Historical Markers
African Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church Historical Marker
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African Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
4th & Brown Streets, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
June 2, 1990

Behind the Marker

The Vigilance Committee met at the African Zoar Methodist Church (center building) in the 1830s to plan their anti-slavery activities.
African Zoar Methodist Church (center building), Philadelphia, PA, circa 1870....
Zoar was more than just "active" in Philadelphia's Underground Railroad; it provided the movement its first home. Founded in 1794, members chose the name Zoar, which means good will in Hebrew, because the church sought to provide a place of shelter to African American Methodists for worship. From 1796, when they purchased property and constructed their first building to the present, African Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church has been a strong community presence in North Philadelphia.

A group of city residents, calling themselves the "Vigilant Committee," met in the church during the late 1830s, openly announced their intentions, and kept careful records of their efforts.

Vigilance committees were devices used by abolitionists in the 1830s to help make it easier for escaped slaves to pass through the North. They claimed to exist to defend free blacks from kidnapping, but they really focused on assisting fugitives. Usually connected to black churches or abolitionist newspapers, they were like typical committees in many ways, with officers, minutes of proceedings, and lots of discussion about fundraising. Voting members of Philadelphia's committee had to contribute 75 cents annually.

Racist mobs in Philadelphia eventually drove the Vigilance Committee out of business in the late 1840s, but they returned in the decade before the Civil War at a different location and with new, more aggressive leadership.
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