In 1795, Methodists purchased a lot at the corner of Hancock Street and Pleasant Alley (later Church Alley) in New Bern. Seven years later they completed construction of Andrew’s Chapel, the second church in the town. From its inception, the church provided segregated worship space for free blacks and some slaves. Between 1839 and 1843, white members left to establish what would become Centenary United Methodist Church, and the chapel became entirely African American. After the Union occupation of New Bern in 1862, Federal soldiers stationed in the town opened a school in the chapel. Nearly thirty soldiers of the 25th Massachusetts operated an academy for black children within the church until stopped by an order from provisional military Governor Edward Stanly who instructed that, since North Carolina law prohibited the education of slaves, the practice must stop.
In late 1863, James Walker Hood, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) missionary, was dispatched from New England to eastern North Carolina, charged with bringing local freed slaves to the AMEZ faith. Bishop Christopher Rush, head of the AMEZ church, had lived in New Bern as a young man and attended Andrew’s Chapel. Therefore, Hood was instructed to pay particular attention to the Andrew’s congregation. Arriving in January 1864, Hood convinced the congregations of both Andrew’s Chapel in New Bern and Purvis Chapel in Beaufort to join the AMEZ church. Although Andrew’s Chapel members apparently voiced their approval of joining the church first, Hood was prevented from officially accepting them because of a smallpox epidemic raging in the city. Officially, Purvis entered prior to Andrew’s Chapel. However, Andrew’s traditionally is viewed as the mother church of all AMEZ churches in the southern United States.
The church played an important role during Reconstruction, serving as a spiritual and religious center for the area’s black population. In 1879 the congregation purchased a new church site along Queen and Johnson Streets in New Bern and built a new sanctuary. They also changed the name to St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Credit: North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, part of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.