Minority and Immigrant Presbyterian Churches
in South Philadelphia



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First African Presbyterian Church
First Italian Presbyterian Church
Meadow Presbyterian Church (Jewish)
First African Presbyterian Church, east side of Seventh Street, watercolor by Benjamin Ridgway Evans, 1884. Courtesy of the Library Company, Graphics Collection.
Image of the First Italian Presbyterian Church, printed in The Philadelphia Record, October 19, 1913, courtesy of the Campbell Collection, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Image published in William P. White, The Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, 1895, courtesy of PAB.

 

This project examines three minority Presbyterian churches in South Philadelphia: The First African Presbyterian Church, The First Italian Presbyterian Church, and Meadow Presbyterian Church.  Although there are many other minority Presbyterian churches in Philadelphia, we chose to focus on these three as case studies.  Through our research, we aim to reveal how these churches embody or reflect the influence of their minority congregations through their founding, their evolution, and their situation in the urban context.  

Kenneth A. Hammond supplies statistics that are essential for understanding the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in his book Presbyterian Churches and Presbyteries of Greater Philadelphia.  He reveals that between 1690 and 1990, Presbyterians organized 298 churches and acquired 18 congregations established by other denominations in the greater Philadelphia area.  202 of these churches (approximately 2/3) were established in the city of Philadelphia, and 28 of these were located in South Philadelphia, which is defined as the area between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers below South Street. 

In contrast to the traditional Scotch-Irish Presbyterian churches already established in the city, first minority Presbyterian churches were established by the African-American population in the early 19th century. The First African Church was later followed by Italian and Jewish congregations as these groups immigrated to Philadelphia and were pursued by the missionary efforts of the Philadelphia Presbytery.  According to Hammond, Philadelphia experienced a period of major population growth in the 19th century as the city was emerging as a major seaport and manufacturing center.  The population increased from 81,000 to 1,293,697 and this growth was the major factor that influenced church development in Philadelphia. Nearly half the churches organized between 1801 and 1900 were begun as mission Sunday schools or preaching stations in new areas of Philadelphia. By the turn of the 20th century, “Philadelphia was a kaleidoscope of shifting neighborhoods” (Miller 33).

 

This website, created for HSPV 05-600 - Documentation and Archival Research, contains a record of our research as we traced the history and evolution of these churches through time, using publications and archival resources from various Philadelphia institutions.  To see a map illustrating the various locations of each church in South Philadelphia, click here.

 

This page created by Ellen Buckley and Jamie Barbaccia