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Finding Second African Presbyterian Church - A Story of Erasure, Minimization and a Needed Rewrite

Updated: Mar 22

I've been doing a lot of research into Black Presbyterianism. I was woefully unable to find a picture of the Second African Presbyterian Church.

It's on the maps - but again - no pictures. Which is strange because usually the first thing a congregation does when it builds a new building is to have someone capture it with a photo or with a drawing. I looked in the church histories, I asked the Presbyterian archives folks, I've been all over the usual archive repositories (Library company, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). While I found the insurance survey taken for the building in 1843 at HSP, there was still no picture.

So in desperation I started looking at the history of Starr Garden where the church was originally located. I figured that maybe the church might be mentioned during the time that the block it existed in was torn down. Starr Garden used to be a whole city block of the Black Metropolis including Henrietta Duterte's facility.

Block between Lombard and Rodman and 6th and 7th in 1894 Courtesy

Interestingly, Google Maps still shows the old city outline. It doesn't show Starr Gardens as a garden, a green block, when you're zoomed out.

During the 1830s and 1840s, this block was flourishing, and housed Black churches, homes, businesses and schools. Many of these structures were damaged in the 1842 Lombard Street attack on the Black community. Even so, by the time the whole block was torn down in 1895, there were Black businesses, like Henrietta Duterte's undertaking business, still on the block.

A major reason the block was torn down was because of the political efforts of a group called the College Settlement Association (CSA). This group functioned by placing white women into areas they deemed impoverished to provide free kindergartens, libraries, and clubs for children. Their history book from the time is littered with racial bias', so I provide it to you here but caution you that it can be offensive.

Wait what???

Here's where this started to get wild. So it was the CSA the hired W.E.B DuBois to do a study of the Black population that became The Philadelphia Negro.

While DuBois was writing, he stayed at a house owned by the CSA on St. Mary's (now Rodman) street that was on the property of the former Second African Presbyterian church.

When I found out about the CSA I turned to their history book and lo and behold....there was Second African Presbyterian right on the front page.

At the time, it was called 'Stuart Memorial Hall'. Researching 'Stuart Memorial Hall' I found a better picture at HSP.

Second African Presbyterian Church in 1844 Philadelphia, from Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Second African Presbyterian (also called 'Stuart Memorial Hall'), from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

I believe what happened was that the Second African Presbyterian church dissolved in the 1860s and must have sold to Stuart Memorial Church, though I can't find proof of the sale or any historical records of Stuart Memorial Church.

Here's what's changing for a Black History rewrite:

Number 1: The Church in the picture listed as Stuart Memorial Church *is* Second African Presbyterian

I don't think that Stuart Memorial Church was the builder of the church. Churches built in the 1860s and 1870s tended to start having more gothic, castle type architectural elements. For example, here's one built in 1856.

St. Clements - built in 1856 - showing the gothic style popular in the late 19th century. Courtesy St. Clements Church

But churches built in the 1830s and 1840s tended to be built in the neo-classical Palladium style with its signature triangular pediment and emphasis on symmetry, with both sides of the building looking exactly the same.

Here are some examples of Black churches built in the 1830s and 1840s. Second African Presbyterian looks like these Palladium style buildings, with the triangle pediment and symmetry of doors and windows.

St. Thomas African Episcopal Church - Showing the Palladium Style - Built in the early 19th Century. Courtesy the Library Company of Philadelphia

Lombard Central Presbyterian, Built in 1844. Palladium Style. Courtesy the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Given that it the building appears to be from the early to mid 19th Century, that it's in they same style as other Black churches, that the congregation was active during the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s and listed as such on maps of the time, I think this is the church that Second African Presbyterian built and used.

Number 2: Second African Presbyterian did not entirely burn down in the 1842 Mob Attack

In 1867, Second African Presbyterian was still listed on the 1867 Hexamer and Locher map as 'Col Pr, Church'.

This in itself is remarkable because I think most of us thought that Second African Presbyterian burnt down in the Mob attacks of 1842.

From Philadelphia Encyclopedia

However, there is a 1843 insurance survey for Second African Presbyterian, which means that they still existed *after* the mob attacks (which were in 1842). Here's the 1863 City Directory listing for Second Presbyterian. Interestingly, it says it's 'vacant' so the congregation may have not had a leader or may have dissolved in the early 1860s.

I imagine a heroic effort of church leaders to go and put out the fire on the same night that mobs of white men were beating Black men indiscriminately on the streets.

We wondered how this beautiful church building was rebuilt. The picture shows a well-maintained, well-built building.

UPDATE 3/22/2024

Turns out...,

The dynamic duo of Professor Donna Rilling and public historian Michael Clemmons have unearthed this court case in which second African Presbyterian filed suit against the county of Philadelphia for not protecting the church from the mobs and won!

1843 Court Case - Second African Presbyterian Congregation vs. The County of Philadelphia

By 1843 the church had $5600 which is $234,000 in today's dollars. So that means that the church in the puctire was built about 1843 or 1844.

This means that both Second African and Lombard Central, which is the third Black Presbyterian Church resulting from a split out of Second African, were both constructing church buildings at the same time.

Number 3: There may be some graves under Starr Garden

Most city churches had attached burial grounds. This was true for Second African Presbyterian church. Black church burial grounds were collectively re-interred in Eden Cemetery starting in 1904.

However, we know that the church was vacant by 1863. We know that the area behind the church was already turned into a small park by 1893. We know that the move to Eden Cemetery didn't happen until 1904.

Here is a map from the Philadelphia Archeological Forum that validates a burial ground there and that indicates that there was a 'partial' move of the remains.

The PAF reminds us that....


Here's the timeline of Black Presbyterian church history in Philadelphia. Second African was..well...the Second Presbyterian Church. First African Presbyterian was born in 1811. After founder Reverend John Gloucester died, the church split into 1st and 2nd. Both first and second were victims of mob attacks and both rebuilt on the same spots after those attacks. The third split came when there was a split within Second African Presbyterian. Folks peeled off and joined what became known as a Lombard Central Presbyterian Church, in 1844.

And these churches were relatively close to one another.

Here's a quick video on the progression of Black Presbyterian churches in antebellum Philadelphia.


Wikipedia Rewrite Done : DuBois was minimized out of the CSA History

When I checked out the CSA's Philadelphia Wiki page, there a complete minimization of DuBois' work. I did a rewrite. I you gonna call DuBois 'a Fellow'. 🧐

Rewrite needed : Connect Second African's Visual Representation with it's History

Second African Presbyterian is referred to a Stuart Memorial Hall, or Stuart Memorial Church in the archives.

I've updated the CSA Philadelphia wikipedia page but more work needs to be done in other archives as well.

Final Thoughts

I wonder if DuBois knew that he was staying on the property of what was once the Second African Presbyterian church?

As an allegory this is interesting.

This story of Second African Presbyterian is an allegory to the minimization and erasure of the building of Black infrastructures.

DuBois staying in the exact spot of the 1842 mob attack to write The Philadelphia Negro is an allegory to the historical trope out of the ashes, a Pheonix.

In addition to the references listed above, you may want to check out:

Fifty Years of the Lombard Central Presbyterian Church

A semi-centenary discourse, delivered in the First African Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, on the fourth Sabbath of May, 1857

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