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Seven months after a race riot that destroyed African American houses of worship, Quaker philanthropist leases building to First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia
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Under the leadership of its African American pastor, born a slave in Virginia, the church saw its membership grow from 60 to 252 members.

[AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY]. ISAAC COLLINS. Manuscript Document Signed, March 13, 1835, Philadelphia, 1 p., agreeing to lease the first floor of a two-story brick building on Fries Court to the African Baptist Church. With a full page of endorsements on the verso, signed by Collins and trustees of the church (three of whom sign with “X” marks), raising the rent after the room was enlarged, and on March 13, 1838, extending the leasing for three years. 8 x 12½ in.

Inventory #25177       Price: $2,750

Excerpt:

This agreement made and entered into between Isaac Collins of the first part and William Cole, David Nouflict, Joshua Bundick, Robert Peterson, Wm Stevens & Thos. Coleman Trustees of the first African Baptist Church of Philada on the second part as follows, vis. The party of the first part agrees to lease to the party of the second part, the first floor of a two story Brick tenement situated in Fries Court (the second story of which is now occupied by B. Tucker for a school) for a place of worship for said church, for the term of Three years from this day, for which the party of the second part promise and agree to pay the party of the first part in Quarterly payments the sum of Eighty Dollars for each and every of said three years… Isaac Collins

The verso includes endorsements and signatures (several with marks) of Isaac Collins, William Cole, David Nouflict, William Stevens and Joshua Bundick.

Historical Background

The African American Baptist church in Pennsylvania was founded in 1809 by thirteen men who had come to Philadelphia “to escape the cruel treatment of slave masters” of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They joined the (white) First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, which agreed to supervise the establishment by the black members of “a Church of the same faith and order.” A free man of color from Savannah, Georgia, ministered the new congregation from 1809 to 1812. From 1813 to 1828, he was succeeded by a white minister from Virginia. The new congregation first worshiped in a small frame building (26' x 37') on a rented lot on Tenth Street. In 1817, the Church purchased a lot on Thirteenth Street, and in 1825, moved to Haviland Place. The African Church appears on an 1830 map on Smith’s Court between Chester Street and Eighth Street. As they grew, they “worshiped from house to house” until building another church.[1]

From 1832 to 1844, their pastor was James Burrows, born a slave in Virginia, and gained permission from his master to come north to earn enough to buy his freedom. Two freemen from the church agreed to post a bond as security for Burrows’ return. Within a year, Burrows had earned enough money to purchase his freedom and release them from the financial obligations of the bond.

The Quaker Isaac Collins leased this property only seven months after riots against the Philadelphia African American community. His property, on “Fries’ Court,” was located on Eleventh Street, between Market and Filbert Streets. The second floor was occupied by a school, later J. W. Roberts’ Select English Mathematical & Classical Academy for Boys.[2]

On August 12, 1834, the riot started at a carousel patronized by both whites and blacks. Over the next several days, Methodist and Presbyterian African American churches and “innumerable” private homes were attacked. On August 14, another church was burned a mile and a half away, after a seventeen-year-old white youth had been shot, reportedly from that church. The committee investigating the riot concluded that rioters were “in no instance, given by any prejudice against any religious sect, or from any indisposition to seeing the people of color assembled together, for the purpose of public worship.” The committee blamed the African American congregations for “the disorderly and noisy manner in which some of the colored congregations indulge, to the annoyance and disturbance of the neighborhood, in which such meeting houses are located.”[3] (A visiting Englishman, Thomas Brothers, more honestly reported that many of the rioters described their activities as “hunting the nigs.”) Sixty people were arrested, mostly young men, including several Irish immigrants and others with criminal records, but only ten ever appeared in court, but none were fined or jailed for their roles in the riot.[4]

In the summer of 1841, the church filed Articles of Incorporation, which included four parties to this document, Robert Peterson, Joshua Bundick, William Stevens, and David “Northwick,” among its members. A census commissioned by the Quakers to assist the African American population of the city in 1847 listed William Cole earning $3 per week as a carter, Joshua “Bundic” earning $1.50 per week selling cakes, and William Stevens earning $16 per month as a waiter. The congregation purchased property on Pearl Street in the 1840s, where they remained until after the Civil War. After more than a century at a location at Sixteenth and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia, the First African Baptist Church sold its building to a developer in 2016. The congregation dedicated a new facility in West Philadelphia in September 2017.

Isaac Collins (1787-1863) was born in Trenton, New Jersey, into an Orthodox Quaker family. His father published the first New Jersey newspaper and the first family bible printed in America. The younger Collins married Margaret Morris (1792-1832) in 1810 and became a publisher in New York City. Isaac Collins & Company was so successful that he retired at age thirty-four to devote himself to philanthropy, moving to Philadelphia in 1828. After his first wife’s death, Collins married Rebecca Singer (1804-1892) in 1835. He served on the board of Haverford College for many years. In 1859, he compiled A List of the Some of the Benevolent Institutions of the City of Philadelphia, and Their Legal Titles: Together with a Form of Devise and Bequest to Them. His wife was president of the Howard Institution, the first of seventy-five charities listed, aiding discharged female prisoners who had not been prostitutes.

Condition

Fine. Folds archivally reinforced.


[1] Charles H. Brooks, Official History of the First African Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa. (Philadelphia: 1922), 78.

[2] The National Gazette and Literary Register (Philadelphia, PA), August 29, 1836, 1:3. Roberts’ school was likely a successor to that of B. Tucker’s mentioned in this deed.

[3] Samuel Hazard, ed., Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania 14 (September 1834), 201.

[4] Hazard’s Register, 202-03; John Runcie, “‘Hunting the Nigs’ in Philadelphia: The Race Riot of August 1834,” Pennsylvania History 39 (April 1972): 187-218.


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