Peter Spencer: Father of the Independent Black Church Movement

Peter Spencer: Father of the Independent Black Church Movement

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 19th century.

In the late 1700s and the 1800s, many enslaved people in the Americas adopted Christian faith traditions, with a theology focused on the Bible’s messages of equality and liberty of all people under God. Among the faithful was Peter Spencer. Inspired by the principle of religious freedom expressed in the U.S. Constitution and by a vision of Black self-determination, Spencer led the movement that created the first independent black denomination in the United States, the African United Methodist Protestant Church, and then later, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Denomination. Often known as the Spencer Churches, these congregations embodied a growing desire among African Americans to govern themselves and to worship God in their own way.

For more information about Peter Spencer and the Independent Black Church Movement, be sure to check out our digital exhibition, Forging Faith, Building Freedom, browse our collections, watch Journey to Freedom: Exhibition Tour, or come see Journey to Freedom and other exhibitions by visiting the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage!





At around 1:30 in the video, the presenter says Peter Spencer left the Methodist Church in Wilmington in 1813 to form Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church. This actually happened in 1805, due to Spencer’s and others’ disagreement with the segregated nature of worship at Asbury Methodist Church in Wilmington. Once they established the African Methodist Episcopal Church (later renamed Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church; now named Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church) in 1805, Spencer and others found that the Methodist Church in Wilmington’s continued control of their new church’s business affairs was unacceptable. This led Spencer and others to found and incorporate in 1813 the Union Church of African Members (renamed Mother African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church in 1866). The incorporation of the church was the groundbreaking result of the radical pursuit of religious freedom, symbolic of the progress made by Spencer and his peers during this era.



  1. “History.” Mother African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, Accessed 7 July 2022.
  2. Russell, Daniel J. “Daniel J. Russell. History of the African Union Methodist Protestant Church.” Documenting the American South, 8 Jan. 2001,
  3. “Our History.” Ezion-Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, Accessed 6 July 2022.

“Peter Spencer: Father of the Independent Black Church Movement” is part of Speaking of Delaware…, a series of short videos presented by the Delaware Historical Society and produced by Short Order Production House. Videos premiere the first Thursday of every month on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and our website. This series is funded in part by the Longwood Foundation, Delmarva Power, an Exelon Company, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and by a grant from Delaware Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Playlist: Speaking of Delaware…

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Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage

Journey to Freedom

Forging Faith Digital Exhibit