The New South newspaper, dated 30 August 1862, describes the First Baptist Church of Hilton Head, now called the First African Baptist Church, the oldest church on the Island.
The newspaper account reported that the church’s establishing members were all freed slaves (“contraband”). “Of these nearly 70 were professing Christians under the rule of their late masters, while the others have been converted and baptized since our advent among them.”
First African Baptist Church was founded with 120 members and led by Rev. Abraham Murchison. The church was organized and the pastor ordained on Sunday, 17 August 1862. Union soldiers assisted Rev. Murchison. The Union army established a major presence on Hilton Head Island and brought freed slaves from surrounding plantations to the Island.
The first Pastor was Abraham Murchison.
*As the first Mayor of the Historic Town of Mitchelville, the first Black Mayor in the United States and the first pastor of Hilton Head Island’s oldest church, Reverend Murchison, an escaped slave from Savannah, was also a significant influence on the Civil War effort and countless generations of Gullah families. After establishing the First African Baptist Church in 1862 with 120 members, all of whom were contrabands, Reverend Murchison went on to baptize and marry 1,000’s of freedmen who lived on the Island’s Historic Town of Mitchelville.
Murchison married countless couples and preached the gospel, but did much more. As a result of his stature within the community, he was also very influential with Union officers during the Civil War. As the war’s toll of casualties rose, and the Union Army needed to reinforce it’s ranks, Murchison was instrumental in recruiting slaves to join the ranks of the US Colored Troops. US Colored Troops gallantly fought for their chance for freedom.* © Lowcountry Gullah™*
The church offered two rows of benches, a pulpit, and a ceiling with glass lamps.
Men sat on one side, women on the other. Each Sunday, congregants would gather in their “Sunday Best”, full of beautiful color, turbans for soulful praise and worship.
In a report from Major General O. M. Mitchel, commander of the Department of the South and the namesake of Mitchelville, to S. P. Chase, Secretary of Treasury, Mitchel states that “Yesterday, which was Sunday, a little church, built for the negroes, was consecrated to the worship of Almighty God.” The date appears to be 12 October 1862, two months following the organization of the church.
The congregation moved to the Chaplin Community for a brief time, adopting the name Goodwill Baptist Church.
The Church moved to the present location in 1889. Initially, it took the name Crossroads Baptist Church before adopting the present name First African Baptist Church. The church continues to be an active congregation with approximately 300 members.
70 Beach City Road
- *with permission from the author/website owner, Gullah community activist, cultural influencer, and preservationist, Luana M. Graves Sellars. © Lowcountry Gullah™ and www.lowcountrygullah.com, 2022.