By Kellie Patrick Gates
Members of Lombard Central Presbyterian Church were amazed and joyful when the remains of their founding pastor Stephen Gloucester – an abolitionist who was famous in his day, but mostly forgotten in modern times – were buried in a place of honor at Old Pine Cemetery in December.
But what no one realized then – not even the team of developers and archaeologists who found Gloucester and his wife, Ann – is that Rev. Benjamin F. Templeton, Lombard Central’s third pastor, had also been found on the grounds of their former church on Lombard Street.
Born in 1802, Rev. Gloucester had spent his childhood as a slave in Tennessee, and the rest of his life fighting for abolition, education and other civil rights for African Americans. He was nationally known when he founded Lombard Street Central Presbyterian in 1844. When he died of pneumonia in 1850, his loving congregation erected a tall, marble monument to honor his memory – a monument that has disappeared.
Lombard Central still exists, but it moved to West Philadelphia in 1939. The Lombard Street building was vacant for decades when developers Naomi Alter-Ohayon and Isaac Ohayon, owners of Masada Custom Builders, purchased it to convert it into a private residence. The mystery began last summer, when workers hit slate, and then a domed brick vault that contained three sets of remains.
Senior Archaeologist Douglas Mooney, Project Archaeologist Kim Morrell and Forensic Anthropologist Thomas Crist, all with URS Corporation, Inc. of Fort Washington, combed through historic records and examined the physical evidence to determine who was in the vault.
The Gloucesters’ identities were clear: Records showed they had been buried in the vault. Stephen’s remains were the right gender, race and age, and also showed evidence of an injury he had received when thrown off a canal boat for daring to eat lunch with the white passengers. Ann’s remains were also the right gender, race and age and her shoulders bore arthritic evidence of the laundry she took in to support the family’s income.
At the time of the re-interment, Mooney believed the third set of remains belonged to church elder John Winrow. Mooney found documents that said Winrow had asked to be buried in the church vault, and the third set of remains belonged to a black male.
After the interment, Mooney returned to the Philadelphia Historical Society to do a final document search “just to make sure I didn’t miss anything,” he said. “It turns out I had missed some key information relating to who that third person was.”
A history of the church revealed that it was not Winrow, but Templeton who had joined the Gloucesters in the vault in front of the church when he died in 1858. Templeton had served as pastor for just two years prior to his death at age 40.
Winrow’s resting place was not far away, however. “It turns out there is a second vault on that property,” Mooney said. “It was apparently built by the members of the congregation themselves, and was intended to be a place to bury members of the congregation.”
No evidence of a second burial vault turned up during the renovation work at the property. Nothing may be left, Mooney said. The vault, which was built behind the church building, was closed in 1861 because it was falling in on itself. Winrow and two other church elders were buried in it, Mooney said. He does not know if their remains were moved when the vault was closed. Either way, because of the poor condition the vault was in, nothing may be left to find, he said.
The Gloucesters and Templeton will be honored Sunday during the National Black Presbyterian Caucus Philadelphia Chapter’s Black History Celebration worship service. The annual event moves from church to church. This year, it will begin beside the grave.
“It’s an honor to have the two of them buried at Old Pine Church,” Lombard Central pastor Anna Grant said of the ministers.
Lombard Central does not have a burial ground, so it could not accept the remains. The congregation at Old Pine – just a few blocks away from the original Lombard Street site of Gloucester’s church – was happy to accept them. The burial and celebration have reunited congregations with a shared past.
Stephen’s father, John Gloucester, was the first African American to become an ordained Presbyterian minister in the United States. John Gloucester was ordained in Tennessee, but came to Philadelphia with the help of Old Pine minister Archibald Alexander, who was chairman of the Evangelical Society of Philadelphia. Alexander was John Gloucester’s mentor in the ministry, and the elder Gloucester found First African Presbyterian Church.
At Sunday’s service, which begins at 3 p.m., both African drums and Scottish bagpipes will be played to honor the entwined histories of the white and black Presbyterian churches. Soil brought from churches around the region will be scattered on the grave as a symbol of unity. And a choir comprised of singers from many churches will perform.
Old Pine’s churchyard, located behind the building at 412 Pine St., is open daily until sundown. Visitors often take a tour to learn the stories of the prominent Philadelphians buried there, including William Hurry, who rang the Liberty Bell when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and Jarred Ingersoll, who signed the Constitution. Now they will also learn the Gloucester’s story – a complicated one.
In addition to his work at Lombard Central, Stephen Gloucester ran a school for black children, assisted the Underground Railroad, founded at least two anti-slavery societies, and was one of the publishers of the Colored American, described by The Black Abolitionist Papers as perhaps the most important African American publication of its time.
But even before his church opened, Gloucester had fallen out of favor with some of the more prominent abolitionists. Race riots in 1842 left Gloucester fearful for the safety of his family and his congregation. He continued to work to better the lives of black people, but criticized the approach the abolitionist movement took, calling it “violent, impolitic and detrimental to the anti-slavery cause.” This led to a falling out between Gloucester and the people most remembered for their work with the anti-slavery movement, including Frederick Douglass.
To Grant, Gloucester was a brave man who stood up for what he believed in. “He was a figure that somehow got ostracized by the mainstream abolition group,” she said. “Whatever his reason was, he felt it was worth standing up and taking that ostracism.”
At 2 p.m. Feb. 28, Lombard Central, 4201 Powelton Ave., will host a play for Black History Month, the $15 donation benefiting the church’s soup kitchen. The musical, performed by Thomasina James and Company, is called Down Memory Lane, and in it a cast of characters, including Paul Robeson and Marion Anderson, tell their stories. Grant told James about Gloucester, and she is including his story in the production.
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