north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      Prior to 1865 many free blacks and slaves worshipped at Wilmington’s Front Street Methodist Church. During the federal occupation of Wilmington in 1865, the Reverend W. H. Hunter, a black chaplain with the Union troops, was appointed as agent for St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, a new congregation organized by 642 former members of Front Street Methodist. The first chapel was a simple wooden structure on Red Cross Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. It was adjacent to land that had been used as a cemetery for blacks since the eighteenth century. Reverend James A. Hanby, appointed in 1870, was the first regular minister at St. Stephen’s.

      By 1879 St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church had about 1500 members with hundreds joining annually. The congregation resolved in July 1880 to demolish the original church and rebuild a suitable facility on the same site. The first service held in the new brick church was held in the basement August 14, 1881, which was found to be too small to accommodate the membership. The congregation held some services at the City Hall during the winter of 1881-1882, but worship services were confined to the basement until the sanctuary was completed in 1886. The congregation of the popular church was a powerful influence on the community and the state. President William H. Taft spoke at St. Stephen’s in 1909.

      Although the historical marker indicates that the church was constructed on land donated by George Peabody, it has since been determined that gift of land predated Peabody. The donor was William Campbell. His tract was donated to the community for a burial ground and subsequently divided to permit construction of the church.

William M. Reaves, “Strength through Struggle”: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950 (1998)
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984)
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources