Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church / Davis Chapel

Historical Significance

Davis Chapel, now Roberts Memorial United Church, provided a safe haven for free and enslaved blacks during a period of growing racial tension in the predominantly white Methodist Episcopal church. The spiritual home of many prominent business owners and civic leaders, it was founded in 1830 to accommodate the large black membership of Trinity Methodist Church. Forced to abandon their first building site by white neighbors alarmed over the 1831 Nat Turner slave revolt, church members chose a new site between two black neighborhoods, the Bottoms and Hayti. They named the church completed there in 1834 after their white pastor, the Rev. Charles A. Davis.

While white congregations generally required their black successors to have white ministers, at the time, blacks were allowed to operate their own schools in the District of Columbia. Davis Chapel members organized a Sabbath school and a secular school, both of which met at the church until Alexandria retroceded to Virginia in 1847. Virginia law prohibited blacks from attending school, prevented more than five blacks from meeting in a group of any kind, and imposed a 10 p.m. curfew.

One of only two black churches operating in Alexandria between 1834 and 1846, Davis Chapel drew members from across the city and as far away as Maryland. Church members signaled their distaste for the racial restrictions and for the national denomination's failure to oppose slavery with a name change. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal church split over the issue of slavery, and the Rev. Davis aligned himself with the pro-slavery Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In response, members voted to change the name of the church to Roberts Memorial in honor of deceased Bishop Robert Richford Roberts, a white circuit preacher at Trinity Methodist in the 1810s remembered for his moving sermons.

Following the war, the school reopened as Roberts Chapel, and in 1864 the church organized the first conference for African-Americans in the Methodist church. In 1894 an extensive remodeling and expansion of the original brick Gothic Revival church provided a new facade, entrance, narthex, and stained-glass windows.

The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. 

Physical Description

The Church is a large, two story brick structure with a standing seam painted metal roof. The sanctuary is a vernacular basilica plan with a raised platform at the east end that contains the organ, choir and lectern.

Geographical and Contact Information

606-A South Washington Street
Alexandria, Virginia
22314
Phone: 804-836-7332

Images

Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church

Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church

Church Exterior | Source: Coutesy Virginia Dept. Historic Resources View File Details Page

Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church

Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church

Church Interior | Source: Coutesy Virginia Dept. Historic Resources View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church / Davis Chapel,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed June 27, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/366.

Related Tour

Subjects

Site Type navigation:  Previous | Site Type Info | Next

Share this Site