By Daniel Campbell, Ph.D.
In April 1807, Archibald Alexander became pastor at Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA. Alexander was sufficiently impressive to become Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in the same year.
Alexander, born in raised in Virginia, was aware of the incongruity of Americans proclaiming liberty while being a society based on slavery, and owned at least one slave himself. Alexander brought his slave, Daphne, with his family, to Philadelphia. Pennsylvania passed a gradual emancipation act in 1780, and Pennsylvanian law at that time freed slaves brought in from other states after they resided in the state for six months. Although Alexander did not formally free Daphne, he did recognize her new legal status. Daphne was married to John Boatman, a slave still in Virginia and probably not owned by the Alexander relatives there. Philadelphia Quakers raised money to free Boatman and bring him to Philadelphia. Boatman and Daphne worked for the Alexanders, but realized they could make more money elsewhere. Boatman became coachman for the Pennsylvania Governor, and, according to the Alexanders, Daphne “learned to entertain more lofty thoughts.” Unfortunately, Boatman deserted his wife and ended up in jail. Daphne became ill to an extent that couldn’t work and had to live in an almshouse. Two of Alexander’s sisters-in-law advised Daphne to return to service to the Virginia family, and Alexander advised Daphne that it meant she have to become a slave again. A half century after the event, Alexander’s descendants stated that Daphne reverted to slavery because of “the quiet and ease which she (had) enjoyed under nominal bondage.” Daphne version of the event doesn’t exist, but it is undoubtedly different, probably revealing the desperation of woman whose existence in an almshouse was so terrible that slavery seemed preferable. While Alexander may have had intellectual doubts about slavery, he himself was a slave owner who believed that blacks who wanted to support themselves would ultimately harm themselves, and that the “premature” abolition of slavery would damage both races.
Alexander helped organize an “Evangelical Society” to recruit volunteers to spread the Gospel among the poor, and one segment of society that interested Alexander was African Americans. Third Presbyterian was a few blocks from Mother Bethel of Richard Allen’s African Methodist Episcopal denomination. In the year that Alexander became Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, 1807, a Tennessee presbytery recommend licensing a black candidate, John Gloucester, a slave. Gloucester may have been in Tennessee in 1776, and early became a noted preacher. Alexander was instrumental in obtaining the slave owner’s permission for Gloucester to work in Philadelphia with Alexander’s evangelical work in the African American community. Alexander and other Presbyterian leaders eventually got the slave owner to free Gloucester, who would found the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA.
Gloucester began preaching in his home on Gaskill Street while waiting for his freedom and the funds for a church. The congregation quickly outgrew his home and the meetings moved outside to 7th & Bainbridge Streets (then known as Shippen Street), which became the location of the First African Presbyterian Church in 1811. Gloucester died 3 May 1822, “after a lingering illness.” he lived on 7th Street, “third door below South Street.” In 1816, according to Gloucester’s son, Rev. Jeremiah Gloucester, pastor of the FAPC, there were 12 “English” schools in the city with 500 “coloured children acquiring the elements of learning,” Jeremiah Gloucester was seeking contributions to Philadelphia’s Augustine Hall, the first seminary for African American youth. Augustine Hall was named after African bishop, Augustine of Hippo.