Prior to 1854 Shiloh Baptist Church, located at Hanover and Sophia Streets, had two congregations worshipping together: the White Baptists and the Colored Baptists. Members of the Colored Baptist Church occupied the galleries of the White church; free Blacks worshipped in the end gallery and the enslaved Blacks in the side gallery. In 1854, the white members moved to a new location on the corner of Princess Anne and Amelia Streets (Fredericksburg Baptist Church) and later sold their former site on Sophia Street to the colored members in 1857 for $500.00.
The Black congregation named its worship site, African Baptist Church. According to law, at that time, Blacks were not allowed to congregate without a white person present. Consequently, Rev. George Rowe, a white minister, was appointed as the first pastor and he served from 1856-1863.
Due to rigid fugitive laws at that time in our country, free Blacks were constantly harassed and antagonized. As a result, many free Blacks sought relocation to other places. Several relocated in Detroit, Michigan and assembled into the Croghan Street Baptist Church. During urban renewal and redevelopment of this church's neighborhood, the building was demolished. Some members moved to Washington, DC and founded the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC. This church continues to thrive and in March of 1998 rededicated its expanded and renovated facility located at 9th and P streets, NW.
At the onset of the Civil War, worship services were suspended because the church was used by the Union forces as a hospital and it also suffered severe structural damage. When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the African Baptist Church of Fredericksburg became an independent organization. Rev. George L. Dixon came to Fredericksburg from Washington, DC and began holding meetings and services from house to house leading to the successful reorganization of the church. In 1865 Rev. Dixon and several members began repairing the war-damaged church. Services soon resumed and the African Baptist Church was renamed Shiloh Baptist with Rev. Dixon serving as the first Black pastor.
Rev. Lemuel G. Waldon, succeeded Rev. Dixon and served from 1878-1881. Under his pastorate on May 10, 1882, six deacons of Shiloh Baptist Church, Washington Wright, Simon E. Bascey, Cornelius S. Lucas, James Gorden, James Williams, and Edmond Sprow, Jr., purchased several acres of land that became the site of the Shiloh Colored Cemetery of Fredericksburg. The cemetery is located on Monument Avenue between Kenmore Avenue and Littlepage Street. Before the Shiloh Cemetery was established, most African Americans from Fredericksburg are thought to have been buried at the northern end of Potter's Field on Barton Street between William and George Streets near the present Maury School building. Other slaves and former slaves were buried in their family cemeteries or alongside their former slave owner's families in the City Cemetery and the Masonic Cemetery.
Over the years, Shiloh Cemetery has become the final resting place for the three local Baptist congregations that grew out of the Shiloh Baptist Church. Many prominent individuals are buried at Shiloh. Among them are Joseph Walker, Jason Grant, Rev. M. L. Murchison, former pastor Shiloh (New Site), Rev. B. H. Hester, Former pastor of Shiloh (Old Site) and Matthew Garnett, one of the original Buffalo Soldiers.
Rev. Willis Robinson became the pastor of Shiloh in the summer of 1881. He was a man of great spiritual wisdom and a source of great strength and encouragement. His leadership guided the congregation through the first difficult years of struggle to rebuild the church. Rev. Robinson launched a series of rallies to raise money to renovate the church. After raising $1,500, he wanted to start repairing the building, but the deacons were not willing to start the work until all the money was on hand.
The renovation delay came back to haunt the congregation. In June 1886, the rear wall fell rendering Shiloh useless and unsafe. City authorities granted the membership permission to worship in the courthouse. In this same year, a church committee was formed to locate a site suitable for the church. This committee selected a site known as the Revere Shop, located on the corners of Princess Anne and Wolfe Streets. The membership agreed upon the site and unanimously voted to purchase the property. Shiloh immediately moved to this site and began having regular services there with the Sunday school meeting in the lower level of the shop.
After settling at the new location, it became apparent that only three fourths of the property was free of litigation. The other one fourth of the property was under the authority of the courts because minor children were involved in the property settlement. With the clouded deed, the majority of the members were not ready to build on the Revere property. Since the grounds of the old site were free and clear of any legal dispute, some members wanted to return and build on that property. There was a church meeting in May of 1887 and members voted to build on the Revere site. On June 1, 1887, another body of church members had a meeting and voted to build on the old site. An injunction was issued to prohibit the building on the Revere Site. This friction between the adherents of the new site had to be settled in the courts. The court decision rendered on November 30, 1888, stated that the June 1, 1887, meeting was not a lawful church meeting, therefore, any actions voted upon was not binding on behalf of Shiloh Church. The court further started that the church meeting that voted to build on the new site (Revere site) was the lawful building action of Shiloh Church.
Another issue developed when both parties earnestly wanted the name Shiloh. No substitute would satisfy either group. By decree of the courts a "complete and amiable separation of the body" known as the Shiloh Baptist Church of Fredericksburg was made. The real property located at Princess Anne and Wolfe Streets was awarded to Shiloh Baptist Church of Fredericksburg (New Site) and the real property at Water (Sophia) and Hanover Streets was awarded to Shiloh Baptist Church of Fredericksburg (Old Site). After all expenses of the division were agreed upon, Shiloh Baptist Church of Fredericksburg (New Site) paid in cash to Shiloh Baptist Church of Fredericksburg (Old Site) $278.48 in protested monies. This separation took place amicably and both (SITES) proceeded to build their own sanctuaries. Today, we know them as Shiloh Baptist Church (New Site) and Shiloh (Old Site) Baptist Church. After the court's decision, Rev. Willis Robinson decided to cast his lot with the adherents of the Revere site (New Site).
The spiritual and physical foundation of this branch of Zion was worked upon diligently and earnestly by several members:
Frederick D. Bowes
O. Maegis Burrell
John S. Coleman
Arthur Taliaferro, Sr.
On June 9, 1890, a cornerstone was laid and the construction of the new church building Shiloh Baptist Church (New Site) was begun. The congregation played a very active role in the actual construction of the church. Many of the men were skilled in various areas of construction. The women also played an important role by cleaning bricks. Through God's grace, the congregation persevered and the church was built in a short period of time. With construction issues no longer a main focus. the next area of concern was improvement of the spiritual welfare of the church. Records indicate that Rev. Robinson was asked to preach every Sunday in the month, lecture on Wednesday nights and remain in the city during the week. However, Rev. Robinson had commitments to Blue Run Church when he preached one Sunday a month. He did not honor the request made by New Site. In 1904, Rev. Robinson with a contingent of those willing to share his services, separated from New Site and organized Mount Zion Baptist Church, located on Wolfe Street in Fredericksburg.
New Site prospered and continued to grow. The accomplishments of our church are vast and far-reaching. This branch of Zion has been a meeting place for our people throughout the struggle for human dignity and the quest for eternal salvation. It has not only served as a spiritual temple for the soul, but New Site has had prominent achievements in the fields of education and community outreach.
The first Black high school in the area, The Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Institute, had its beginnings in the basement of this church. The Institute later relocated to Mayfield. The works of many of our church forefathers are so noteworthy that the fruits of their labor are still evident in our community today. The Walker-Grant Middle School and the Walker-Grant Cultural and Educational Center were both named in honor of two of our deceased deacons, Deacon Joseph Walker and Deacon Jason Grant. Additionally, the Bass-Ellison Social Services Building (which houses the Fredericksburg Social Services Department and the Department of Health) was named in honor of our Member, Dr. Urbane Bass, the area's first Black physician.
In the 1960s, Shiloh (New Site) played a very important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Its central location, halfway between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC made it convenient for out-of-town activists. As the largest black church in the area, New Site became the meeting place for the steering committees to discuss and plan strategies. It also became the ideal place for holding mass meetings. Among the Civil Rights leaders who visited the church during this time were such notables as Dr. Wyatt T. Walker, Dr. Samuel D. Proctor, Henry Marsh (Esq.) and Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP. They were supported locally through the efforts of Dr. W.L. Harris, Dr. Philip Y. Wyatt, O'Neal Mercer, Mamie Scott and Mildred Queen.
Since the original church building was constructed, there have been two additions. In the early 1960s, the rear of the church was expanded with the addition of several rooms. In the late 1970s, the church purchased the property formally known as the McGuire Hotel on which to build an annex. With the addition of the annex, the direction of the sanctuary was changed and the baptismal pool was relocated from the lower auditorium to the main sanctuary. a cornerstone was laid in 1980 acknowledging the church annex.
In the mid-1980s under the leadership of Rev. Cunningham, the completion of the church's lower annex and the renovation of the lower auditorium were completed. In the early 1990s, focus was placed on the renovation on the exterior of the original building: painting, repair of the gutters, pointing-up of bricks, landscaping and construction of a brick marquis. With substantial growth in membership, two of the three mortgages were paid in full.
In 1995, Shiloh (New site) became the first African American site to be included on the Candlelight Tour of Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. Over 4,000 people visited our sanctuary and were introduced to our rich heritage. One of the many features of the Candlelight tour included the viewing of our magnificent stained glass windows. These windows depict biblical symbols and scenes as well as a New Site member.
In 1996, the Shiloh Cemetery because the first cemetery to be included on the tour. a portion of the proceeds were awarded to our church in the form of a Brick and Mortar Grant. The funds were used towards the reconstruction of the original bell tower which was completed in 1997. Looking toward future growth, a Five Year Plan was implemented in 1994. The parsonage (named the M.L. Murchison Christian Center in 1971) was reconverted for use as a meeting and office space on the first and second floors in 1995. Many projects of the Five Year Plan were completed in just three years, to include, the burning of the mortgage, on November 13, 1998.
Shiloh Baptist Church (New Site) has been led by men of great distinction; men with innovative ideas, understanding hearts and minds, and an undying love for God, the church and its people. These religious men have met many challenges and touched many souls for the cause of Christ. They are:
1888-1904 Rev. Willis M. Robinson
1904-1905 Rev. Robert C. Judkins
1906-1920 Rev. William L. Ransome
1920-1921 Rev. R.C. Redd
1922-1960 Rev. Melvin L. Murchison
1959-1960 Rev. Floyd Gayle (Served as interim Pastor during the illness of Pastor Murchison.)
1960-1963 Rev. Edward Smith
1964-1967 Rev. Henry C. Gregory, III
1968-1972* Rev. A. Russell Awkard
1968-1972* Rev. Richard Green
1978-1981 Rev. Nolan Williams, Sr.
1981-1984 Rev. Sloan S. Hodges, D.D.
1984-1986 Rev. John Nickens
1986-1988 **** (See Note)
1988-2002 Rev Theodore Cunningham, Sr. Ph.D.
****(NOTE) From September 1986 to April 1988 Shiloh's ministerial needs were met by the Sons of the Church, the Rev. Lowell Brandon, Rev. Nathaniel Young and Rev. Theodore Cunningham, Sr. and a host of visiting clergy.
Information for this document was obtained through court records, church minutes and several published books, such as:
Darter, Oscar H. The History of Fredericksburg Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia: Garrett and Massie, Inc. 1960
Hester, B.H. History of the Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), Richmond, Virginia: Saint Luke Press, 1927
"Let the Light Continue to Shine!" Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), Fredericksburg, Virginia
Mount Zion Baptist Church Minutes, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1901-1903.
Murchison, Maude: Notes and records.
Court record research by Rev. Dr. Theodore Cunningham, Sr.