We are a strong, diverse, caring community of faith, with
a commitment to inclusion, outreach and social justice.
John Gloucester

Reverend John Gloucester

Celebrating Black History Month

Mission Commission Profile of the Week

The material here is compiled mainly from BlackPast.org, Wikipedia and a few other sources noted in the references [1-6].

John Gloucester
John Gloucester [1]

Gloucester was born as a slave with a given name Jack in Tennessee. He was a young believer gifted with the ability to evangelize and convert his fellow slaves to Christianity. Seeing his potential to be a preacher, the recently arrived Reverend Gideon Blackburn, a young Presbyterian minister and educator with an evangelical mission to the Cherokee and Creek nations, taught him theology. He eventually bought and freed Gloucester in 1806. Jack then renamed himself John Gloucester.

As the first step for John to become a minister, Blackburn brought him to meet with the Presbyter of the Union in East Tennessee and requested for John “a license to preach to the Africans”[1]. The Presbytery agreed but also sent him for advanced study at Greeneville College (now Tusculum University) where he became the first African American student.

First African American Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
First African American Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia (ca 1895) [6]

After his studies, Gloucester accompanied Blackburn in 1807 to Philadelphia. With the license already from Tennessee, the Philadelphia Presbytery permitted Gloucester to preach to the growing African American population but not yet to lead a congregation without ordination. Unable to secure his ordination from the Philadelphia Presbytery after two years, John went back to Tennessee where he was ordained by the Presbytery on April 13, 1810, and became the first ordained African American Presbyterian minister.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Image from Historical Society
of Pennsylvania [2]

Now as an ordained Presbyterian minister, John returned with his family to Philadelphia to officially lead his congregation and established the First African Presbyterian Church in the nation. He taught his congregation to read the Bible and training the next generation of ministers including his children. He was a mentor to Samuel Eli Cornish who became a Presbyterian minister and formed the first Black Presbyterian congregation in New York City. Four of his five children became Presbyterian ministers and three had their own congregations.

The Presbytery of Boston, Massachusetts administers John Gloucester Memorial Scholarships for Presbyterian college students


[1] Nielsen, E. (2015, March 05). John Gloucester (1776- 1822). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gloucester-john-1776-1822-2/

[2] Nielsen, E. (2015, February 24). First African Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1807- ). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/first-african-presbyterian-church-philadelphia-pennsylvania-1807/

[3] John Gloucester, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gloucester

[4] Black Church Figures You Should Know – John Gloucester (2016, February 8) https://jude3project.org/blog/johngloucester

[5] The Home of African American Presbyterianism, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, https://hsp.org/blogs/archival-adventures-in-small-repositories/the-home-of-african-american-presbyterianism

[6] Image of First African Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A5103?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=6108bcd1539c4e3e2e60&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0