Emanuel A.M.E. Church is the oldest church of any black denomination in the city of Portsmouth, and the second oldest church building in Portsmouth. The congregation dates to 1772, three years before the American Revolution. The African Society met independently until Nat Turner's insurrection in 1831; worshipped with white Methodists for three years; then met under white supervision until 1864. Members occupied a Methodist church on Glasgow Street until it burned in 1856. Slaves and Free Blacks provided most of the funds and labor to construct the church in its present location in 1857.
Much of the architectural detail of the church was constructed by hand, including the 10 chiseled posts that support the gallery, which is surrounded by a wrought iron rail. The wooden pews were built to fit together without the benefit of nails or glue. There is still a small entrance under the sanctuary that leads to a former stop on the Underground Railroad.
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637 North Street