Pilgrim’s History

We've come this far by faith, is a true scenario of the history of Pilgrim Baptist Church. From the onset, it was not an easy task for the Founders of Pilgrim. In 1863, the story begins with a group of brave Black men, women and children from Missouri. These Black migrants traveled North in search of work and a new way of life. Accounts on how this group came to Minnesota are mixed but not necessarily contradictory. One report states that a group of Negroes escaped from Boone County, Missouri, received protection by Union forces and were promised aid by the Underground Railroad. This account also asserts, this group was smuggled aboard the steamer "War Eagle" and taken North. Not knowing for sure where they were going, these Negroes referred to themselves as "Pilgrims."
hickman.jpgRev. Robert Thomas Hickman was a member of the group brought to St. Paul. He was born a slave in Boone County, Missouri. He worked as a rail-splitter, among other things, but his master taught him to read and gave him permission to preach to other slaves. Again, there is no doubt that Hickman arrived by boat, but other accounts had Hickman and followers aboard a raft adrift on the Mississippi. This raft was collected and towed upstream by a steamboat. The new influx increased the population in this area, which forced city authorities to divide local Blacks into three groups. One group was sent to Southern Minnesota, another to Duluth and one remained in St. Paul. Shortly after this decision was made, Rev. Hickman and followers began to seek a place of worship. Calling themselves "Pilgrims." Hickman's prayer group held services in their homes in downtown St. Paul. Finally in November 1863, they succeeded in renting the lodge room of the God Temples in the Concert Hall Building on Third Street. After two months of planning and praying, Hickman and his followers were unable to incorporate a formal congregation without an ordained minister. Rev. Hickman sought and received mission status from the First Baptist Church of St. Paul in January 1864. Between 1864 and 1866 the Black parishioners continued to worship separately under Hickman's direction. On November 15, 1866, Rev. Robert Hickman and others formally organized "PILGRIM BAPTIST CHURCH" in St. Paul, Minnesota. This act was celebrated by a baptismal service on the shores of the Mississippi River, climaxing three long years of frustration and hard work. The charter members of Pilgrim were Rev. and Mrs. Hickman, Fielding Combs, Henry Moffitt, John Trotter, Giles Crenshaw and members of their families. This group petitioned the trustees of First Baptist to intercede and purchase in trust a lot costing $200.00 on which they would build a house of worship. The first church was built on this lot located on Sibley near Morris Street. The first Pilgrim Baptist Church was built with stone and wood, and had a seating capacity of 300. The building cost was $2400, including the lot. A portion of the white First Baptist Church of St. Anthony, Minneapolis, which was being razed, was given to our congregation to be used in the construction of the new church. The money to pay for removing the lumber was raised through an entertaining evening in Odeon Hall, chaired by D. E. Talbert. The first two ministers, William Norris (1866 – 1868) and Andrew Torbert (1868 – 1877) were white. The denominational leaders overlooked Robert Hickman, the leader and natural candidate for the position of minister. During this time, his role was an imposing one. He was clerk of the congregation and attended yearly denominational meetings. He was eventually licensed to preach in 1874 and ordained in 1875. When Hickman became the congregation’s official minister in 1878, the white ministry at Pilgrim
ended. Succeeding Rev. Hickman and serving from 1886-1887 was Rev. Bird J. Wilkins. wilkins.jpgDuring Rev. Wilkins' pastorate, the first lot and church were exchanged for a second church lot which was built at Cedar Street and Summit Avenue. Things ran smoothly and uneventfully during the pastorates of the next five pastors.

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