Black History

The Early African Americans of St. Bartholomew’s Church

Our African Heritage

In the nineteenth century, when St. Bartholomew’s Parish was founded, both the nature of the economy in northern Montgomery County and the origin of the people who lived and worked there were quite different from what they are today. The First, or Cracklin, District of Montgomery County, near the center of which St. Bartholomew’s Church was situated, was an agricultural region with a population that lived mainly in the countryside. About four of every ten residents in the district could trace their ancestry to Africa, from whence they or their forebears had been brought to America involuntarily to labor for owners of European background who held them as property under Maryland law. Only about one in four of these Africans and their descendants gained their liberty before the Civil War.

The 1850 census showed a population in the district that was 59 percent white, 30 percent enslaved, and 11 percent free persons of color. The 863 slaves in the district were, or in the case of infants would become, the laborers of the 156 white individuals who owned them. Thus the district had an average of 5.5 enslaved per owner. The members of St. Bartholomew’s vestry in 1850 held larger than average groups in bondage. All but one of them had between 8 and 14 bondsmen. The wealthy and politically prominent vestryman Allen Bowie Davis stood out by holding a total of 27 enslaved black and mulatto workers in the district. The productive and creative capacity of these bondsmen was highly regarded.

Thomas Allen, the Baptizer

Some ministers in the Anglican Church had taken a serious interest in the spiritual lives of Marylanders of African origin in the colonial period, and the Episcopal Church expanded this concern after independence. The first rector of St. Bartholomew’s to baptize black residents of the parish seems to have been the Rev. Thomas G. Allen, who came to the parish in 1820, just seven years after its organization. Allen was a careful record-keeper, and he inscribed the names of eighty black children in the parish’s baptismal register
Thomas Allen had been born in Hudson, New York, in 1794, and he turned 26 in the year he came to officiate at St. Bartholomew’s Church. His older brother Benjamin had been studying for the Presbyterian ministry in 1814 when the newly elected Episcopal bishop of Virginia, Richard Channing Moore, who was also a New Yorker, invited the two young men to come to Virginia and become candidates for the Episcopal ministry there. Both accepted the invitation and were soon ordained. Benjamin would die in 1829 after becoming rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Writing his brother’s biography, Thomas Allen quoted a letter Benjamin had sent him from Virginia describing his ministerial work among the enslaved blacks in his parishes near Charles Town and Shepherdstown. “I am very much engaged preaching to the poor blacks. I go from plantation to plantation, and preach to them in the morning after breakfast or after dark, under the eye and guidance of their masters. They promise good effects from it already. Many true Christians have I found among them. . . . I know you will be zealous and active, and I trust, you will not neglect the poor slaves.” The substantial number of enslaved African Americans Thomas baptized suggests that he fully agreed with his brother’s statements about the importance of evangelizing among African Americans.
Thomas Allen left St. Bartholomew’s Church in 1828 and moved to Philadelphia to become director of missions and interim minister for his brother, who soon left on a trip to England. After Benjamin succumbed to a pulmonary illness on the return voyage, Thomas became a missionary to Philadelphia’s poor, hospitalized, and imprisoned, a calling to which he would devote his energies for more than thirty years. In 1856, when the new Republican Party entered the national political scene, Thomas Allen took a public stand in favor of the party’s antislavery presidential candidate and vehemently opposed the spread of slavery to new territories in the West. Evidently, his concern for African Americans long survived his service to St. Bartholomew’s Parish.

The Ministries of Levin Gilliss and Orlando Hutton

The Revs. Levin Gilliss and Orlando Hutton served successively as rectors of St. Bartholomew’s Parish from 1829 to 1844 and 1844 to 1866, and both continued Allen’s practice of baptizing enslaved African Americans. Neither of the men were as faithful as Allen had been at recording their baptisms in the parish register, however, so the identities of most of those they baptized is unknown. Gilliss recorded the baptism of eight African Americans in 1831 and 1832 before ceasing to inscribe the names of those to whom he administered the sacrament, except for one white individual whom he baptized in 1842. Hutton never entered in the parish register the names of the individuals he baptized.

Both ministers, however, reported the number of baptisms they performed in their annual parochial reports. While a few of these reports are also missing, we know from the many that were published in the diocesan convention journals that over 180 additional baptisms were performed in the parish between 1833 and 1866. Five of Hutton’s parochial reports specified the race of the infants he baptized, and in those years his figures showed that he baptized 24 whites and 21 African Americans. If similar proportions held during the years for which no breakdown was given, a total of some 80 to 90 of the 182 recipients of the sacrament of baptism in these years would have been African American.

Recalling near the end of his life conditions in the antebellum Episcopal Church in Maryland, Hutton observed that blacks were assigned separate seating in these churches, either in the gallery or near the doors, and invited to attend, but that most did not or could not respond. Episcopal masters very largely treated their servants well, Hutton wrote, but they only made religious instruction available to those who worked in the household, and regrettably did not enable ministers to instruct those who did agricultural work. Infant baptism may have been a rare religious ritual offered to these workers.

Participation in a New Time of Freedom

After emancipation, many African Americans worshipped in separate congregations they formed. Some, however, continued to worship at St. Bartholomew’s, as evidenced by the dozen blacks baptized there by Rev. William Laird between 1877 and 1892, the ten African American couples married in the church in the same period, and the black youth baptized in her parents’ home by Rev. Henry Marsden in 1913. Several substantial black families seem to have belonged to the parish in the late nineteenth century. Laird baptized four children of Remus Walker, a farm laborer who lived near Brookeville, and his wife Helen between 1879 and 1883, and he presided at the marriage of Thomas Walker in 1882. The rector also baptized three black members of the Gittings family at a single service in 1879. Census records indicate that Martha Simpson, the mother of Henrietta Simpson, the last black child Laird baptized, was the resident cook for the family of Laytonsville merchant, George W. Mobley.
As American industry came to offer better opportunities to black workers than did the farms of Montgomery County, many African Americans migrated to urban areas. We have not been able to trace the lives of the individual African Americans baptized in St. Bartholomew’s Parish, and we do not know whether they maintained a connection to the Episcopal Church. While we can only hope that the spiritual seeds planted at St. Bartholomew’s bore fruit in their lives, we can be confident that the true worth of these hard-working individuals will reap the ultimate reward of God’s blessing.

The African Americans Listed in
the Original Register of Baptisms at
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church

Name Relation Baptism   Date
Elizabeth daughter of Susan BaDate August 6 ,1820
Rachel Ann daughter of Fanny August 6 ,1820
Reuben Matthews August 6 ,1820
Mary Ann Matthews August 6 ,1820
Jane daughter of Flora August 6 ,1820
Mary Jane daughter of Arche and Lettice August 6 ,1820
Caroline Swirles daughter of Holmer August 6 ,1820
John Richard son of Hannah August 21 ,1820
Benjamin son of Fanny September 3 ,1820
George Washington son of Hagar September 3 ,1820
Sally daughter of Milly September 17 ,1820
Kitty Ann daughter of Priscilla September 17 ,1820
Henry son of Milly September 17 ,1820
Simon a boy of four and a half December 29 ,1820
Samuel son of Kitty April 25 ,1821
Otho son of Peggy July 23 ,1821
Isaac son of Milly July 23 ,1821
Edward son of Nelly July 23 ,1821
Ann Maria daughter of Phillis August 19 ,1821
Levi son of Rachel December 24 ,1821
Kitty Cooke daughter of Fanny June 23 ,1822
Richard Campbell son of Rachel June 23 ,1822
Rachel Matilda Mitchell daughter of Lettice June 23 ,1822
William Henry son of Harriet July 7 ,1822
Abraham Jackson son of Perry August 18 ,1822
Isaac son of Matilda August 18 ,1822
Jacob son of Cloe August 18 ,1822
Martha Ann Bowie August 18 ,1822
Alfred son of Milly September 15 ,1822
John Wesley son of Jenny October 28 ,1822
Allen son of Mary November 10 ,1822
Harriet daughter of Rachel March 16 ,1823
Kitty daughter of Harriet May 11 ,1823
John Philemon son of Sophey June 8 ,1823
Mary Green daughter of Charlotte June 8 ,1823
Phil Key son of Charity June 22 ,1823
George Washington son of Lucy June 22 ,1823
Caroline daughter of Fanny July 20 ,1823
Emely daughter of Mary Ann September 14 ,1823
George son of Rachel November 9 ,1823
Sarah daughter of Linny April 25 ,1824
Robert Henry son of Priscilla July 4 ,1824
William Henry Evins August 1 ,1824
Basil son of Milly August 1 ,1824
John Wesley Johnson August 1 ,1824
Artimus Johnson August 1 ,1824
Eliza Ann Clemans August 1 ,1824
Mary Ann daughter of Charlotte August 1 ,1824
Orsey son of Matilda August 1 ,1824
Charlotte Ellen daughter of Rachel September 26 ,1824
Elizabeth Eliza daughter of Cloe October 10 ,1824
Marion daughter of Hagar October 24 ,1824
John Wesley son of Rachel December 19 ,1824
John Wesley son of Milly December 27 ,1824
Punch Cola son of Elizabeth May 8 ,1825
Lucy Ann Thomas June 5 ,1825
Ana Maria Thomas June 5 ,1825
William Hamilton son of Susanna June 19 ,1825
George Anna daughter of Harriet June 19 ,1825
Alexander son of Matilda July 17 ,1825
George Washington son of Priscilla August 14 ,1825
Emily daughter of Margaret Ann October 9 ,1825
Louisa daughter of Hannah October 23 ,1825
Eliza daughter of Rachel November 20 ,1825
George son of Jinny January 15 ,1826
Rosetta daughter of Charlotte February 22 ,1826
Eveline daughter of Linney March 26 ,1826
William Henry son of Milly July 16 ,1826
George Washington son of Milly July 16 ,1826
Horace son of Celey October 8 ,1826
Charlotte daughter of Charity July 15 ,1827
Mary Ellen daughter of Priscilla July 15 ,1827
Columbus son of Hagar July 29 ,1827
Isaac son of Fanny July 29 ,1827
John son of Milly August 12 ,1827
Fanny daughter of Sucky August 12 ,1827
Sam son of Sucky August 12 ,1827
William Washington October 7 ,1827
Hamilton Slater December 4 ,1827
Mary Jane daughter of Eliza February 10 ,1828
Eliza daughter of Milly July 11 ,1831
Hesse Ann daughter of Charity October 16 ,1831
Horace Willson son of Lucy October 16 ,1831
Sarah Ann daughter of Chartoot May 27 ,1832
Otho William son of Ann May 27 ,1832
Albert Jefferson son of Rachael June 10 ,1832
Harriet Ann daughter of Mary June 10 ,1832
Ariana Smith daughter of Harriet June 24 ,1832
Franklin Henderson Gittings August 29 ,1878
William Henry Gittings August 29 ,1878
Mary Eliza Gittings August 29 ,1878
Alice Lavenia Walker April 27 ,1879
James Alfred Walker April 27 ,1879
John Edward Williams April 12 ,1880
William Henry Knox March 23 ,1881
Amelia Ann Walker April 24 ,1881
Maggie Lee Ella Walker January 4 ,1883
Louis Dudey Locke September 13 ,1883
John Jefferson Johnson November 25 ,1884
Henrietta Simpson February 21 ,1890
Agnes Marie Tyler 1913