Chapel Museum, which tells the story of the “The Oldest Methodist Congregation in America.”
The John Street Church welcomed Peter Williams and other African worshipers, but blacks and whites were segregated. In the early 1800s, a group separated to form the first black church in the state.
This print, published in 1897, depicts the John Street Methodist Church in 1768.
Peter Williams, the old colored sexton of the John Street Methodist Church.



Produced by CCNMTL, Chase, Teachers College, and CCI