ROBERT F ULLE, University of Pennsylvania


The influence of the Black church, and religion in general, has long been recognized by historians and sociologists of Afro-American history. In focussing on St. Thomas' African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia from the late eighteenth century to the Civil War, this dissertation examines how a Black-led church met the spiritual and social needs of its congregants, how the church functioned in the larger white community, and how it was shaped by influences from Africa and Europe. The characteristics of the church membership and leadership are also studied. For contrast, St. Thomas' is compared with Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.^ St. Thomas' and Mother Bethel began in the context of discrimination. Both were shaped by a confluence of African and European influences, differently filtered by personal and group experiences. Congregants of St. Thomas' emphasized individual action in political affairs, while Mother Bethel's worshippers assumed a more collective leadership role. Mother Bethel Church exercised more institutional control of the moral behavior of its members than did St. Thomas'.^ St. Thomas' certainly was not typical of early nineteenth-century Black congregations. In the wealth and success of her members, their subordination ecclesiastically to the white structures, and their private initiatives at furthering Black rights and respectability, it was much different from the majority of Philadelphia's Black churches. In the congregants' style of worship and in the preaching they heard, the brothers and sisters here were closer to the restrained and unemotional worship of western Europe than to the frontier faith of the Americans or to worship which derived from African roots.^ Yet all was not different. Elements of Black preaching were present, if the form was not; concern over Black issues was voiced, expressed, and acted upon. This was an African church, as that term was understood in 1796, not a colored church in the terms of the 1960s. In its practices are some deep personal and cultural integrations of the conflicting cultures, white and Black, slave and free, rich and poor, which met in eighteenth and nineteenth century Philadelphia streets. ^

Subject Area

History, Black

Recommended Citation

ROBERT F ULLE, "A HISTORY OF ST. THOMAS' AFRICAN EPISCOPAL CHURCH, 1794-1865 (PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, AFRO-AMERICAN)" (January 1, 1986). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI8703281.