Pilgrim Baptist Church, a first for Black Minnesota


Pilgrim Baptist Church
Date: 
Thu, 1866-11-15

On this date in 1866, Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, MN, was formally organized with its first service.

Rev. Robert Hickman and others were primarily responsible for this spiritual endeavor. That day a baptismal service on the shores of the Mississippi River was held, climaxing three long years of hard effort. From the onset, it was not an easy task for the Founders of Pilgrim. Their story began in 1863, with a group of brave Black men, women, and children from Missouri who traveled North in search of work and a new way of life. Accounts on how this group came to Minnesota are mixed but not contradictory.

One story states that a group of Negroes escaped from Boone County, MO, received protection by Union forces and aid by the Underground Railroad. They were smuggled aboard the steamer "War Eagle" and taken north. These Blacks referred to themselves as "Pilgrims,” and Hickman was among them.

Once settled, his prayer group held services in their homes in downtown St. Paul. Finally in November 1863, they succeeded in renting the lodge room of the God Temple in the Concert Hall Building on Third Street. Hickman sought and received mission status from the First Baptist Church of St. Paul in January 1864. Between 1864 and 1866, the Black parishioners continued to worship separately under Hickman's direction.

The church was also established with help from the Ladies' Aid Society to serve the Black community of St. Paul. The charter members of Pilgrim were the Rev. and Mrs. Hickman, Fielding Combs, Henry Moffitt, John Trotter, Giles Crenshaw, and members of their families. This group requested the trustees of First Baptist to intercede and purchase in trust a lot costing $200.00 on which they would build Pilgrim Baptist Church. The first building was on a lot located on Sibley near Morris Street downtown. It was built with stone and wood, with a seating capacity of 300, for $2400, including the lot. A portion of the white First Baptist Church of St. Anthony, Minneapolis, which was being razed, was used in the construction.

The first two ministers, William Norris (1866-1868) and Andrew Torbert (1868-1877) were white. Robert Hickman, the leader and natural candidate for the position of minister, was not chosen. During this time, his role was clerk of the congregation and he attended yearly denominational meetings. He was eventually licensed to preach in 1874 and ordained in 1875.

When Hickman became the congregation’s official minister in 1878, its white ministry ended. Pilgrim Baptist Church of St. Paul is one of the oldest African-American Churches in Minnesota. The Reverend Charles Gill, Jr. is the current pastor.

Reference:
Pilgrim Baptist Church,
722 Central Avenue,
St. Paul, MN 55104, 651 227 3220

Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906

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