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First Black NH Congregation


On the Black History Trail, "the Pearl" is the former Peoples Baptist Church. Thanks to supportive owners, volunteer stewards, federal restoration funds and lots of hard work – it survives today. Renovated, redecorated, reeducated, the Pearl has a new lease on life and a permanent place in Portsmouth history.





READ MORE Portsmouth Black History


A History of People’s Baptist Church
Portsmouth, NH
by Valerie Cunningham
and Mark Sammons with Terry Littlefield

Portsmouth’s Black citizens attaneded churches since the 1600s. But their numbers were not sufficient to establish a church of their own until the last quarter of the 19th century. People's Baptist Church is a critical part of that story.

People's baptist Church aka The Pearl of Portsmouth, NH/ Courtesy Richard Candee on SeacoastNH.comIn 1873 under the leadership of Edmund Kelly, a group of Portsmouth's Black citizens gathered for worship in the Baptist tradition at the South Ward Room on Marcy Street, currently The Children's Museum. The gathering flourished. Then Kelly was "unavoidably called away" to Massachusetts. The group continued under the guidance of Elder John

Tate. When Tate died a short time later services ceased. Not long after, Kelly returned to Portsmouth. While in Massachusetts he had visited and assisted churches he had earlier helped organize in Lawrence, Haverhill, and West Newton. In 1879 Kelly rallied Portsmouth's fledgling church community. The meetings brought new attendees, many inquiries, and a new convert, with baptisms planned for the near future. Nothing further is heard of this gathering. Its membership may have been absorbed into a Bible study class which was organized a decade later.


The People's Mission

The Ward Room again figured in the religious life of Portsmouth's black families. In 1889 James F. Slaughter moved to Portsmouth, and began conducting Bible study classes in his home at the corner of Bridge and Hanover Streets at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons. Attendance grew rapidly; they moved to the South Ward Room in 1890. They held Sunday school at 3:00 p.m. and preaching at 8:00 p.m.. They called themselves the People's Mission. The 17 members of this mixed-denominational group consisted of 12 Baptists, four Methodists, and one Episcopalian.

Three years later, in 1892, the People's Mission voted to re-organize. Twelve members pledged their membership in the new People's Baptist Church. The other five continued to support and worship in the church.

At the start, the church was affiliated with the Middle Street Baptist Church, though meeting separately. The People's Baptist Church requested and was granted autonomy from the Middle Street Baptist Church in 1908. A close relationship remained between the two congregations and extends to New Hope Church today.

CONTINUE First Black Congregation

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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