13. St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church and Joseph Pilmore
St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church still stands today as the headquarters of the Episcopal Community Services. St. Paul’s was built in 1761 and was the Anglican Church many followers of the Methodist movement attended even while also being committed to the St. George’s Methodist Society and its accompanying class meetings. This church’s connection to the Methodist movement continued even after the American Methodist Episcopal Church was established as a separate denomination from Anglicanism in 1784.
It was in 1784 that former Methodist preacher Joseph Pilmore came to lead St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. IN 1769 Pilmore had been sent by John Wesley to help lead the fledgling Methodist movement in America. He did so at St. George’s UMC until 1774 at which point he returned to England along with a number of other Methodist preachers. After a decade in England, however, Pilmore returned to Philadelphia and was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He was serving as the assistant rector at St. Paul’s in 1790 when the Free African Society began holding services of worship. His anti-slavery views were strong – and likely made stronger still when he married the niece of Quaker Anthony Benezet who had been a benefactor of the black community in Philadelphia decades earlier. Pilmore offered hospitality to the African American community and even worked beside them through the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Thirty-one black couples were married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church between 1789 and 1794. Pilmore made sure they were welcome.
The surrounding neighborhood was well known to the African American community as a place of hospitality for reasons which extend beyond Pilmore himself. Anthony Benezet’s school for Africans was located just a few footsteps away in nearby Willings Alley to the south. St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church a block to the west in Willings Alley also excelled in its hospitality toward Africans. In the summer of 1793 five hundred French-speaking Roman Catholic African slaves from the island of Haiti arrived in Philadelphia together with their white owners who fled a slave revolt which eventually led to Haiti’s independence from France. Many of the French-speaking Africans began attending St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic parish in the city. We will be walking by St. Joseph’s shortly.