The First Regular Baptist Church has been a prominent fixture in Canada’s Black community for almost 170 years. A provincial plaque was unveiled recently to mark the inaugural service on November 15, 1857.
Established by ex-slaves and free African-Americans in the 1840s, the First Baptist Church of Dawn held its meetings in private homes and a log chapel and members met on Main Street in Dresden until they were able to purchase a Queen Street lot for $80 from parishioner, George Johnson, to build the church.
“It’s very important to recognize those churches that were built in the 1880s,” said historian, Shannon Prince. “You have to remember that those fleeing slavery via the Underground Railroad were sustained by their faith. It’s also important to commemorate those churches, not only for this generation, but future generations.”
The plaque reads as follows:
First Regular Baptist Church, Dresden
The First Baptist Church of Dawn – established by former slaves and free African Americans in the 1840s – held its meetings in private homes, then in a log chapel at the British American Institute. In the 1850s, a Baptist congregation met on Main Street in Dresden, until a lot was purchased from parishioner George Johnson on the present site. A church was built by the congregation and the inaugural service of the First Regular Baptist Church was held on November 15, 1857. Reverends William P. Newman and Samuel H. Davis, the church’s “founding fathers,” were prominent abolitionists and former British American Institute headmasters. Newman raised much of the funding, and Davis oversaw the construction of the church, donating 100 cords of wood to pay for the sawing of the lumber, which forms the original structure of the chapel to this day.
For generations, the church has been an integral part of community life in Dresden. Today, it stands as a testament to the faith, fortitude and determination of these early pioneers.
The province’s Heritage Trust plaque program commemorates significant people, places and events in Ontario’s history. Some 1,200 plaques have been unveiled in the last 55 years with 23 of them commemorating people, places and events in Ontario’s Black history. These include African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Chloe Cooley, a slave from Queenston who was forcibly taken by her owner and sold in the United States in 1793, an act which is said to have prompted then Lt. Governor, John Graves Simcoe, to pass the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada (Ontario) which was the first step in the abolition of slavery.