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Reverend John Gloucester

Reverend John Gloucester
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Reverend John Gloucester

Early records from Cumberland's First Presbyterian Church note the visit from one of America's historic African American religious figures, or possibly a family member, in 1820.

Born a slave in Tennessee, John Gloucester was purchased by a white Presbyterian minister who provided him with religious training. This eventually led to John's being ordained under the Presbytery of Union in Tennessee, Greenville, and now Tusculum College. John Gloucester was then granted his freedom and immediately began his ministry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807 with the founding of The First African Presbyterian Church in that city in 1807. This was the first African Presbyterian church in America and John Gloucester is America's first ordained African American Presbyterian pastor. After touring the United States and England to raise funds, Pastor Gloucester would eventually purchase the freedom of his wife, and that of his four sons.

One of these sons was named Jeremiah Gloucester (1799-1827) who became the pastor of Philadelphia's Second African Presbyterian Church in 1824. Another son, James M. Gloucester, also became a Presbyterian minister and founded the Siloam Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York in 1849.

The earliest known reference to Presbyterian worship in Cumberland dates back to 1786. By 1810 Presbyterians were worshiping in a log church located at the corner of Baltimore and North Centre Streets in downtown Cumberland. This site served the congregation until a new building was occupied on Washington Street in 1832. It is the downtown location with the Reverend Robert Kennedy as its pastor from 1816 to 1825, along with the above information which serves as the background and focal point of the visit described below in an article entitled, "We Have This Ministry" appearing in Presbyterian Heritage, the newsletter of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Spring/Summer 2007, Volume 20, No. 2.

On October 5, 1820, the Rev. Robert Kennedy (1778-1843) wrote a letter to the Rev. David Elliott (1787-1874), describing the visit and preaching of two visiting pastors.

"On the subject of religion we have lately been roused: Your friends J. Gloucester and N. Patterson came to see Miss Whitehead. On Friday evening shortly after their arrival they exhorted in a society. Saturday night one of them preached and Sabbath we had preaching three times."

The letter also described a communion service held at the First Presbyterian Church in Cumberland, Maryland. "Complying with the wishes of the Brethren we gave a general invitation to the members of other societies who were known to be in good standing, and on Mr. Gloucester's account, a special invitation to the colored people in communion with the Methodists."

By Mr. Kennedy's account all participants found the service very moving including "...an old seceder, who was too strict to join with us before, [but] said it was a precious communion to him, and I believe it was so to many others."

The letter raises an interesting question regarding the identity of "J. Gloucester." Officially John Gloucester, minister at the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, served that congregation until his death in 1822. But in June 1820, due to failing health he had petitioned the Philadelphia Presbytery requesting a pulpit supply for First African. Thus it is doubtful that Gloucester's health would have allowed him to travel to Cumberland, Maryland, in October.

Of John Gloucester's four sons, two had first names that began with "J." Jeremiah Gloucester served as the pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and James A. Gloucester organized the Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York. Either could have been the J. Gloucester mentioned in the letter, but additional research is needed to determine the inspiring preacher's identity.

Records of the First Presbyterian Church in Cumberland, Maryland, do not exist prior to 1824, and later records contain no mention of the Gloucester visit. Neither do selected unpublished letters or published histories. This type of problem is not an uncommon one for archivists and historians. It would take some additional research, reviewing local newspapers, regional histories, or materials in local historical societies to provide additional clues to this "subject of religion."


Image of Reverend Gloucester courtesy of the John Gloucester House, Philadelphia.

Additional historical information from, "Church History Notes: The First Presbyterian Church" and the Reverend John Dillon, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Cumberland.

Collection Location:
Allegany County, Maryland

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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