Browse Collections (24 total)
The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was an outgrowth of the African Church of Philadelphia founded in 1792 by the Free African Society, a mutual aid organization, established in 1787 by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen for the purpose of encouraging religion, literacy, and providing destitute members – especially widows and orphans – with financial assistance. Absalom Jones led the congregation and became the first African American admitted to Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church when Bishop William White ordained him a deacon in 1796 and a priest in 1802. Richard Allen formed Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church which became a separate Methodist denomination. Records consist of vestry minutes, pew rents, birth and baptismal records as well as some records of the Free African Society.
Founded in 1695, Christ Church was the first Anglican church to be established in Pennsylvania. This fulfilled the provision outlined by King Charles II in the charter he granted to William Penn in 1681 stipulating that if twenty individuals requested an Anglican clergyman the Bishop of London would appoint one. Accordingly, thirty-nine Philadelphians came together in 1695 to form Christ Church. Located on Second Street, just north of Market Street the Church transitioned from a small frame structure in its early years to the imposing Georgian structure built from 1727-1754 that still stands on the site today. Members of the Continental Congress and early government officials worshipped here and seven signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried on Church property. When the congregation grew too large to be accommodated here the vestry built St. Peter's at the southern edge of the city in 1760 and later St. James. Those United Churches remained a unit until the 1820s and 1830s. Christ Church is an active Episcopal parish today as well as a major historic site.
The records consist of vestry minutes, parish records, accounting and financial records, deeds, architectural drawings, photographs, and audiovisual materials. In addition, there are materials from parish organizations and affiliated institutions such as Christ Church Hospital, Episcopal School, Christ Church Burial Ground, and Christ Church Preservation Trust.
Congregation Mikveh Israel (officially Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel), known as the "Synagogue of the American Revolution" is one of the most historic Congregations of Jews in the United States. The oldest Congregation in Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel was informally established by religious minded Jews in British America during the 1740s, and has become the second-oldest surviving Congregation in all of the United States. In Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia in particular, Jews found an environment of tolerance for their religious beliefs and traditions made possible by William Penn's 'great experiment'. The possibilities of economic and religious liberties in Philadelphia drew many Jews to the area, and by 1775 a community 300 strong existed in a city of 35,000.
During the war of Independence, 1775-1783, Jews from New York, Easton, Lancaster, Richmond, Charleston and Savannah sought refuge in Philadelphia from the British occupation. Many members joined the ranks of the Patriots and fought for the revolutionary cause.
In 1782, the Congregation dedicated a new building on Cherry Street that sat 200 persons and had accommodations for the clergy adjoining it. In 1829 the congregation built an Egyptian Revival synagogue on Cherry Street. Designed by William Strickland, it is notable for having been one of the earliest Egyptian Revival buildings in the United States. After moving out of Center City, along with much of Philadelphia's population in the first half of the 20th century, the Congregation announced in 1961 that it would return to construct a new house of worship. A modest building, initially shared between the Synagogue and the Museum of Jewish History, was dedicated and opened in August 1976.
Among items in the archives of Congregation Mikveh Israel are letters written by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and a public subscription list for the 1782 building signed by Benjamin Franklin, David Rittenhouse, and other civic leaders. Several notable ritual items also exist, including ornamental bells (“rimmonim”) crafted by renown silversmith Myer Myers.
After the American Revolution, Anglicans became Episcopalians. Led by the Reverend William White, they organized the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1784. White became its first bishop three years later. Initially, the Diocese spanned a vast area, extending from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, encompassing the whole of Pennsylvania. By 1910 there were five Episcopal dioceses in Pennsylvania, and the Diocese of Pennsylvania consisted of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware counties.
The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania's Archives are home to a vast array of material relating to the people and parishes comprising the Diocese as well as the Diocese itself. Within its stacks are material relating to parishes that have closed, the registers, the vestry minutes as well as documents making up the life of these churches which are no longer with us. It also holds a large volume of histories, both at the parish level comprising both active and closed parishes, as well as histories of the diocese and its various organizations.
The Archives also holds a large volume of material related to those committed to running the Diocese. There are records from the various Bishops, Standing Committee and General Conventions, to better understand the direction we have come from. There are also various print runs of the publications the Diocese has put out as well including a long run of the Church News.
Notable for its early leadership in Baptist organization and evangelism, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was prominent both in its region and city and in the transatlantic community of Baptists. Begun in 1698 as a mission of the more suburban Pennepack (now, Lower Dublin) Baptist Church, First Baptist soon became the leading congregation for the city, region, and colonies, gaining independent status from Pennepack in 1746.
In 1707 the church hosted the organizing meeting of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first lasting inter-regional organization of Baptists in America, and over the years provided a disproportionate share of this group’s officers. From the beginning, the lives of this association and the First Baptist congregation were intertwined, with the church meeting house hosting meetings of the association and welcoming delegates, called messengers by the Baptists, from as far south as Charleston and as far north as Boston. By the 1760s, the first decade for which minutes survive, the congregation had gained prominence beyond its modest size, including among the transatlantic Baptist network. This prominence had to do with its leaders hosting and shaping the role of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, to which far-flung congregations wrote letters that began, “Dear Mother.”
The life of the congregation and its leaders was also intertwined with that of its city, with several ministers taking teaching posts at the University of Pennsylvania, then the College and Academy of Philadelphia. William Rogers, for example, came from New England to pastor the church but remained in that post for only three years, though active in the congregation and as a supply preacher until his death in 1824. Like several other Baptist ministers, Rogers served as a military chaplain during the American Revolution, an event that made havoc of the congregation’s finances and leadership. While these Baptists supported the American rebellion as a fight for necessary liberties, their former pastor Morgan Edwards criticized the rebels until 1775 when he was convinced to revise his opinion. With his excellent preaching, historical research and publications on early Baptists, and support for formal education leading to the founding and support of Brown University, Edwards embodied the strengths of Baptists. It was under Edwards’ leadership that First Baptist built a new and larger meeting house at the same time accepting the need to lend their pastor to the larger Baptist cause and arranging for supply preaching while Edwards traveled the colonies as an evangelist, church organizer, and historian of Baptists. Despite these successful efforts toward gaining respect and leaders for Baptists, Edwards’ connection with the Philadelphia congregation grew strained during the 1780s, largely because Edwards struggled through bouts of drinking and subsequent church meetings for discipline, only being restored to the congregation’s fellowship in late 1788.
When in 1814 Baptists from twelve states gathered to form a national organization in support of Baptist missions, the meeting was at the First Baptist meeting house in Philadelphia, with two of the four officials chosen being laymen from that congregation and a third, William Staughton, a former pastor. Throughout the next century, the congregation grew in numbers and influence in the city and in national and global mission programs, despite conflicts related to theology, leadership, and relationships with daughter churches, including two competing First African Baptist congregations. Its early interest in circulating religious pamphlets, as well as Philadelphia’s wealth of printers, made it feasible for American Baptists to locate their publishing operations in the city, where they remained until 1961, when operations moved to a new building and printing plant in Valley Forge.
In 1742, the Moravian Church began holding services in Philadelphia under the leadership of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. On New Year’s Day in 1743, 34 members organized as a Moravian congregation in a new church building in Old City, at the corner of Race and Bread Streets. In 1820, the original church building was enlarged and remodeled. In 1856, a second church building was dedicated by the congregation, on Franklin and Wood Streets. A third and final church building was dedicated in 1893 on Fairmount Avenue, between 16th and 17th Streets, where it remained until the congregation’s official closing in 1965. Today, Redeemer Moravian Church continues the Moravian tradition in Southwest Philadelphia. Select archival records from this massive collection (54 boxes) of First Moravian Church were scanned as part of this project and include diaries, minutes, membership lists, church registers, and drawings.
Presbyterians began gathering for worship in Philadelphia in 1692, sharing a building known as the "Barbadoes Warehouse" at Second and Chestnut streets with Baptists and Congregationalists. In 1698, the congregation officially organized as the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Six years later, the congregation moved to High Street (now Market Street) at the corner of Bank Street, and built the first Presbyterian church building in the city, known as "Old Buttonwood." Both the first American presbytery and the first synod met in this church building. In 1820, the church moved to a new building on the south side of Washington Square where it remained until the late 1920s, when it moved to 15th and Locust streets. In 1949, First and Second Presbyterian Churches united as First with the congregation moving into the Second Presbyterian Church building at 21st and Walnut streets, where the congregation continues today.
Records scanned for this project include congregation minutes, pew records, and lists of burials.
In the 17th century Swedish settlers landed on the banks of the Delaware River establishing churches in Wilmington, Tinicum and by the mid-17th century in Wicaco outside of what would become Philadelphia. That latter church, Gloria Dei, is Pennsylvania’s oldest congregation. The existing church was built between 1698 and 1700 and originally served a Swedish Lutheran congregation. The church today is part of the Episcopal Diocese and a national historic site. Archival records scanned as part of this project include vestry minutes, registers, financial, correspondence between the original Swedish parishes and the churches in Philadelphia, Delaware and New Jersey as well as their "miscellaneous records."
Holy Trinity parish was formed in 1788 at the initiative of German-speaking Catholics who wanted a separate place for worship. Once established, it was the first ethnic parish in the United States. The movement for a separate congregation began when the Germans bought a purchased their own burial ground in 1768. They would also begin keeping separate registers in 1784. The German Catholic Society was organized in 1787 to acquire land for a church as well as for the maintaining of a school. Construction started on the church in in 1788 and the first Mass was held in 1789. The exterior of the church has remained largely unchanged, while the interior was twice destroyed by fire, the first in 1860 and again in 1890.
Similar to Old St. Mary’s, Holy Trinity was incorporated with trustees, which led to a conflict with the bishops over the appointing of priests. This conflict would be resolved in 1859, when the original charter was replaced with a new one giving the Bishop more control. In 1797, the parish established America’s first Catholic orphanage for children left homeless by the yellow fever epidemics. The parish closed and combined with Old St. Mary’s in 2009.
A "Meeting for Sufferings" was established by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1756. This representative body, functioning roughly as an executive committee when the Yearly Meeting was not in session, consisted of approximately 25 "weighty" members appointed by the Yearly Meeting. Duties included oversight of Quaker publications, recording annual accounts of sufferings (primarily as a result of the Peace Testimony) and assistance to any affected individuals, collecting memorials concerning deceased Friends, and correspondence with the Meeting for Sufferings in London.
A monthly meeting at Philadelphia was established along with Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting in 10mo 1682/3. Quakers first met in homes, but the first Bank Meeting House – the “meeting on the Delaware side” – was built late in 1683 or early in 1684, located on the west side of Front Street, north of Mulberry (Arch). A second meeting house was erected in Centre Square by 1687, but this was infrequently used due to its distance from the rapidly developing area along the Delaware. Construction began on the Great Meeting House on the southwest corner of 2nd and Market in 1696. In 1772, this meeting was divided, resulting in two additional monthly meetings in Philadelphia: Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Northern District and Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Southern District. The original meeting was then sometimes referred to as the "Middle District."
Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Northern District was established in 1772 by Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting by a division of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia. Its territory included the south side of Mulberry [Arch] Street and northward including Northern Liberties and Friends on the west side of the Schuylkill River. This Monthly Meeting included the Friends who worshipped in the "new" Bank meeting house and, in 1789, at the meeting house in Keys Alley.
Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Southern District was established in 1772 by Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting by a division of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia. Its territory included the north side of Walnut Street and southward, including Moyamensing, Southwark and Passyunk. This Monthly Meeting included the Friends who worshipped in Pine Street (Hill Meeting) and at Fourth Street meeting houses.
Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia for the Western District was established in 1814 by Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting by a division of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia. The territory of this meeting was the city west of 8th Street, including the north side of Market Street west of 8th Street and the south side of Market Street west of 7th Street, and westward from 7th Street between Market and Walnut Streets.
Old Saint Joseph’s Church, founded by Jesuits in 1733, was the first Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia. Its present building on Willings Alley was built in 1839 and is unique in having no entrance visible from the street. Because of the anti- Catholic and anti- foreign sentiment in the 19th century, this configuration saved the church, both the present building and the original chapel, during Nativist riots.
The first congregation was founded by English Jesuit, Rev. Joseph Greaton, S.J. (1679-1753) Mass was said in a small chapel in his residence. Old St. Joseph’s sacramental records, among the earliest in the nation, record 8,850 baptisms before 1810. The religious tolerance of the Quaker city of Philadelphia allowed the church to grow from its small initial congregation through three centuries to its present diverse and thriving parish.
Rev. Felix Joseph Barbelin, S.J. was a pastor and educator who founded Saint Joseph’s College while continuing the work of Father Greaton. He was born in Lunéville, Lorraine, France, May 30, 1808 and died in Philadelphia, Pa., June 8, 1869. After attending French schools and seminaries, he became a Jesuit in Maryland in 1831, and was ordained on Sept. 22, 1835. Father Barbelin was an avid promoter of Catholic Education in Philadelphia.
With a Catholic population in the city of 136,000, there was no Catholic secondary school or college. Two buildings fronting on Willings Alley were purchased and in 1851 the clergy house was expanded to Willings Alley and increased to four floors to accommodate a college. Father Barbelin was the first president. Both St. Joseph’s College and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School were founded by Father Barbelin, in 1851.
Saint Joseph’s College became Saint Joseph’s University and now houses the archives of Old Saint Joseph’s Church in their library, in Archives and Special Collections. The collection consists of papers, books, objects, photographs, and other materials related to the history of the church, the Jesuits and Catholicism in Philadelphia and neighboring areas, including sacramental records dating back to 1758.
Old St. Mary’s is the second oldest Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia. Located at 248 S. Fourth Street, it was built in 1763 as a Sunday Church to be used by the parishioners of Old St. Joseph Church. In 1788, the Board of Trustees was incorporated to manage the temporal affairs of the church. After Philadelphia was made a diocese in 1808, Bishop Michael Egan selected Old St. Mary Church as the first Cathedral. Problems would arise between the trustees and the bishops over the appointment of priests. This would eventually lead to the Hogan schism and appeals to the Pope for intervention. After over 20 years of conflict, the third Bishop of Philadelphia, Francis Kenrick temporarily closed in the church 1831 and would later move the Cathedral to St. John the Evangelist in 1838.
The early congregation of 222 families was mostly Irish but with 30 German and 15 French. Some of the more distinguished early members were George Meade, great-grandfather to Civil War General George Gordon Meade, the victor at Gettysburg; Revolutionary War naval hero Commodore John Barry; Thomas Fitzsimmons, a signer of the Constitution; and Matthew Carey, a leading publisher in the Federalist era.
Both George Washington and John Adams attended Vespers there in October of 1774 and it was the site of the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence.
Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting was established in 11th month 1682/3; its first business sessions were held in 1683. In the beginning Friends met in the Bank meeting house four times a year, and included representatives from the Philadelphia area -- Philadelphia, Tacony (Oxford), and Schuylkill.
A general meeting for Friends in the Delaware Valley area was first convened at Burlington, New Jersey, in 1681. The first general meeting held in Philadelphia was in 1683, and in 1685, it was agreed that the meetings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania should be combined into one yearly meeting with alternate sessions at Philadelphia and at Burlington. Since 1760, all Philadelphia Yearly Meetings have been held at Philadelphia. At its greatest extent, its territory embraced eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Maryland and Virginia. In 1790, Warrington Quarterly Meeting and Fairfax Quarterly Meeting were transferred to Baltimore Yearly Meeting in exchange for the old meetings on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In 1819, several components of Western Quarterly Meeting were similarly transferred. The great Separation, which divided much of the Society of Friends across the country, began at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of 1827.
Among Quakers, a Yearly Meeting is an annual gathering, open to all members, and held over a period of several days. Each yearly meeting is autonomous. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the business of the meeting included the receipt of answers to a set of queries to the Quarterly Meetings, issuing and reading epistles to and from other yearly meetings, receiving reports, establishing discipline, and seeking God's guidance on larger regional or national issues. Minutes of the Yearly Meeting frequently summarized reports and other testimonies, but the original documents also form part of the records.
A minute establishing a Women's Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia is dated 1681; the first recorded minutes begin in 1691. Quaker men and women worshiped together and women appeared in ministry equal with their male counterparts, but business was generally conducted separately at all levels of Friends’ organization until the 19th century. In general, the business of a women’s yearly meeting was to care for the poor, to see to the education of children, and to communicate with other women’s meetings on matters of concern.
Presbyterians who favored the religious revivalism of George Whitefield organized a Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1743. Second was a “New Side” church as opposed to the “Old Side” First Presbyterian Church. For many years, the congregation worshipped in its building at Third and Arch streets, where the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. met in 1789. In 1837, the church moved to Seventh and Arch, and in 1872, to 21st and Walnut. In 1949, the congregation united with First Presbyterian Church.
Records scanned for this project include minutes, pew records, deeds, and burial records.
Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church of Philadelphia is the oldest Methodist Church in America. Located in Philadelphia, the Church was founded by Captain Thomas Webb and the Methodist Society of Philadelphia in 1769 for the purpose of practicing Methodist religion. In December of 1769, a Missionary of John Wesley, Joseph Pilmore, held the first prayer meeting at church followed later by Thomas Coke and Bishop Francis Asbury. Bishop Asbury was the first pastor of St. George’s United Methodist Church and ordained as many as 35 ministers in the Methodist faith within America during his travels.
Two African Americans, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, licensed as lay preachers of Methodism eventually left the church because of racial tensions and formed two new congregations. Richard Allen formed Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Absalom Jones turned to the Episcopal faith and established St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church.
St. George’s is known as “the church that moved the bridge” as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge was rerouted in the 1920s, so the Church would not be demolished by its construction. St. George’s records consist of conference letters, account books, baptism, death, and marriage records as well as Journals, Diaries, etc.
In 1760 a group of congregants from Christ Church, supporters of the Rev. William Macclanachan, an Anglican minister of evangelical leanings, formed a new church, seceded from Christ Church. They drafted articles of agreement for a new church St. Paul’s and promptly set about raising funds to construct it. Built on Third Street, below Walnut, St. Paul’s opened for services in 1762 and remained an active congregation throughout the nineteenth century. The Church’s building still stands, now home to Episcopal Community Services. St. Paul’s records, housed at the Episcopal Diocesan Archives include vestry minutes, baptismal, marriage and burial records as well as some financial records.
In 1758 the vestry of Christ Church authorized the construction of a new chapel at Third & Pine Streets to accommodate its members living in the southern section of the city. St. Peter's Church, located at the corner of Third & Pine Streets, and Christ Church shared the same vestry, ministers, and records and until they formally separated in 1832 were known as the United Churches of Christ Church & St. Peter's. The formal separation agreement stipulated that records created prior to 1832 were to be maintained by Christ Church so researchers looking for pre 1832 information should check the Christ Church collections. Records created after 1832 were maintained by St. Peter's. Scanned for this project are minutes, pew rents and registers.
Third Presbyterian Church began in 1761 as an extension of First Presbyterian Church, located in a house at Second and South streets. In 1768, the congregation of Third Church moved into their new building at 4th and Pine streets. The church called George Duffield as their new pastor in 1771, without the concurrence of First Church. The resulting rift cemented the split between First and Third. The congregation still worships at 4th and Pine today although the building has been extensively renovated since colonial times. The church is popularly known as “Old Pine” while its official name is Third, Scots and Mariners Presbyterian Church, reflecting two of the mergers that comprise the continuing church.
Records scanned for this project include trustees minutes and pew records.