Twelfth Baptist Church, Boston

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"Church of the Fugitive Slaves in Boston," from Anthony Burns: A History by Charles E. Stevens, 1856.

The Twelfth Baptist Church is a historic church in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Established in 1840, it is the oldest direct descendant of the First Independent Baptist Church in Beacon Hill. Notable members have included abolitionists such as Lewis Hayden and Rev. Leonard Grimes, the historian George Washington Williams, pioneering educator Wilhelmina Crosson, and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..


Title page of History of the Twelfth Baptist Church by George Washington Williams, 1874

The Twelfth Baptist Church was established in 1840 when a group of 36 dissenters broke with the First Independent Baptist Church, which met in what is now known as the African Meeting House. The exact reason for the split is not clear. According to some historians, the dissenters wanted to take a more aggressive stand against slavery than the other members.[1] In addition, the First Independent Baptist Church had not had a permanent minister for some time, which may have given rise to general disagreements as to how to run the church.[2]

Led by Rev. George H. Black, a Baptist minister and native of the West Indies, the new congregation moved to Phillips Street in Beacon Hill. The Rev. Leonard Grimes was ordained as its first pastor in 1848. Grimes was an abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor who had served two years in prison for attempting to rescue a family of slaves in Virginia. Under his leadership, the church became known as "The Fugitive Slave Church." Scores of escaped slaves were aided by the church, and many chose to join the congregation. Early members included Lewis and Harriet Hayden, Shadrach Minkins, Anthony Burns, Thomas Sims, and John S. Rock.[3] Grimes served as pastor until his death in 1873.[4]

In 1907, the church moved to the former Jewish temple Mishkan Tefila at 47 Shawmut Avenue in Roxbury. It later moved to its current location at 150-160 Warren Street.[1]

The church has had many notable pastors and members. Rev. George Washington Williams, its second pastor, was a Civil War veteran, lawyer, journalist, and groundbreaking historian. Williams wrote a history of the church in 1874. Rev. J. Allen Kirk wrote an oft-cited account of the Wilmington massacre of 1898.[5] Rev. Matthew A. N. Shaw was president of the National Equal Rights League of Boston, and organized the Negro Sanhedrin conference of 1924.[6]

Noted educator Wilhelmina Crosson taught Sunday School at the Twelfth Baptist Church in the 1940s. One of the first African-American female schoolteachers in Boston, Crosson developed the city's first remedial reading program, and was an early advocate of black history education.[7]

Rev. William Hunter Hester wrote a history of the Twelfth Baptist Church in 1946. In the 1950s, he worked with a young assistant minister who was pursuing doctoral studies in theology at Boston University: Martin Luther King, Jr. Hester was an old friend of King's father, and was an important influence on King.[8]

Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes was active in the civil rights movement and represented Roxbury in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the 1960s.[9]


Pastors of the Twelfth Baptist Church to date:[10]

  1. Rev. Leonard Grimes (1848–1874)
  2. Rev. George Washington Williams (1874–1876)
  3. Rev. Williams Dennis (1876–1880)
  4. Rev. L. F. Walden (1880–1885)
  5. Rev. Robert Fairfax (1886–1890)
  6. Rev. H. H. Harris (1890–1891)
  7. Rev. J. Allen Kirk (1891–1894)
  8. Rev. John R. McCenny (1894)
  9. Rev. Matthew A. N. Shaw (1894–1922)
  10. Rev. William Hunter Hester (1923–1964)
  11. Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes (1964–2004)
  12. Rev. Dr. Arthur T. Gerald, Jr. (2010–Present)


  1. ^ a b Vrabel, Jim (2004). When in Boston: A Time Line & Almanac. Northeastern University Press. p. 138. ISBN 1-55553-620-4.
  2. ^ "History - Anti-Slavery Meetinghouse". Twelfth Baptist Church, Boston.
  3. ^ "African American Churches of Beacon Hill". National Park Service.
  4. ^ Hayden, Robert C. (1992). African-Americans in Boston: More than 350 Years. Trustees of the Boston Public Library. p. 129. ISBN 0-89073-083-0.
  5. ^ Kirk, Rev. J. Allen (1898). "A Statement of Facts Concerning the Bloody Riot in Wilmington, N.C." University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
  6. ^ Joyce Moore Turner with W. Burghardt Turner, Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2005; pg. 113.
  7. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney (1996). Notable Black American Women. VNR AG. pp. 152–155. ISBN 9780810391772.
  8. ^ Baldwin, Lewis V. (2010). The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr. Oxford University Press. pp. 42–44. ISBN 9780195380316.
  9. ^ Craig, David J. "Roxbury minister Michael E. Haynes to deliver Baccalaureate sermon". B.U. Bridge.
  10. ^ "Pastoral History". Twelfth Baptist Church, Boston.

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Coordinates: 42°19′31.2″N 71°4′58.4″W / 42.325333°N 71.082889°W / 42.325333; -71.082889