1206 Etting St, Baltimore, MD 21217

Free Black Congregation Sketch

Sketch of Free Black Congregation at Sharp Street United Methodist Church

The congregation at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church began in 1787, establishing the first African American Methodist congregation in Baltimore. They purchased their first church building on Sharp Street between Lombard and Pratt Streets in 1802.

Reverend Daniel Coker

In 1811, an addition allowed Reverend Daniel Coker to open a “school for Negroes.” When Daniel Coker left Sharp Street School to become the first missionary of Sierra Leone, 19 year old William J. Watkins took over as minister and teacher.


There, as an abolitionist and staunch anti-colonizationist, Watkins changed the views of William Lloyd Garrison, who was co-editor at Benjamin Lundy’s newspaper, to oppose colonization in favor of abolition. Watkins wrote many articles for Lundy’s paper The Genius of Universal Emancipation, Garrison’s The Liberator, and Douglass’s papers The North Star and Frederick Douglass Newspaper. Watkins and his three sons were also involved in the Underground Entrepot at the nearby Port of Baltimore. Ellen Francis Watkins Harper also attended church and school at Sharp Street until the age of 13. She was shaped and influenced by the legacy of her Uncle William Watkins with whom she lived while she was in Baltimore. 

William LLoyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison
William Watkins Teaching Class
Ellen Frances Watkins Harper

Bounty hunters, watchmen, slave patrols, and informants watched Baltimore streets day and night. They would have had the Sharp Street Church and School under heavy surveillance because of the abolitionist sympathies of the Methodists who attended services there and the Quakers, who lived along Sharp Street.


ELISHA TYSON a Quaker Businessman, Flour Miller, Trader, and Merchant was a Millionaire by 1818 founded the Savings Bank of Baltimore. He built houses along Sharp Street for his family to protect Free Blacks at Sharp Street Church from being kidnapped. Tyson also operated one the earliest UGRR networks with Agent Jacob Lindley in Chester County Pennsylvania. Tyson was also active in offering practical assistance to fugitives from slavery, providing housing along Falls Road Turnpike to act as safe houses, [9] He purchased women and men at the slave auction in Baltimore, and set them free.[10] He lobbied for laws to help slaves and blacks, persuaded slaveholders to free slaves, and helped provide schools and churches for freed blacks. He also inspected Jails, Slave Pens, and slave dens to look for Blacks who had been illegally kidnapped and held. He foiled many kidnappings on ships about to leave the Port of Baltimore. One Ship owner brandished a knife at Tyson after boarding and searching the vessel.

In 1822 he helped free in court a ship load of 11 smuggled Africans 19 years before Amistad’s Case was heard by SCOTUS. As many as 4,000 African Americans joined his funeral procession from Sharp Street to the Old Town Quaker Meeting House Burial Ground. Elisha Tyson’s Legacy brought Benjamin Lundy to Baltimore from Tennessee in 1825 to publish his Abolition Newspaper. There are estimates Tyson helped free10,000 African Americans. Tyson had nicknames as the Granville Sharp and Wilberforce of America.

Elisha Tyson

Tyson's life was threatened several times by knife and pistol. The most famous incident occurred nearby at Tyson's earlier Camden Street home where he attempted to rescue a free kidnapped woman from Slaver Austin Woolfolk. Woolfolk threatened Tyson with a drawn gun and said he would send him to Hell. Tyson opened his shirt exposing his chest and said “. . . go ahead shoot . . . I am already in Hell.”

Martha Ellicott Tyson
Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church

Following the July 27 and 28, 1812 Baltimore Riots, a mob reassembled and were about to attack and burn the Sharp Street Church and School. They turned their rage towards African Americans who had joined the British Army as Corps of Colonial Marines from 1808-1815.

Church members, school officials, and neighbors guarded the front of the buildings along Sharp Street to protect the church and school from destruction. The City Troop Cavalry arrived just in time to thwart the attack

Bounty hunters, watchman, slave patrols and informants watched the Baltimore streets day and night and would have had the meeting house under surveillance due to the quaker abolitionists who attended services here. In August of 1838 a Watchman was accosted allegedly by Church Parishioners most likely because of the watchman’s underground railroad surveillance on Sharp Street. A white mob returned and threatened to destroy the Church & School Property. Church parishioners formed a human fence around the building’s perimeter until police arrived.

Young Frederick Douglass
Photograph of a young Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass became a member of the Sharp Street Church after he split with the congregation at the Strawberry Alley Church, which has since been demolished. He sang in the choir at Sharp Street Church from 1836 to 1837. Douglass, fearing he might be sold to the New Orleans market, along with the recent attack of a white mob on the Sharp Street Methodist Church in late August 1838 probably spurred Frederick Bailey and Anna Murray to plot their escape from Baltimore.