Zion African M. E. Church, Williamsburgh

The Zion A. M. E. Church of Williamsburgh was organized in 1832 by Thomas Watson, in his house on Third (Berry) Street between North 4th and North 5th Streets. The church later rented rooms on North 4th Street between Third and Fourth Street (Berry and Bedford). The congregation numbered 12 members at this time, and retained Rev. John Churchill as its first regular preacher. Churchill also taught at the African Free School (later Colored School No. 3).

The original board of trustees included Samuel Ricks, Thomas Wilson, Samuel Wilson, Philip Groomer, Jacob Fields, Oliver Fields and David Bush. Ricks, Fields and Thomas Wilson were among the founders of the Williamsburgh African Free School, which later became Colored School No. 3. Willis Hodges in his autobiography describes Thomas Wilson as one of the most respected Black men in Williamsburgh.

About 1839, the congregation took over the former First M. E. Church building on North 2nd (Metropolitan) and Fifth (Driggs) Street. It was at this time that the congregation became affiliated with the Zion conference.

In 1844 the congregation purchased two lots on North 2nd (Metropolitan) between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in order to construct its own church. The cornerstone for this building was laid in 1845. The wood-frame structure was never completed, perhaps due to a fire at the former First M. E. that same year, which would have forced a quick relocation on the part of the congregation. In 1850 the church was to moved to Devoe Street, but it was destroyed by a heavy wind before it could be installed. The congregation rebuilt the church, but it burned in 1863.

Following this run of bad luck in East Williamsburg, in 1865 the congregation bought a church at the corner of South 3rd and Eleventh (Hooper) Streets for $3,000. This would have been the former First Congregational Church of Williamsburgh. In 1882, the congregation embarked on building a new church on the site, laying a cornerstone on 5 November of that year. The new church, designed by architect Ernest Dennis1  was dedicated on 11 February 1883.2

  • 1"Buildings Projected", Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide (v. 30, no. 760, October 7, 1882), 916.
  • 2Henry R. Stiles, ed., Civil, Political, Professional and Ecclesiastical History of the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn from 1683 to 1884 (New York, N.Y., United States: W.W. Munsell, 1884), 1033.