Gillfield Baptist Church

Historical Significance

The Gillfield Baptist Church is the second oldest African-American church in Petersburg and one of the oldest in the country. Its record book is one of the oldest, preserved handwritten record books in an American black church. The congregation was established in 1786 within the Davenport Church of Prince George County. In 1797, it was recognized as an autonomous institution with an integrated congregation. In 1800, the African American portion of the Davenport Church moved to Pocahontas Island and was renamed the Sandy Beach Church.

In 1818, the remaining Petersburg church members purchased the lot on Perry Street in Gillfield, where they built the first of four successive churches. During this period the congregation was integrated, but many of the pastors were white, despite the large and growing Free Black membership within the church. The first postbellum, African-American minister was Reverend Henry Williams (1831-1900), appointed in 1865. He served as a pastor until his death and was an advocate for political and educational reform during Reconstruction. The Gillfield Baptist Church was used for Civil Rights meetings during the 1950's and 1960's. In 1970 the church broke with tradition and ordained several female deacons.

Physical Description

The current, standing church was rebuilt between 1874 and 1879 at 209 Perry Street in the Romanesque Revival style. Three earlier buildings are no longer standing.

Geographical and Contact Information

209 Perry Street
Petersburg, VA.
23803
Phone: 804-732-3565

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Gillfield Baptist Church,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed October 22, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/171.

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