Seneca Village was a stable
community. Many people lived in the village for decades, raising
their children and going to church. There were three churches in
the community: the African Union Methodist Church, the African Methodist
Episcopal Zion Church Branch Militant, and All Angels' Church. There
were also cemeteries, a school, and, in 1853, plans to build a second
Union Methodist Church
The African Union Methodist
Church was the oldest church in Seneca Village, but very little
is known about it. In 1837, William Mathews, the deacon, purchased
land on 85th Street for himself and for the church. The congregation
was composed of African Americans, and Colored School #3 was located
in the church's basement.
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Cemeteries
The first African
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New York City was chartered
(officially recognized) in 1801. A church was built at Church and
Leonard Streets, and burial vaults were built in the churchyard.
is a portrait of the Rev. Richard Allen, founder of the AME Zion
In 1807, the Common Council
(the city government), fearing that the burial sites--which by that
time was located in the very congested downtown area--contributed
to the rise in yellow fever epidemics and other diseases, ordered
AME Zion not to bury any more people in the graveyard. The trustees
of AME Zion asked for burial space elsewhere in the city. The Common
Council granted temporary space in the Potter's Field located in
the Parade Grounds of Washington Square. Once the church had exhausted
this burial space, it purchased land in Seneca Village for burials.
The AME Zion Church would eventually have at least two, and possibly
three, large burial sites in Seneca Village between 85th and 86th
The church buried New York
City African Americans in Seneca Village until 1852, when a law
prohibiting burials south of 86th Street was enacted. The AME Zion
Church then began to bury its dead in the Cypress Hills Cemetery
The sister church of the
AME Zion Church today is known as Mother AME Zion and is located
on 137th Street in Harlem, New York City. The church recently celebrated
its bicentennial (200th anniversary).
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Branch Militant
Although church trustees
had lived in Seneca Village since it was founded and the church
had long buried its dead there, AME Zion did not build a church
in Seneca Village until 1853. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church Branch Militant, a branch of the AME Zion Church, laid the
cornerstone for a new church August 4, 1853. The new church would
accommodate 100 congregants, and there were also plans for a school
in the basement.
newspapers announced the laying of the cornerstone.
The cornerstone was like
a time capsule, filled with items documenting the church's history.
It included a copy of the Tribune, a hymnal, a Bible, the
names of the trustees of the original AME Zion Church, and other
items. The church accommodated 100 African American congregants
in its weekly services. This church also had plans to build school
in the basement.
All Angels' Church began
as a missionary effort among the clergy of St. Michael's, an Episcopalian
church at Broadway and 99th Street, in 1846. In 1849, the rector,
Thomas McClure Peters, opened a wooden church built on village land
donated by four women. About one-third of the congregation was white
and mostly German; the rest were African American. All Angels' also
had a cemetery.
According to the parish
register, which recorded special events that took place in the church
(such as baptisms, weddings, and burials), a large number of people--especially
babies--were buried in 1848 and 1850. That was when a cholera epidemic
hit the city.
In response to the restrictions
on burials in Manhattan below 86th Street, All Angels' began to
bury its dead in the St. Michael's cemetery in Newtown, Long Island,
today known as Astoria, Queens.
All Angels built a new
church building in 1859.
Colored School #3 was housed
in the basement of the African Union Methodist Church. The school
was established to educate African American children from Seneca
Village. Catherine Thompson, 17 years old, was the teacher and lived
in the village. A description of the school appears in a appeal
for better schools for African Americans written by the New York
Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children--an
African American organization that made a presentation to a special
commission appointed by the governor in 1857 to investigate the
city's schools: "c. School #3 for colored children, in Yorkville,
is an old building, is well attended, and deserves, in connection
with School house No. 4, in Harlem, a new building between the present