African Methodist Episcopal Church
275 Thames Street
This is the site of the first church of the Black community in London, Upper Canada (now Ontario). This church, however, existed in a much wider historical context.
All European empires which began their expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used some kind of slavery in their imperial territories, with most slaves shipped from the west coast of Africa. The British Empire shipped hundreds of thousands of slaves to labour in the British American colonies.
The first legislature of Upper Canada, under Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, passed a statute on July 9, 1793, that ended the importation of further slaves into the province. The abolition of slavery throughout the Empire received Royal Assent from King William IV on August 28, 1833 , after passage by the Imperial Parliament.
Subsequently, Upper Canada became a sanctuary for Black slaves from the U.S., and the London area had a sizeable colony of Black refugees by the 1840s.
In 1847, land was bought for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel). It became the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856.
It is believed that the American orator and Harper’s Ferry revolt leader John Brown spoke at the church in the summer of 1858, a gathering to which only those who knew the password were admitted. Reports suggest that Brown’s plan was the formation of a Black military company which would join with other units in St. Catharines, Chatham, and Windsor to aid in his planned revolution. This objective was never realized.
In 1869, the congregation moved to Grey Street where it built a new church, Beth Emmanuel, which remains today at No. 430. The congregation’s tenure here is a testament to the importance of religion to Black settlers and the deep faith which gave them hope during a long period of oppression.
Plaque installed August 11, 1986.