Mitchell Chapel A.M.E. Church

On October 27, 1896 the Mitchell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church was dedicated on Glessner Ave., but the church’s history goes back many years before this.  The earliest records of the church in Mansfield, Ohio were said to be in the possession of the late Alice Poindexter Cole, but no minutes were kept.  The church met briefly on Diamond Street and the earliest members were: Ada Beaumont, Flora Davis, Mary Dunmore, Mr. and Mrs. James Edmunds, Julia Evans, Liggin Jones, John Liggins and Mariah and Thomas Wilson.  It is also rumored that the group “met in the old Presbyterian church and later in a tinning shop owned by Mr. Runyon” before moving to Glessner Ave, which was then Pine St.

An early history taken from A. A. Graham’s History of Richland County, Ohio published in 1880:

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is located on East Diamond Street. It is not at present owned by the congregation, which is small, numbering only about twenty members.  It was organized at that place in 1875, the principal members being George Conley, Philip Harris, Judge Sheffield, William Steward and Mrs. Rachel Steward and Mrs. Isaac Pleasants.  The ministers have been Rev. Armhouse, Neely Jackson, William Mackedew, N. L. Bray and J. W. Jackson. The Sunday school connected with this church was organized by Mr. L. J. Bonar, in 1865, in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Bonar was Superintendent for several years. After him Mr. Isaac Pleasants has occupied that position acceptably. The membership is about thirty-one.”

While the parishioners were on Diamond Street, it was decided that a larger and better suited building was needed, and a group was put together to search for a proper location.  A building was found on Pine Street, now Glessner Ave., and, after discovering the building owner was George F. Carpenter, a group went to meet with him.  He allowed them use of the building free of charge.  Later a church was erected and the land was deeded over to H. E. Bell, the attorney and trustee of the church estate.

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First church on Glessner Ave.

In November of 1948, Rev. F. D. Barnes became the 31st minister to serve the congregation.  It was determined that the original building was beyond repair and a decision was made that it be razed in 1950.  That same year, construction of a new building began.  The second building was dedicated on September 23, 1951 and the congregation stayed at this location at 151 Glessner Ave. for almost 50 years before moving to their current location at 182 South Adams St.

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Second Church on Glessner Ave.

The early history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church from the church’s website:

The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s MEC pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. Although most wanted to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen led a small group who resolved to remain Methodists. In 1794 Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering white Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME.”

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Richard Allen, Founder of The African Methodist Episcopal Church

Sources:

https://www.ame-church.com/our-church/our-history/

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“Auntie” Bradford

Frances Ellen Bradford, or “Auntie” Bradford as she was commonly known, was well known in Mansfield in the years after the Civil War.  Very little is known about her early life, but according to her obituary in The Mansfield Shield & Banner on July 16. 1887, she was born in Texas on the plantation of Sam Houston, though this is unproven.   “Although a slaveholder himself, Houston repeatedly voted against the spread of slavery to new territories of the United States. An ardent advocate of the Union, Houston was the only Southern governor to oppose secession in the lead-up to the Civil War. Over his opposition, a state convention voted on February 1, 1861 to secede by a margin of 168 to 8. When Houston refused a month later to swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America, the Texas legislature deposed him and replaced him with the pro-Confederacy lieutenant governor.”[i]  Her obituary continues saying her mother was a beautiful Creole woman and her that father had Indian blood in his veins.

Bradford left Texas and made her way to New York where she married her husband, a coachman, named John.  They moved to Mansfield sometime after the death of their infant child.  The first time Bradford can be placed in Mansfield is on April 17, 1864 when she became a member of the First Congregational Church in Mansfield.  According to the churches website, “in 1833 Matthias Day felt compelled to leave the Presbyterian Church when he could no longer tolerate their support of slavery. He was joined by many Mansfielders, first meeting in an old warehouse. In 1835 the flock built their first Church and Parrish house, which served the congregation until it was destroyed by fire in 1870.”

 

“Auntie” Bradford was a caterer by trade and had a home on Marian Ave across the street from Carpenter School.  She helped out in the church Sunday school primary room on Sunday mornings and had a love for the children of the city and often hosted parties for them.  She was a firm believer in a good education for young people, especially those of the African-American community.

“Auntie” Bradford passed away from cancer on July 12, 1887.  She was believed to be around 70 years old, although her exact age is unknown.  Bradford left most of her $2,000 estate to the library of The First Congregational Church and the Sunday school library was named after her.  $50 was also left to Daisy [Sarah] Barker on the condition that she finished her schooling.  She did and collected her $50 upon graduation from high school.

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“Auntie” Bradford

“In 1942, fire would again strike, destroying the beautiful building which had served not only as First Congregational’s home, but also as a community center because of large seating capacity.  Included in the destruction was the Auntie Bradford library.  Her generosity was honored with the establishment of the Auntie Bradford Library within the new Church.”[ii]

The Farm

It is also believed that Bradford was the inspiration for Louis Bromfield’s character of Aunty Walker in his novel The Farm.  The character is described as an intelligent woman, who had a love for books, her church and children.

“Auntie” Bradford’s tombstone in Mansfield Cemetery simply reads “The Children’s Friend.”

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Bradford’s Tombstone in Mansfield Cemetery

Sources:

[i] http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-sam-houston
[ii]  http://www.mansfieldfcc.com/history