Doylestown Presbyterian Church’s Founding Pastor Uriah DuBois started and taught at a school for African-American adults, according to genealogical records. The name of the school was not identified. His oldest daughter was married to Samuel Aaron, a pastor and prominent abolitionist who would become manager of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Another of his daughters was married to Silas Andrews, who would become our congregation’s long-serving third pastor. Uriah DuBois, Samuel Aron and Silas Andrews all taught in the Union Academy. Silas Andrews later served as manager of Union Academy. He purchased the house at 105 E. State St. and it was used as the manse of the church.
According to the Doylestown Historical Society it was common at the time for fugitive slaves to seek refuge, employment, food, and clothing in Doylestown homes and farms – staying sometimes for years before, if ever, moving on. It is believed that home, which was built by Samuel Aaron and included hidden stairways and entrances, or other nearby church properties may have been associated with the operation of the Underground Railroad. According to the 1800 census, the DuBois household may have possibly included a person identified as a slave. This person’s actual legal status is unclear, as slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania in 1780, though there exists the possibility he or she was a fugitive slave at one point and had taken refuge. We do not know the exact circumstances of the living situation in the DuBois household. Other records show no registered slaves in Doylestown during that period. In 1816 the Board of Trustees wording of the Graveyard Charter designated a portion of the yard was appropriated to the burial of “colored” who may acquire a right of interment in the yard. This was unusual for the period and assured that people of color had a sacred place to be buried. Early church membership included African-Americans, and documentation shows marriages, baptisms and funerals were performed for them. One woman, listed as Margaret Green, appears on the Church Register as far back as 1816, when DPC was officially chartered by the Presbytery of Philadelphia. All of the above would lead us to believe that our early founders felt called to live out true discipleship by acting boldly and compassionately serving those who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. We aspire to follow in their footsteps and honor their legacy as we mobilize DPC’s Matthew 25 initiative.
Celebrating African-American Presbyterians
The Presbyterian Church has a rich history of bold, courageous and gifted African-Americans who contributed and continue to contribute to the advancement of the denomination and efforts to advance social justice for all of our citizens. During the celebration of Black History Month, we stop to recognize a few of these leaders, who made a profound impact on the lives of individuals, the church, and our country.
John Gloucester, who in 1802 founded the first African Presbyterian Church on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia. His son Stephen Gloucester founded in 1844 the Central Colored Presbyterian Church (a few years later the name was changed to the Lombard Central Presbyterian Church and is still serving the community). Steven was one of the primary organizers of the Underground Railroad.
William Still was an Elder in the Lombard Central Presbyterian Church and is credited as being the father of the Underground railroad.
Lucy Craft Laney founded the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, in 1883 and served as its principal until 1933. She was one of the first three African-Americans to have their portrait displayed in the Georgia State Capitol. Laney’s portrait bears tribute to “the mother of the children of the people, ” a woman who knew that “God didn’t use any different dirt to make me that first lady of the land.”
Gladys Nickleby Nelson was a member of Doylestown Presbyterian Church, a nurse and the first African-American employee of the Doylestown School District and in 1954 opened and managed the very first clinic in the United States to inoculate citizens against Polio. Through her partnership with the vaccine’s developer Dr. Jonas Salk, she established clinics across the country.
Rev. Denise Anderson carved out her place in the history of the denomination when she became the first African-American co-moderator during the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
The Reverend Edler Hawkins was the first African-American male moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1964).
Dr. Thelma C.D. Adair was elected in 1976 as its first African-American female moderator. She was a Presbyterian educator, church leader, advocate for human rights, peace and justice issues; writer; guest speaker, educator and activist.
Emily Gibbs came to DPC in 1990. Prior to that she had been on the faculty of the New York Theological Seminary teaching practical theology and serving as Dean of the Religious Education program there. The seminary’s Women’s Resource Center and a scholarship are named after her. She was on the national staff of the Presbyterian Church and did missionary work in India, Guyana, Cameroon, and Kenya. She was Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, was responsible for the education programs in more than 30 denominations in the NCC. She also served as the National Secretary for Presbyterian Women. While at DPC she became its first African-American Elder on Session. She is still remembered by some of our members as an amazing and strong woman of faith.
Katherine Johnson was a Presbyterian Elder and the mathematician behind one of engineering’s greatest feats: the launch of astronaut John Glen into orbit. She is featured in the book and 2016 hit movie Hidden Figures, which documents this extraordinary achievement. At the age of 97, Johnson earned the country’s highest civilian honor when by President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rev Dr. J. Herbert Nelson was the first African-American to be elected Stated Clerk of Session (2019).