Created by Bianca Vranceneau and Savita Maharaj


A Brief History of Christianity in Boston 

Since the 1630s, Christianity has had a significant role in Boston’s history. Puritanism was the main Christian practice of that era. Puritans believed in preaching as a way to spread the word of God and though their preaching was inspired by scripture and everyday experiences, their sermons often expressed political motives. In Boston, up until the American Revolution, Puritanism dominated society and non-believers were often shunned and punished. However, after the Revolution, the Massachusetts Constitution guaranteed that individuals could practice any religion freely leading to an increase in the practice of other denominations of Christianity in Boston (The Pluralism Project). The Black community embraced Christianity and by the 19th century, established several independent African-American Churches in Boston (The Pluralism Project).

 “Free Black Prayer Meeting,” Billy Graham Center Museum, Print.

Development of Christianity in 19th Century Boston

Christian spirituality was a significant factor in the Black communities of Boston in the 19th century. The practice of religion united many and these deep connections allowed for open communication about their roles in society. Initially, slave owners believed that the introduction of Christianity to enslaved people would make them more acquiescent of their role in society. However, as enslaved people were converted, their understanding of the Christian Bible’s representation of a benevolent God shaped their belief that all people should be treated equally. They began to identify the hypocrisies of white Christians who claimed to believe in mercy, grace, and righteousness, yet also supported the dramatic societal divide caused by racial oppression (Smith). This paradox led many 19th-century Black people to believe that their suffering would not be permanent, and the challenges they faced of racial oppression and slavery would be recognized by God. Inspired by the transcendent possibilities of the afterlife, Christians in Black Boston strived for social change on Earth. They gathered in their community churches and meeting houses to discuss racial oppression and searched for ways to abolish the racial divide (Garry). Christian spirituality was the impetus that inspired some Black people in the 19th-century to fight against racial oppression.

“Bromfield Street Church Boston,” Boston Pictorial Archive, 1850, Print.

Effects of Christian Spirituality

During the 19th- century, many Black people relied on their faith to secure their humanity in such inhumane circumstances (Elliot). Christian spirituality in the Black community enabled some of them to identify the social mistreatment they faced due to their race. It also induced open communication about racial oppression and the need for racial uplift and equality in the community. Black public figures often employed Christian religious and spiritual rhetoric to gain support from and appeal to their audiences in ways that were meaningful and encouraged societal change (McKinney). Christian spirituality played an incredibly significant role in the abolitionist movement and was a crucial factor that enabled Black people in Boston to assert and claim their godly right to be treated equally in society.

Arnett, Benjamin William, International Sunday-School Convention, and Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection, An address to have been delivered before the International Sunday School Convention, The Library of Congress, Boston, 1896.


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Arnett, Benjamin William, International Sunday-School Convention, and Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. An address to have been delivered before the International Sunday School Convention. 1896.The Library of Congress. Boston, MA.

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Elliot, M. “Four Hundred Years after Enslaved Africans were First Brought to Virginia, Most Americans Still Don’t Know the Full Story of Slavery.” New York Times Magazine, 2019.

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Smith, T. L. “Slavery and Theology: The Emergence of Black Christian Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century America.”Cambridge Universtiy Press, 497–512, 1972.