Peter Spencer’s Union Church of Africans developed as part of an independent black church movement that swept the northern part of the United States in the late 1700s and the 1800s.  Inspired by the principle of religious freedom expressed in the U.S. Constitution and by a vision of black self-determination, in 1813 Spencer led the movement that created the first independent black denomination in the United States.  It would eventually result in the incorporation of the African Union Methodist Protestant (A.U.M.P.) and Union American Methodist Episcopal (U.A.M.E.) denominations in the mid 1860s, also known as the Spencer Churches and as African Union Methodism.  These churches embodied a growing desire on the part of Africans in America to be self-governing and to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. They also stood as the prime expression of resistance to African enslavement and segregation, and as participants in some of the earliest organized protests for civil rights for people of African descent in the United States.

Daniel J. Russell’s History of the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, 1920: http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/russell/russell.html

 

Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church
Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, a predominantly white congregation, was founded in Wilmington in 1789. From its beginnings, it followed a policy of racial segregation that alienated its black members, leading Peter Spencer and other blacks to break away in 1805 and found Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

Asbury Methodist Church, Wilmington, 1902

Asbury Methodist Church, Wilmington, 1902
Delaware Historical Society Collections

Asbury Methodist Church at Third and Walnut streets served its congregation until 1956.  Since then it has been home to another church and currently houses the Methodist Action Program.

List of "colored members" of Asbury Church, 1803-1804

List of “colored members” of Asbury Church, 1803-1804
Courtesy of Delaware Public Archives

Blacks belonged to Asbury from the beginning.  By 1805, about 100 belonged to the church, accounting for nearly half of its members. Even after some left to form Ezion Methodist Church, other blacks remained at Asbury.

 

Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church

Peter Spencer and the blacks who left Asbury in 1805 due to racial conflict founded Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church.  Although the church controlled most of its own affairs, it still had ties to Asbury and the mostly white Methodist Episcopal Conference.  Renewed tensions arose in 1812, leading Peter Spencer, William Anderson, and others to leave and found the Union Church of Africans. Now Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church, it still stands as a testimony to the Spencer legacy. In 2005 it celebrated two hundred years of existence as a black church within the predominantly white United Methodist denomination.

 

Ezion Methodist Church, Wilmington, ca. early 1960s

Appeal for funds

Land belonging to the African church

Ezion Methodist Church, Wilmington,
ca. early 1960s
Delaware Historical Society Collections


Ezion stood at 846 French street from 1805 until urban renewal forced it to move in 1971.  Unfortunately, no image exists of the first church building.  The structure shown here was erected in 1886, replacing an 1870 church that burned.  Ezion merged with Mount Carmel Methodist Church in 1971.  Ezion-Mt. Carmel moved into its new home at 800 Walnut Street in 1974.

    Appeal for funds to build an
    African Church in Wilmington
    Mirror of the Times, February 6, 1805
    Delaware Historical Society Collections

Sketch of “Land belonging to the African Church”
By Benjamin Ferris, no date
Benjamin Ferris Papers,
Delaware Historical Society

This sketch shows the two parcels of land that Joshua Wollaston purchased from Jeremiah and Amelia Shad in 1797 and Elizabeth Garasche in 1802, then sold to the trustees of Ezion Church in 1805.  Wood Street is now Ninth.

 

Union Church of Africans

When Peter Spencer and William Anderson left Ezion, they founded the Union Church of African Members in 1813. Later that year churches in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York joined it to form the Union Church of Africans, the first independent body of black Methodists to become a denomination in the United States.  The denomination consisted of about thirty congregations at the time of Spencer’s death in 1843.  However, after his death the church lacked a strong unifying leader.  A series of schisms beginning in the 1850s led to the creation of the A.U.M.P. and U.A.M.E. churches as rival denominations.

A.U.M.P. Conference, ca. 1942 by Gertrudge Howland Balch - Gift of Mr. Colwyn S. Krussman

AUMP Conference by Getrude Balch, 1942
Gift of Colwyn S. Krussman, Delaware Historical Society

The African Union congregation first worshipped in a chicken coop that had been moved to a site on Tatnall Street, then built a church at 819 French Street.  The church was rebuilt in 1827 and enlarged in 1842.
 

 

 

 

Articles of Association of the African Union Church
July 21, 1813
Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives

Articles of Association of the African Union Church_1_July 21, 1813 Articles of Association of the African Union Church_2_July 21, 1813 Articles of Association of the African Union Church_3_July 21, 1813

Artciles of Association of the African Union Church_4_July 21, 1813

 

 

 

The Church Splits

In the 1850s, the removal of Ellis Saunders as Elder Minister and the ouster of the trustees of the Mother African Union Church in Wilmington led to legal action and a split within the Union Church of Africans. This resulted in the incorporation of the African Union Methodist Protestant (A.U.M.P.) and Union American Methodist Episcopal (U.A.M.E.) churches as separate denominations in the mid-1860s.

The Final Decision of the African Union Church Case, 1856
Delaware Historical Society Collections
 
The Final Decision of the African Union Church Case_1_1856 The Final Decision of the African Union Church Case_2_1856
   

 

After the split within the Union Church of Africans in Wilmington in the 1850s, the churches reorganized as the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church (A.U.F.C.M.P., later A.U.M.P.) and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (U.A.M.E.), both with headquarters in Wilmington. Schisms and defections continued into the twentieth century, leaving both churches as small, regional denominations. Despite their low profile, some of their bishops were active in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.  Urban renewal and redevelopment in the late 1900s claimed the mother churches of both denominations, forcing them to relocate.

Mother AUMP Church_Late 1930s_early 1940s Mother A.U.M.P. Church, late 1930s_early 1940s Minutes of the Quarterly Conference of the African Union Church
Mother A.U.M.P. Church
Late 1930s-early 1940s
Zebley Collection,
Delaware Historical Society

Urban renewal forced Mother Church to find a new home in the late 1960s.  The congregation purchased the former Second Baptist Church at Ninth and Franklin streets. In 1992, Mother Church left the A.U.M.P. denomination and became independent.
Mother U.A.M.E. Church
Late 1930s-early 1940s

Zebley Collection,
Delaware Historical Society Collection

The congregation worshipped in a member’s home beginning in 1851 before building its first church at 1206 French Street in 1856.  A new church was dedicated in 1883.  Urban redevelopment took this historic church in the late 1980s.  Mother U.A.M.E. Church is now at 701 East Fifth Street.
Minutes of the Quarterly Conference of the African Union Church
November 1, 1885
A.U.M.P. Records,
Delaware Historical Society

 

 

Honoring the Founding Members of Ezion Methodist and Union Church of African Members

The deed for Ezion and the articles of association for the Union Church of African Members list the names of original members of both churches.  These brave people forged faith and built freedom by leaving established churches to form new ones that better met their needs.  Along with early members of both churches whose names remain unknown, they were pioneers in the development of black churches and community life in Delaware and the nation.

 

Original trustees of Ezion, 1805

Francis Bailey
Thomas Brown
Stephen Harris
Scotland Hill
Jacob Morgan
Joseph Nicholson
Peter Spencer

Signers of the Articles of Association of the African Union Church, 1813

John Agness
John Alexander
Margaret Allen
Jacob Anderson
William Anderson
James Back
Luke Bashten
Stephen Beardley
Samuel Byard
Moses Chippey
Peter Clayton
Philip Closs
Jacob Collins
Perry Cooper
Ezekiel Coston
Maggie Debberty
London Govern
Lydia Hall
Sarah Hall
Edmond Hayes
Susan Hicks
Scotland Hill
George Hood
Richard Jackson
John James
John Kelly
Jacob March
Joseph Nichols
Grace Powell
Charles Reed
Peter Ripley
John Simmons
David Smith
Peter Spencer
William Touborn
Abraham Valentine
Benjamin Webb
Simon Weeks
Joshua Young

 


 

 

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