It is not possible to share all of the historical heritage left by the pioneers of this church, as the recorded history is incomplete. The original recorded history was destroyed by fire many years ago in the home of Deacon Benjamin Ross whose grandson, Hezekiah E. Ross, currently is Deacon Chairman Emeritus here at First Union. However, this document that recalls some of the important facts passed down through the years by our ancestors is the official history treasured today as the history of First Union Baptist Church.
In recording this historical sketch, we glance back over 143 years to the beginning of our church.
Ten years after the end of the Civil War, a group of emancipated slaves settled to live in and around the neighborhood which was known at that time as the New Light Neighborhood. They came from Powhatan and Amelia Counties, and the Manchester District of Chesterfield County, which now lies totally within the city line of Richmond, south of the James River. Many residents traveled back and forth to their respective home churches without thought of the great distances they traveled. But they soon reconciled that the distances were too far and they found that they were unable to return to their home church as often as they would like.
It was then, in 1875, that a small group of members separated themselves from the Gravel Hill Baptist Church, whose mother church was First Baptist Church of South Richmond, and founded the First Union Baptist Church. They first started meeting from home to home for prayer services. With an increase in the number of interested people, larger quarters in which to meet for worship and prayer services were needed. During this time, when the weather permitted, they met in a “brush harbor” to conduct their worship and prayer services until a meeting was called at the Good Samaritan Hall, located on the estate of Mr. John Bland on Clark’s Lane, now known as Starview Lane. There they discussed plans to work together to purchase land at the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and Warwick Road where a church would be constructed.
After many meetings in the Samaritan Hall, enough funds were accumulated to purchase the desired location and build our church’s first house of worship which was a log cabin. This log cabin was the house of worship for a number of years.
During this period of our church’s history, many ministers served its people. Among them were the Reverends W. W. Young and Whittle. Previous church minutes do not reflect who at this time served as moderator. But it is written that in this dwelling the “Council” for church organization met.
The first pastor, Reverend Phillip Winston, was called. “The Old Ship of Zion” began to move smoothly and steadily along. The parishioners working hard while learning more about the word of the Lord, praying and singing. With this spirit, great determination, and the leadership of Reverend Winston, the weatherboard house of worship was built at the corner of Midlothian and Warwick.
The Reverend Phillip Winston was one of the organizers of the Tuckahoe Baptist Association, of which we are one of its charter members.
Our other pastors were the following, in the order listed:
- Reverend Edward Jeffries
- Reverend J. H. Brown
- Reverend A. M. Kent
- Reverend O. C. Perkins
- Reverend J. B. Gordon
- Reverend Benjamin Robertson
- Reverend B. T. Starkes
- Reverend McClinton Waller
- Reverend Leonard Gilchrist
- Reverend Larry C. Green, Sr.
- Reverend John L. Gates
- Reverend Horace Jones
- Reverend Gerald O. Glenn
- Reverend Horace H. Wade, Jr.
- Reverend William H. Whitaker, II
During Reverend Glenn’s pastorate, the structure on Midlothian Turnpike at Warwick Road was increased in size and a second service on Sundays was added, but a larger facility was still needed. The church then contracted the Derwent Road location and moved after searching for a location still near the First Union neighborhood area that would continue to meet the needs of God’s people.
Truly First Union continues today under the blessings of our Lord. The wonderful, glorious, and blessed history of this church of our Lord sails on.