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 school.

The African 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.

African 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.

This is a portrait of the Rev. Richard Allen, founder of the AME Zion Church.

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 Streets.

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 in Brooklyn.

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).

The African 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.

The 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

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 localities."

 

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