African Meeting House, Boston (1806)

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston was built in 1806 to house the first African Baptist Church of Boston, known as the First Independent Baptist Church. A commemorative inscription above the front door reads, “Cato Gardner, first Promoter of this Building 1806.” Cato Gardner, born in Africa, raised more than $1,500 toward the total $7,700 needed to construct the Meeting House. The building, which was constructed almost entirely with black labor, served as the cultural, educational and political center of Boston’s black community for many decades. In 1808, Primus Hall‘s school relocated from the adjacent carpenter’s shop to the Meeting House, using a schoolroom funded by Abiel Smith. It later moved to the Abiel Smith School next door. William Lloyd Garrison held the founding meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in the Meeting House on January 6, 1832. The building, which has a facade adapted from the design for a townhouse published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin, was remodeled in the 1850s, with the windows being elongated and converted to having arched tops.

The Baptist congregation moved to Boston’s South End in 1898 and the Meeting House became the African Methodist Episcopal Church. By the late nineteenth century, many African Americans had moved to other neighborhoods and new immigrants occupied the neighborhood around the African Meeting House, which was sold in 1904 to the Hassidic Jewish Congregation Anshe Lebawitz. In 1972, the building was acquired by the Museum of African American History. The first phase of restoration work on the Meeting House was completed in 1987 and the building was opened to the public as a museum. The African Meeting House, the oldest surviving black church building in America, is also the last stop on the Black Heritage Trail.

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