Author Archives: bthomp12

The Years that Count: Analyzing Years of Separation in “The Christian Recorder” ‘Information Wanted’ Ads

Courtesy of Accessible Archives

Courtesy of Accessible Archives


The Christian Recorder is arguably one of the best sources documenting African-American History from the Civil War Era. A weekly periodical published in Philadelphia by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), brought religious news and current events to the African-American communities throughout both the North and South in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. Aside from the articles, one its most valuable resources at the time of its publication and today for historians, was the “Information Wanted” section. From 1861 (the paper was technically founded in 1854, yet had a short-lived run in publication) to 1902, almost each issue features various ads placed by African-Americans throughout the country who were seeking missing loved ones after the war and Emancipation. Some of the ads placed contain every minutia of information that would have been helpful to locate a loved one from their location of origin, location last seen, length of separation and even specifics dealing with the former lives of their loved ones. Other unfortunately for historians, had the very basics necessary: name of person(s) and person(s) of contact. While the information featured in The Christian Recorder can be drawn out and transcribed into data, it poses a devastating portrait of 600 + families who had been torn apart in the chaotic war. One of the most basic piece of information that is also one of the most haunting, is the compilation of years of separation that appears in the ads. Unfortunately, many of the ads are missing vital information that could have helped some families locate in a more efficient matter. However; there is enough information presented in the ads to at least create an accurate representation of the clientele using The Christian Recorder. Not all of those who placed ads included years that their loved ones were missing or their reason for be separated, but those who did can give me us an interesting snapshot into the chaos during and after the Civil War for African-American families trying to reconnect and live as a free and whole family.


Years of Separation

After reviewing our class compilation of “Information Wanted” Ads, the column for years of separation was something that stuck out for me, especially as I wanted to to try and visually capture a different narrative on family and the emotions of searching for loved ones. Numbers can be challenging though in terms of representing emotions, especially staring at the reader from a spreadsheet.  My goal then, was to create a visual that would help people not only quickly process the information, but hopefully touch them as well. For starters, out of the 686 ads placed in The Christian Recorder from 1861- 1869, only 256 listed the years of separation. Therefore; the sample size for a visual was going to appear small since it was less than half.


While the sample size is small though, the visual it produces can provide a lot of information for the time period when compared to the original spreadsheet and the dates of the ads placed. Below is the bar graph based on the sample size of those who provided the separation length in their ads and the frequency in which they appear. While the below graph may only represent a 37% chunk of those who placed in ads over the time between 1861 and 1869, there was enough information to create a somewhat startling visual.

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The bar graph is  great because it allows historians to determine length of separation while also connecting reason for separation. Again, many of the entries are incomplete and the reasons for separation do not always match up with an entry that provided length of separation, however; we can make many inferences for those that are incomplete, as well as rely on the ads that are complete; providing both reason and length of separation. For instance, as seen above in the graph, one of the most frequently published separation length mentioned in the ads was 4 years. 4 years would make the most sense in the time period of the ads: 1861-1869 because almost 25 entries related the years of separation to military service either by voluntary service, or in some instances forced services. It would make sense considering that many emancipated African-Americans were migrating north with what was left of their families, forcing them to leave they male family members behind. Coming in close to the frequency of the 4 year length , are some multi-decade numbers: 15, 20, etc… While 25 separations were due to military service, approximately 160 + were due to slavery and being sold away from  the family before the war. The next runner-up is 23 entries citing 16 years of separation, followed by 22 entries citing 10 years of separation. For those who listed their cause of separation , these typically link to slavery and the loved one being sold or taken in the wanted ads themselves . It is amazing to see that in the years during and after the war, the families were still hoping to be reunited with loved ones. Some, as the graph shows, were separated for 40 years and one for 45! It must have been so devastating to continue the search for a family member who had been missing for multiple decades. Again, in researching this and compiling the data the numbers become the feature. However; after you look at the numbers and the visuals, one needs to remember that the 40 is 40 years without that loved one, not mere digits. In the aftermath of war and in the promise of freedom, there is still this creative hope  and notion of fidelity that by using The Christian Recorder as an advocate and voice, that there could still be a chance . What surprised me as I compiled the information was the relative low number of people who reported loved ones missing for 1,2,3 years before the significant increase of loved ones being lost for 4 years. i expected many more in the single digit numbers because of length of war-time service and knowing that some southern towns were emancipated late in the war. The Union army, most likely taking what they could get towards the end of the war, it seems that more men would have been drafted and boosted the frequency of 1,2,3 year separations. Almost as emotional as the numbers in the years frequency, are some of the reasons listed for separation in the ads. Again, many are due to military service, but most are attributed to slavery. All the various reasons listed in the ads can seen and analyzed in the visual below.

Wordle: Christian Recorder Ads





As stated before, I chose the topic above because there was something so interesting and yet so haunting about the numbers. In the spreadsheet, it stares back at you as numbers in a  formula. However; once i created the bar graph and could get a comparative visual, it turned into something else for me entirely. I knew from the get go that I wanted to use charts and graphs because they would make an impact as visuals. As simple as it seems, the charts and graphs were made using Numbers by Apple. I made a separate spreadsheet with the information that i needed and picked and chose the different visuals that I wanted it to correspond with and the particulars that i thought would best make the information pop in the most concise way. I wasn’t initially going to add the Wordle, but as I was going through and extracting the information, I felt I would be doing disservice to the bigger picture. Because of the time period I myself after just crunching the numbers and creating the visuals, figured most separation years between 1-8 or 9 years would be due to military service. If not military service, then possible contraband camps, basically any event that was tied to the war or emancipation. As I scrolled through the data, I kept seeing over and over again “sold”, “sold by owner”, “advertisee sold”, “advertiser sold” and even “taken”. It was devastating to see that even after the war and emancipation, the majority of people who appealed to The Christian Recorder for advocacy, were still searching for loved ones who were casualties of the terror of the slave trade and southern slavocracy. While for this article i merely compiled the data, anyone with a deep interest in the Civil War or American slavery, could take this project to a much deeper level. Afterwards, it left me wondering about the narratives of these people. Who were they? Did they find their loved ones? Were their families successful? A project that could culminate from this articles could be a biography of any of the people mentioned in the advertisements, or the advertisers themselves. it would be fascinating to find about their lives as slaves, their migration to the north, or even their connection to The Christian Recorder. I’d also be interested in a compilation of success statistics based on the ads featured in The Christian Recorder, and the families who placed them.



FAB Philadelphia: Establishing Black Baptists Roots in a Methodist City 1813-1900


Christianity is something that has always been a solid tradition in African American communities since the end of the Civil War in 1865. Once the African Americans were freed and established their own communities, the Christian church usually became the center pillar of society. It was a way to not only seek spiritual fulfillment in a chaotic world, but organize community programs and aid. One of the largest hotspots to expand on African churches in the years leading up to and during the Civil War was Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s location as the southernmost northern state made it not only a prime city to settle for free blacks, but also escaped slaves and later those emancipated during the war. Initially, the Methodist church was one of the first to accept African Americans into their churches and then to branch off into the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. The AME church had strong ties to Philadelphia and its black communities through its publication The Christian Recorder. The Christian Recorder, a weekly publication provided articles on theology and current events as well as provided aid to displaced African Americans seeking family and friends after either being sold or emancipated. However; it would soon find a rival in a new organization: The First African Baptists Church, who’s roots in Philadelphia are key to the African American narrative.

The Christian Recorder was a positive and valued source in the Black AME community, interestingly enough though, its articles often went to great lengths to discredit a new rival denomination that had popped up in Philadelphia and was giving the AME churches a run for its money with parishioners. There are various articles featured it its issues dating back to Civil War Era and many deal with a preoccupation of statistics: numbers of Baptists in the region or nation compared to Baptist converts, including a heated article dismissing claims that the Black Baptist churches were outnumbering AME churches titled “You Are Mistaken”. Another article from 1863 critiques the Baptist paper The Examiners open article about wanting to create a more ritualized infant baptism, one more in line with the ceremonious Catholic baptisms. An article from November 6, 1890 entitled The Baptists and the Methodists goes on a lengthy, fiery diatribe in response to the American Baptists article about how the AME church had at that time actually despised the Baptists so much that at a Kentucky AME conference they were rumored to have said

” We are sorry the Baptist church has sunk so deep into ignorance, prejudice and superstition as to make an exhibition of themselves in this enlighten age, therefore be it ‘ Resolved that we pray for them that they may yet return to the principles of Christian love as taught by our common Lord, and that mercy be extended to them till they repent’ “

It is odd to think that at a time when the Black community was seeking its emancipation and induction into American society, that two religious organizations could attack each other in such violent ways. The Christian Recorder, documents various “grievances” it has with the Baptist churches ideologies, actions and general presence. Through reading The Christian Recorder, the reader picks up in an obvious matter how essential the AME churches were in time leading up to the Civil War, during and after. However; the Baptist tradition is one that has been downplayed and is equally important in understanding the role of African Americans in free society in the 19th century.

Just as with the AME churches, the Baptist movement grew out of white Baptist churches. May 13th 1809, 13 parishioners from The First Baptist Church of Philadelphia kindly asked to leave the mostly white congregation of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia to create their own African congregation and by June of 1809, under the direction of Reverend Henry Cunningham, the church built its first of many on a small rented lot on 10th and Vine in Philadelphia.

In 1813, the second Pastor Reverend John King, a white minister from the south would preside over the First African Baptist Church (FAB) and would change the location twice; a jump to 11th and Vine and later 8th and Vine, but he would be replaced in 1832 by the Reverend James Burrows. Burrows was the epitome of the African Christian in the Civil War Era. He was a former slave who had actually worked in Philadelphia with his masters permission to pay off his freedom! Burrows was hugely successful, he moved the location yet again to 11th and Vine and according the FAB site, built a consistent following up until the time until he left in 1846. Sadly, and for reasons unknown, in the 1850’s the fellowship started to decline.


The Baptist church once again came to life in 1864, the year after the Emancipation, as a flood of northern migration was taking place under Reverend Theodore D. Miller. By 1867, Miller had presided over a increase of 240 to 12,000 parishioners. Because Philadelphia’s location provided a perfect settlement for the newly freed African Americans, the Baptist tradition took on and in 1867 the church moved again, it was because they had grown almost overnight and needed a bigger building for their budding community. Because the fellowship was so high and under the dedicated care of Reverend Miller, the new location on Cherry Street was entirely paid for in his 32 years of service. Miller would pass away in 1897 and leave a legacy of strength in the Baptist community. The FAB church was not just revolutionary for organizing in a mainly Methodist town, but for its contributions to the African Americans of Philadelphia in practical ways as well. In the early 1900’s after it had been solidly established in the aftermath of the Emancipation and Union victory, FAB started the first Savings and Loans for African Americans in the city and helped secure mortgages early on for the growing Black communities.

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Baptist and AME churches were not the only religious affiliations who have helped aid African Americans from slavery or racial injustice. However; both were crucial in Philadelphia in the 19th century to establish a home base as well as a strong Black community. Most though are more familiar with the AME organization and its role in the emancipation process. Philadelphia could not have developed such a strong African American community with the FAB. Today, it has celebrated 205 years of practice in the Philadelphia region and continues to be a major pillar in the African American community in Philadelphia.

Photos Courtesy of NYPLA

Suggested Readings-

FAB Celebrates 205th Year

The FAB Church

The Black church During the Civil War

The First African Baptist Church, Philadelphia. Charles Brooks 1922