Camp Meetings

Camp meetings—lively outdoor gatherings that combine faith, recreation, and socializing—have been part of Delaware’s religious landscape since 1805. As with other activities, blacks were segregated at white camp meetings, so they started their own.  Exactly when the first black camp meeting in Delaware took place is unknown, but Jarena Lee preached at one in the Lewes area in 1824.

Nineteenth century camp meetings featured three or four services and sermons a day as well as music and prayer.  The devout gathered under the bower to worship.  Those not so devout socialized with friends and relatives, courted, played games, and even indulged in forbidden activities like enjoying alcoholic beverages.  

At the earliest camp meetings, people camped in farm wagons covered with canvas.  They later built simple cottages, still called tents.  The tents circled the bower or arbor where services took place.

Despite their popularity, some people did not approve of camp meetings.  They felt that the meetings did not really bring people to God or build up churches, and that inappropriate recreational activities received too much attention. 

At one time, camp meetings—for both blacks and whites—were spread throughout Delaware.  Today, only a few African American camp meetings remain, attracting the faithful with their familiar blend of worship, fellowship, and recreation.   

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Frankford Camp Meeting (Antoich A.M.E. Church)

Frankford Camp Meeting
(Antoich A.M.E. Church)
Frankford
Ca. late 1930s-early 1940s
Zebley Collection,
Delaware Historical Society

 

Frankford camp meeting, started in 1892 by Antioch A.M.E. Church (founded 1856), was one of the largest black camp meetings in Delaware.  In addition to activities in the campground, vendors of ice cream, candy, and other treats set up shop outside the grounds to capture the patronage of people in a holiday mood.  In 1943, a fire destroyed the church and a number of tents.  This view shows the bower and some of the tents that surrounded it.  This camp meeting is still active.

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Wesley Camp Meeting (Wesley Methodist Church), Clarksville

Wesley Camp Meeting
(Wesley Methodist Church),
Clarksville
Ca. late 1930s-early 1940s
Zebley Colllection,
Delaware Historical Society

 

 

Wesley camp meeting, still active today, started in the 1840s.  Around 1865, two small frame building were erected on the site.  One was used as the Blackwater Colored School for part of the year.  This school continued, in various buildings, until 1951. Wesley Methodist Church was erected on the property in 1871, so the camp meeting is older than the church.  The camp meeting, school, church, and cemetery, all on the same property, formed the center of the Wesley Community of Baltimore Hundred.

 

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