In Presbyterianism, a distinction is typically made between preachers who are "licensed" and those who are "ordained." One who is licensed has permission to preach regularly in a particular geographic area, but is not considered an officer of the church. One who is ordained has greater privileges, such as full membership, including voting rights, in a presbytery.

In the antebellum South, Presbyterians licensed several African American preachers, like John Chavis. He preached in a variety of congregations, but, apparently due to his race, was never ordained.

Today, of course, there are many ordained Black pastors in the various American Presbyterian denominations. So my question is, when was the first African American ordained by one of them?

I'm especially interested to know if the first such ordination took place prior to or during the war, perhaps by the anti-slavery New School Presbyterians in the North.

1 Answer 1


You are correct that John Chavis, although he is reported to have been the first college-educated Black/African in America, was never ordained. He was licenced to minister.

It appears that John Gloucester, the founder of the first African American Presbyterian Church in the US, was the first African American Presbyterian ordained. His ordination was on April 13, 1810, in Tennessee, after college level studies around the turn of the century, followed by the founding of the first African American Presbyterian church in 1807, a short assignment in North Carolina, and his return to his Philadelphia young church. As he was licensed only to preach, and not lead, he was allowed to return to Tennessee to complete his required studies for ordination.

My source for research was BlackPast.org. John Gloucester's full story is detailed here.

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