How many churches were there in New Guinea?

There were two.

The African Meeting House on the corner of Pleasant Street and York Street housed the African Baptist Church (later reorganized as the Pleasant Street Baptist Church). Worship carried on in this building from the time of its dedication as a place of worship on January 4, 1825, until its doors closed in 1911. During those 86 years it housed not only meetings for worship, weddings, funerals, and holiday observances, but also the African School, political meetings, petition drives, and a memorial service in 1892 for Maria Mitchell’s brother, William Foster Mitchell, who—like African School teacher Anna Gardner—had gone south to establish schools for freedmen in the wake of the Civil War. The Rev. James Crawford (an escapee from enslavement) became pastor of the African Baptist Church in 1848 and served for forty years. At his death in 1888, he was Nantucket’s longest-serving clergyman.

The African Meeting House was restored during the 1990s and opened to the public in 1999 as a property of the Museum of African American History in Boston.

Less well known is the A. M. E. Zion church located just up the hill at the corner of West York Street and West York Lane. Locally referred to as Zion’s Church, it was organized in 1832, when a committee consisting of Arthur Cooper (also an escapee from enslavement), John Cooper, and Bristol Wright acquired the land. The same year a carpenter shop on Orange Street was purchased and moved to the site to house the church. The first preacher was the Rev. John W. Robinson of Philadelphia, who served until 1836. He died in 1840 and was buried in the Historic Coloured Cemetery behind Mill Hill. Following him as minister was the Rev. Mr. Serrington.

Noted black woman preacher Zilpha Elaw visited Nantucket in 1832 and decided to stay for a while. During her time on Nantucket, she preached to the congregations in both Zion’s Church and the African Meeting House before moving on to a ministry in London. In 1838, when Fourth of July observances were held in both Zion’s Church and the African Meeting House, Elaw was still on Nantucket and and took part with “her silvery-toned voice.” The next year the Rev. John B. Thompson was appointed minister to Zion’s Church.

All was not easy for the congregation on what became known as “Zion Hill.” Justice of the Peace Josiah Hussey posted the following notice in 1834:

Whereas complaints are lodged in my Office against sundry persons for willfully interrupting and disturbing the members of the Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, when met for the public worship of God – by making divers loud and indecent noises and tumults around their Meeting House, during the performance of divine service: I feel myself impelled, by a high sense of duty, to assure those who shall be guilty of the like offences in future, that prompt and efficient measures will be taken to bring them to condign punishment.

Like its nearby Baptist neighbor, Zion’s Church gave whole-hearted support to abolitionist and temperance activities. According to an article in the October 12, 1882, issue of the Nantucket Journal, the fervor of its meetings, “led by a trained colored choir,” was so notable that services there were “largely attended by white as well as colored people.”

With the decline of the whaling industry and the rapidly falling population of Nantucket, the membership of Zion’s Church dwindled, and its doors were closed even sooner than were those of the Baptist church just downhill. In 1882 the building was demolished.

For more about the African Meeting House and the A. M. E. Zion Church on Nantucket, see Frances Karttunen’s book, The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars, available from the NHA Museum Shop and from Spinner Publications of New Bedford.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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