First Independent Baptist Church
Original Author: Unknown
Created: 1851
Medium: Engraving

First Independent Baptist Church, Belknap Street.

An engraving in Isaac Smith Homans's Sketches of Boston, Past and Present, and of Some Few Places in Its Vicinity (1851) depicts the First Independent Baptist Church (initially called the First African Baptist Church), the oldest African American Baptist congregation in Boston, founded in 1805. Religious services were held in this building, known as the African Meeting House, that was built largely by African American craftsmen and completed in 1806. The caption beneath the engraving notes that this "commodious" three-story brick building could seat up to 600 people. The African Meeting House was both a religious and cultural gathering place for African Americans in Boston, as well as a center of abolitionist fervor. Among the abolitionists who spoke there were William Lloyd Garrison, Sarah Grimke, and Frederick Douglass; the New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded there in 1832. In 1863 the meeting house was used as a recruiting site for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first documented African American regiment to organize for the Union. (The regiment gained renowned for its July 18, 1863, attack on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, during which they suffered heavy casualities.) The African Meeting House is the oldest extant African American church building in America.