Final resting place for Rev. Gloucester

The brief service was led by Rev. Randy Barge, who is pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church and moderator of Lombard Central.

Dec. 2

Previous coverage

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Stephen Gloucester – a Presbyterian minister who spent his childhood as a slave and the rest of his life fighting for abolition, education and other civil rights for African Americans – is no longer in danger of being forgotten.

Gloucester was nationally known when he founded Lombard Street Central Presbyterian in 1844. When he died of pneumonia in 1850, the congregation erected a tall, marble monument to honor his memory. But in 1939, the congregation moved to Powelton Avenue. Gloucester’s monument was lost, the sanctuary he built went long vacant, and his story and resting place became largely unknown before his grave was rediscovered this summer during work to turn the church building into a private residence.

Tuesday afternoon, Gloucester’s remains, and those of his wife, Ann, and Lombard Central congregant John Winrow were given a new, more prominent home. The wooden, cloth-covered casket they now share was lowered into the brown earth of Old Pine Presbyterian’s churchyard, beneath the herringbone brick walkway in a nook near the pulpit.

About 25 people gathered for the first, private service to honor his memory, including members and leaders of Lombard Central, First African Presbyterian – which was founded by Stephen’s father, John – and Old Pine, a church instrumental in bringing the Gloucester family into the ministry. Dorothy Coleman Davis, daughter of Rev. John L. Coleman, who was leading Lombard Central when it moved to follow its congregation to West Philadelphia, also attended.

Standing near the patch of freshly replaced bricks, Lombard Central elder Jerry Cousins, a church member for nearly 60 years, removed his hat and spoke to God.

“Thank you for letting me be here this day to honor this great man, a man who paved the way for me, and so many others of our people,” Cousins said. “Let him rest in heavenly peace.”

The brief service was lead by Rev. Randy Barge, who is pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church and moderator of Lombard Central. Lombard hasn’t had a pastor of its own since 1995, so Barge handles some duties for them.

“It’s not just Lombard members, but all of us, we stand on the shoulders of Stephen Gloucester,” he said. It must have been inconceivable back in 1884, when Lombard Central was founded, to imagine that black people would not only be free, but would take their rightful place in society, Barge said. “By faith, he worked tirelessly for a country he could only see in the distance, and he never received the promise of that in his lifetime,” he said.

How fitting, Barge said, that Gloucester’s remains were found in the year that the country elected its first black president.

And also how wonderful for Lombard Central, he said, that their founding pastor is being honored at a time when the congregation is poised to call Rev. Anna Grant to the pulpit. Grant was unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony, but she has said she feels honored to be leading a church founded by Gloucester. Before he founded the church, he ran a school for African American children. A veteran teacher in Philadelphia’s public schools, Grant hopes to guide the creation of an after-school program at the Powelton Ave. location, and one day, perhaps a school.

Finding Gloucester “reinforces positive feelings about the church’s history, as well as its future,” Barge said.
History and future collided when developers Naomi Alter-Ohayon and Isaac Ohayon, owners of Masada Custom Builders, were starting the landscaping portion of their rehabilitation project. Workers hit slate, which led them to find the domed brick vault that contained the remains. The Historical Commission suggested they call The Philadelphia Presbytery and an archaeologist. And that led them to Senior Archaeologist Douglas Mooney, Project Archaeologist Kim Morrell and Forensic Anthropologist Thomas Crist, all with URS Corporation, Inc. of Fort Washington.

Historic records pointed to the identities of the three people buried in the vault, Mooney said, but by combining written history with archaeology and forensic anthropology, the team was able to positively identify each individual set of remains, and learn even more about Stephen and Ann Gloucester.

Studying the reverend’s bones, Crist learned that he had profound injuries to his left shoulder and hip. “At the time of his death, he would have been in a great deal of pain and walked with a limp,” Mooney said.

Learning this prompted Mooney to do further records research, and an old newspaper story from an African American newspaper published in Rochester, NY, suggests that Stephen Gloucester received those injuries while he and a fellow abolitionist were taking a stand for civil rights.

Gloucester and Charles Burleigh, a white man, were traveling by canal boat on the Erie Canal from Lockport to Rochester when, about 20 miles into the journey, Gloucester sat down with all the other passengers to eat lunch.

“The captain informed Gloucester that he couldn’t eat with the white people, and when Burleigh came to his defense, the captain violently ejected both of them from the boat,” Mooney said. “In the process, Gloucester suffered a serious injury to his leg.”

The forensics and newspaper account also make sense of a gift Gloucester received from his congregation after returning from trip to England and Scotland to raise money to build the Lombard Street church. “They gave him a gold-headed cane, which I thought was an odd gift, but he likely needed it to walk,” Mooney said.

Gloucester was a successful fundraiser, but had little personal wealth. To supplement his salary as a preacher, he sold used clothes, and Ann Gloucester took in other people’s wash. Her hard work with a washboard took a toll on her body, Mooney said. “She has evidence of pronounced arthritis in both shoulders,” he said.

The details of the Gloucester’s life and deeds will be documented on a new marker and told to Old Pine visitors who take the cemetery tour.

His story will also be told, and his legacy remembered, before a larger gathering at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8. A graveside memorial service will commence this year’s annual Black History Celebration, co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus.

Presbyterian churches from around the city and country will be asked to bring a bit of soil from their church grounds to add to the Gloucester’s burial site, said Rev. James Belle, moderator of the Philadelphia Chapter and pastor of Holy Trinity Bethlehem.

The blending of the soils will symbolize unity, he said, and serve as a reminder that Gloucester’s story is an important part of the history of all Presbyterian churches – not just the African churches.

The story of how Stephen Gloucester and his father, John, before him became Presbyterian ministers is exemplary of the work that white, northern Presbyterian congregations did, he said.

It was one of Old Pine’s first pastors, Archibald Alexander, who brought John Gloucester from Tennessee to Philadelphia and mentored him in the ministry. Another early Old Pine Pastor, Rev. Thomas Brainerd, was an ardent abolitionist, and when Stephen Gloucester and his congregation dedicated their new Lombard Street building in 1848, Brainerd was among the speakers.

When the Lombard Street congregation moved to West Philadelphia, there was no room to take the Gloucester’s remains wife with them. That is still true today. The Philadelphia Presbytery also contacted John Gloucester’s church, First African Presbyterian, to inquire about interment there, but they had neither space nor money. All who were witness to the Gloucester’s reburial and the resurrection of their story said Old Pine seemed the perfect place to honor him, and to remember the combined pasts of Philadelphia’s Presbyterians, black and white. They also hoped the burial marked a mingling of congregations that would last well into the future.

“I want to thank Old Pine for what they are doing today,” said First African historian Elizabeth Nolan. “One of your ministers wanted to bring our churches together, and we seem to be doing that here today.”

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