Historic Plaque to Mark the 200th Anniversary of Wilmington's Mother UAME Church Founded in 1813 by Peter Spencer

Posted on  06/05/2014 2:28 pm

Council President Gregory, At-Large Council Member Michael Brown, Mayor Williams and State Senator Marshall Will Join Church Leaders to Commemorate a Historic Milestone

Mother UAME Church at 701 East 5th Street, one of the two Spencer Churches or Union Churches founded in 1813 by Peter Spencer as the first independent black religious denomination in the United States, celebrated its 200th anniversary in September of 2013. Now, a historic plaque will be presented to the church so that future generations remember the importance of the church in relation to the history of African Americans.

On Tuesday, June 10 at Noon, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, At-Large Council Member Michael A. Brown, Sr., Mayor Dennis P. Williams and Delaware State Senator Robert Marshall will join church leaders and parishioners for a plaque presentation ceremony officially commemorating the historic milestone of the church.

The public and media are invited to attend the event which Council Member Brown helped to arrange and will host. Funding for the historic plaque was provided by Senator Marshall.

The wording on the plaque, which will be placed outside the front entrance to the church, is as follows:

"Union Church"
September, 1813-September, 2013
Peter Spencer's Movement
Celebrating 200 Years

Reverend Dr. Etta Robertson, Pastor of Mother UAME Church, provided the following history of the church and of its founder Peter Spencer. Reverend Dr. Robertson said every opportunity to celebrate the history of the church is an opportunity for more citizens, especially children, to learn an important part of Wilmington, national and world history.

Historical Information

Peter Spencer was a devoted family man, father figure and friend to numerous blacks in Wilmington. The dream of Peter Spencer, founder of the Union Church continues today. Few men left behind the legacy that Peter Spencer did through the contributions made to his church, his people and his community. Peter Spencer was born a slave in 1782 and became a free man when his owner died. He migrated to Wilmington and spent the rest of his life there. He attended private school and learned to read and write. He studied law in order to help the African-American community of Wilmington. He was known as "Father Spencer." Although Spencer distinguished himself as an astute businessman, educator and mechanic, he is best known for his work as a church founder and organizer. In 1813, after rejecting white clerical domination and control, Father Spencer established, in Wilmington, the first independent black church denomination- The Union Church of Africans-, presently known-as the African Union Methodist Protestant(AUMP) and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church(UAME).

Shortly after he arrived in Wilmington, Spencer joined the Asbury Methodist Church at 3rd and WaInut Streets in Wilmington. This church had had African-American members since its founding, but the African-American members could not become officers or ministers and they experienced discrimination and humiliation in the church. In 1805, after racial tensions in the church became too much to bear, Spencer led approximately 40 African-American members out of Asbury to form Ezion which was partly independent because it had its own board of trustees. Ezion, however, still looked to Ashbury to choose its pastor because Ezion could not have an African-American minister. In 1812 when Asbury church appointed a pastor whom the church opposed, Spencer led the congregation out of Asbury and out of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

By 1813, the group had purchased a lot, built a church and incorporated as the Union Church of African members. Six of the original forty members were women. Spencer's denomination was one of the first to assert that women could and should be preachers. The church grew quickly and by the time of Spencer's death, the African Union Church had 31 congregations operating in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Peter Spencer empowered African-Americans through education, self governance, solidarity and commonality of purpose. He said every African Union Church should maintain a school. He said knowledge meant power, which he taught over and over. He also instilled the thought that African-Americans become good business people, and save their money and invest in land and real estate.

Peter Spencer left a legacy of high ideas and devotion. In keeping with his mission as a leader of his people Spencer engaged in a host of pro-black activities including his support of the Underground Railroad in Delaware under the direction of station master Thomas Garrett. It is presumed that Peter Spencer's church was involved in the network to assist runaway slaves. During the "August Quarterly," slaves used the Mother Church as the starting point for escape to a variety of points to the north in the United States.

Spencer inaugurated the tradition of establishing the last Sunday in August as a time for a general reunion and religious revival which became popularly known as "August Quarterly" or the day of jubilation. August Quarterly has openly dealt with matters relating to race, culture, religion, social and political in order to keep alive all parts of the African Culture.

Peter Spencer died on July 25, 1843 in Wilmington. His final words were, "The battle is fought and the victory is won.”