Family Founders of Queen Anne’s Black Churches 150 Years Ago

In 1872, six years after the close of the Civil War, and 8 years after the abolishment of slavery in the State of Maryland, a community of African Americans in Queen Anne’s County made a remarkable transaction that lead to the founding of one of the county’s oldest African Methodist Episcopal churches. Many of these men and women, trustees and grantors, were family intertwined by marriage and blood, and also by the recent bonds of enslavement.

Out of the ashes of the war arose Reconstruction, and African Americans became busy establishing the institutions that would serve as bedrock foundations for the spiritual life, education, and economy of their community for generations to come. It was a time of great contrast. W. P. S. Pinchback became the first African American Governor of a state (Louisiana). Morgan State University opened its doors in Baltimore. President Ulysses Grant won re-election but restored the full rights of Confederate soldiers. All this happened against a tidal wave of black enfranchisement and growth.

The Appeal of Methodism

The black Episcopal Methodists of the Eastern Shore, Kent and Queen Anne’s County (QAC) began numerous schools and churches. While it is unclear where the early black community of my ancestors worshipped (between Sudlersville and Crumpton) between 1864 and 1872, it was likely that enslaved and free people of color previously worshipped in white churches like Dudley’s Chapel built around 1873. Relegated to sit in the upper pews in the “colored” section listening to white preachers, my ancestors and other black Methodists eventually became desirous of their own places of worship and preachers.

African Americans free and enslaved were drawn to Methodism because the denomination treated blacks differently, even calling for the abolishment of slavery and casting out of white members who enslaved blacks. In 1785 the Methodist discipline denied membership to slaveholders (although it was not followed closely), and itinerant preachers actively converted blacks through the early 1800s. It’s safe to say my early Maryland Eastern Shore ancestors (black and white) were Methodists. My third great grandfather Asbury Johnson lived in Queen Anne’s County near Double Creek and is almost certainly named for Francis Asbury, the methodist preacher who toured the area extensively with other circuit riders in the late 1700s. Bishop Francis Asbury ordained Richard Allen a deacon in 1799 and Allen went on to found the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1816.

“The first truly independent black denomination, the Union Church of Africans, was founded in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1813 by Peter Spencer, who was born a slave in Kent County in 1782. In the mid-1860’s Spencer’s church split into two rival denominations, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. The most successful move for independence, headed by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, led to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in 1816.”

Historic African American Churches of Kent County, Kent County Historical Society, 2019.

In 1864 the new Delaware Conference began with about 5,000 church members and 34 churches, with black clergy members in the Episcopal Church from New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland. Black Methodists promoted education, training teachers and starting schools. Preachers taught, and teachers preached. Thousands of formerly enslaved and free blacks shifted from participating in predominately white churches with white elders, to black churches with black clergy.

“Black local preachers were recruited to serve their congregations, supervised by white elders and annual conferences. Eventually, an ongoing Conference of Colored Local Preachers was organized at Zoar M.E. Church in Philadelphia in 1857 under Bishop Levi Scott.

A Brief History of the Former Delaware Conference

Mt. Pleasant UMC (Pondtown)

An 1877 map of QAC District 2 (Sudlersville, Church Hill, Crumpton) shows at least one “colored church” on the road between Crumpton and Sudlersville next to “School No.2” On the street are the homes of William D. Tarbutton (a justice of the peace), the Cooper brothers (James and John), A. Brooks, and a second school on the crossroads to Sudlersville “School No. 8”. Down Pondtown Road can be found the Doman and Milburn families. All would be instrumental in founding Mt. Pleasant. Nearby are three white Methodist Episcopal Churches including Dudley’s Chapel. The white Goodhand, Tarbutton, and Roberts families are living side-by-side their formerly enslaved who are now free farmers, millers, and even seamen on the nearby Chester River. At this time, my 2nd great-grandfather Walter “Wallis” Johnson is living in Crumpton as a laborer. He would go on to marry my 2nd great-grandmother Sarah Catherine Milbourn, daughter of James Milbourn and Harriet Ann Chase, my 3rd great-grandparents. Emory and Charlotte Chase, my 4th great-grandparents also lived in Pond Town, though I have found no record for their precise dwelling.

Mt. Pleasant UMC, a few miles south of Crumpton, is listed as “Col’d Church” between the Tarbutton and Cooper homes in this 1877 Mam of Queen Anne’s County.

Emory Chase Senior, my fourth great-grandfather (a previously free man of color and blacksmith), and my third great-grandfather James Milbourn (formerly enslaved) along with several other trustees of the first African Methodist Episcopal church in Pond Town purchased land from two black farming families, Thomas and Mary Gafford, and William and Eliza Holliday. The trustees include George Brown and Joseph Doman, husbands to my third great aunts, Emeline Johnson and Juliette Johnson, respectively. Emeline and Juliette were the daughters of Asbury Johnson (born free about 1823 and died before the church’s founding in 1863). The trustees sought to site and build their church and cemetery next to the Public School on the road to Crumpton. For the sum of $30 they obtained “seventeen parcels” of land on September 27, precisely 147 years ago, making the current church Mt. Pleasant at 1701 Dudley Corner Rd, nearly 150 years old. Mt. Pleasant is now under the United Methodist Church Charge with locations at Millington and Pond Town). 

The entrance to Mt. Pleasant UMC on Dudley Corners Road.

TRANSCRIPT OF DEED

This Deed made this twenty-seventh day of September in the year one thousand and eight hundred and seventy-two by Thomas Gafford and Mary Gafford his wife, and William Holliday (colored) and Eliza Holliday his wife all of Queen Anne’s County, State of Maryland. Witnesseth that in consideration of the sum of thirty dollars, the receipt hereof is hereby acknowledged, the said Thomas Gafford and Marry Gafford and William Holliday and Eliza Holliday do grant unto Emory Chase Snr., Suel Books, James Cooper, Joseph Doman, John H. Cooper, James Milbourn, George Woodland, and George Brown (colored) all of Queen Anne’s County, State of Maryland (these parties being the Trustees of M.E. African Church at Pond Town) all that contains lot of land in the Second Election District of Queen Anne’s County, state aforesaid, lying on the main road leading from Crumpton to Pond Town adjoining lands of Mrs. Matilda Fowler, Mary Gafford, Reuben Newcomb, and the Pond Town Public School house lot and which may be better known by the following meters and bounds, courses and distances. Viz: Beginning at a Stone on the said main Road at the corner of said School House Lot and running thence South ten degrees west four rods and twenty one links to a Large Stone on same road, thence South eighty six and a half degrees west xxx rods and twenty one links to a Large tree, thence North ten degrees east six rods and twenty links to Reuben Newcomb’s line, thence along and with said Newcomb’s line and the line of said School House Lot South eighty-seven and a half degrees east eighteen Rods and twelve links to the place of Beginning, containing two rods and Seventeen parcels of Land, more or less in the Simple. And the said Thomas Gafford and William Holliday together with their wives do hereby covenant that they will defend the same from all claims and encumbrances that may be brought against it. Witness our hands and Seals the day and date above written.
Test: William D. Tarbutton
Thomas Gafford, seal
Mary Gafford, seal
William Holliday, seal
Eliza Holliday, seal

State of Maryland, Queen Anne’s County, to wit:
I hereby certify that on this twenty seventh of September in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy two, before the subscriber a Justice of the Peace for said County, personally appeared Thomas Gafford (colored) and Mary Gafford his wife and WM. Holliday and Eliza Holliday his wife and did each acknowledged the aforegoing Deed to be true respective acts. Acknowledged before me…William D. Tarbutton J. P. 

The following trustees are listed below with further information from my research. 

  • Emory Chase Snr. b. 1810 – 1880 (4th GGF)
  • Suel (Samuel) Brooks
  • James Cooper (brother of John Cooper, freedom papers testified to in 1857 by Col. Lemuel Roberts who on the same day testified on my 3rd GGF Asbury Johnson’s “Certificate of Freedom”)
  • Joseph Doman II or III b. 1817 or 1841 (father-in-law of 3rd great aunt, or husband of the 3rd great aunt Juliette Johnson)
  • John H. Cooper (brother of James Cooper, freedom papers testified to in 1857 by Col. Lemuel Roberts who on the same day testified on my 3rd GGF Asbury Johnson’s “Certificate of Freedom”)
  • James Milbourn b. 1820 (3rd GGF married to Henrietta Chase, my 3rd GGM, daughter of Emory Chase Snr.)
  • George Woodland (may have been related to Charles Woodland of Kent County who founded other M.E. churches around the same time, namely Mt. Pleasant UMC in Fairlee in the 1880s)
Pond Town Colored School erected in 1902, moved to Mt. Pleasant Church grounds in 1926, demolished in 1927.

While whites attended School No. 2, the closest “colored school” was in Beaverdam, several miles to the south according to the 1877 map. Anectdotes suggest a closer colored school existed on the crossroads of Sudlersville Road and Route 290. By 1926, Mt. Pleasant had purchased and placed a colored school on its property.

“Originally built in 1902 at a different location, the one-room schoolhouse was first purchased by Queen Anne’s County Public Schools as an all-white school. It was moved to the northern part of Queen Anne’s County and eventually became Pondtown Colored School in 1926. The school closed in the mid-1950s. In 1956, Mt. Pleasant Church purchased it from the school board for $800. Segregation ended in Queen Anne’s County in 1967. Over the years, the old Pondtown school building fell into disrepair. The Crumpton Volunteer Fire Department was asked to dispose of the building. They burned it to the ground Aug. 6, 2017.”

Former Pond Town School Demolished, MyEasternShore.com

John Wesley Methodist (Millington)

Other area ancestors were involved in the founding of churches in Queen Anne’s County and adjacent Kent County around the same period. The congregation of John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church in Millington met as early as 1855, under the supervision of white Methodists at Asbury Church. Research shows that the deed for the property purchased in 1863 was processed on December 18, 1877, and the among the trustees listed was Joseph Jeffers, the father-in-law of my 4th great aunt, Mary Jane Chase, the daughter of Emory Chase Snr.

Jeffers Chapel (Sagefield), Boardley AME (Pondtown)

The predominately black Jeffers Chapel of Sagefield in Queen Anne’s County, a small chapel on the crossroads to Sudersville and around the corner from Dudley’s Chapel was presumably built by a QAC ancestor as well in 1894. Johnson’s were also founding members of the Boardley AME Church in Pondtown at the founding in 1903. Both Jeffers Chapel and Boardley AME are still active churches serving their communities today, over a hundred and ten years later.

Jeffers Chapel, founded in 1894.

Price’s Chapel (Sudersville)

On a recent research trip to Sudlersville, I found yet another family church. Working with local historian and librarian Lucille Kuntz, we visited Price’s Chapel to explore a lead on a tombstone. The Historical Society had indexed a handful of tombstones at the cemetery behind Price’s Chapel in Sudlersville. One tombstone read “Sarah A Johnson, wife of Asbury Johnson.”

Upon locating the actual tombstone, we learned it read further: “Died May 2st 1921, age 49 years.” Through followup research I learned more: Sarah Annie Brooks, born 1872 in Sudlersville, died 1921 in Chester, Pennsylvania as Sarah A. Johnson. Sarah was married to my 3rd great-grandfather’s grandson Asbury Johnson. Asbury was descended from Lucy Johnson and Isaac Johnson. Lucy was the daughter of my 3rd great grandfather Asbury. Her son, Asbury moved to Chester between 1880 and 1900. Upon examining Sarah Annie Brook’s death certificate it revealed she was removed for burial to Sudlersville.

Tombstone of Sarah Johnson, wife of Asbury Johnson, grandson of Asbury Johnson and Henrietta Johnson, my 3rd great-grandparents.

In 1824, a free black man, James Price, was sold land by Samuel and Hannah Spry (QAC deed book T. M. No. 3 Pg 415). Spry’s widow Hannah also sold land to Aaron Johnson, my 4th great-grandfather. As we saw in the 1877 map, it was indeed a “colored” Methodist church and cemetery, with a J. Price living nearby in 1870. Furthermore, an “E. Brooks” is found living across the street on the map from J. Price. Sarah Annie Brook’s father was Eli Brooks. Lucille and I encountered other Brooks headstones in the Price Chapel cemetery so I can only conclude some Johnsons, Brooks, and Price family worshipped at Price’s Chapel.

Sources.