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African Methodist Episcopal Church

275 Thames Street

photograph of a house that used to be the church

This is the site of the first church of the Black Community in London, Upper Canada (now Ontario). 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 objective was to form a Black military company which would ultimately join with other companies in St. Catherines, Chatham, and Windsor to aid in his planned revolution. This objective was obviously never realized.However, this church existed in a much wider historical context. All of the European empires which began their expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used some kind of slavery in their imperial territories, with most slaves coming from the West Coast of Africa. The British Empire ultimately shipped hundreds of thousands of slaves to labour in the British American colonies. The first legislature of Upper Canada, under Lieutenantant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, passed a statute on July 9 1793, which 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. This area had a sizeable colony of Black refugees by the 1840s. In 1847, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel) was founded and built here. In 1856 it became the British Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1869, the congregation moved to Grey Street where it built a new church, "Beth Emmanuel", which remains today. The congregation's tenure here is a testament to the importance of religion to the Black slaves and the deep faith which gave them hope during a long period of oppression.