St. Matthew’s AME Zion Church

Sewickley Black History Tour

St. Matthew’s AME Zion Church

Sewickley, Pennsylvania 15143, United States

Created By: Sweetwater Center for the Arts


St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion Church
345 Thorn Street, Sewickley

The oldest African American church in Sewickley, St. Matthews African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church began as a mission with six members in 1857. The Rev. Daniel B. Matthews initially held services in a log cabin on Centennial Avenue, then on Walnut Street, before this plot of land was purchased through community donations in 1868 and a small frame structure built. In the 1880s a house was donated and moved to this location for use as a parsonage. Then in 1911 the original frame church was moved to 411 Walnut Street and work began on building the present brick church you see today, which was dedicated on March 3, 1912. During its early years as a mission and through the civil war, the church served as an operator on the underground railroad. Church members and other abolitionists often posed as hunters bringing food and supplies to fleeing slaves in game bags. They aided as much as they could for the long journey north or helped newly freed people settle in the area. St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion church is as integral to the community today as it was during its founding, offering ministry, safety, solace, and joy in community for 163 years. Today the congregation is led by Reverend William Rankin.

Black History of the Time (1857-present)
At this time in America, slavery was still practiced widely throughout the southern states. It began over 400 years ago and did not end as a legal institution until the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865. And indeed, the first African Americans in Sewickley arrived as slaves, servants, and freed slaves. Many Pennsylvania slave owners freed their slaves in the two decades after the revolutionary war, pushed by the state’s Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery passed in 1780. The large Quaker population, along with others who moved to abolitionism by their religious beliefs, and the lessened economic need in the region, were the foundation of a movement in the state toward ending slavery. The last record of a person held as a slave in Pennsylvania was in 1847. By the mid-1800s, Pennsylvania became a state with an established free African American community. Black activists, along with Quakers and other white abolitionists, organized against slavery, distributed anti-slavery pamphlets, and contributed to the operations of the Underground Railroad. Pennsylvania became known as a welcome relocation state for freed slaves, but the largest groups who fled through the Underground Railroad settled in Canada. The numbers are unknown, but maybe as many as 100,000 enslaved people found their freedom through the Underground Railroad.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Sewickley Black History Tour


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