The First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia, founded in 1809, has been without a pastor for nearly a year, ever since Reverend James Underdew (or Underdue) stepped down to serve as a chaplain in the Union Army. A local black abolitionist, Underdew had served as pastor from 1859 to 1863. Now, he is serving in the 39th United States Colored Troops.
Replacing Underdew this month is the Reverend Theodore D. Miller, a former Episcopalian missionary to Sierra Leone.
The war appears to be drawing closer to a conclusion of some sort, a conclusion which will apparently involve the liberation of remaining black slaves. Underdue’s service in the 39th USCT is helping the cause of the North and abolitionists, while Miller’s pastorate proves to be a productive one for the remainder of the war and three decades thereafter.
Initially serving a congregation of 240 members, Miller quickly grows the church. In 1867 a new sanctuary is constructed. By the time of his death in 1897, the church has grown to 12,000 members and is one of the largest Baptist churches in America, as well as one of the nation’s most influential black Baptist congregations.
The congregation remains a vibrant, thriving and influential congregation in the 21st century.
Sources: George Stephens, Donald Yacovone, editors, A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier’s Civil War, University of Illinois, 1998, p. 4 (link); “History,” The First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia (link)