Richmond’s First Church

On a June evening in 1780, one year before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown and two years before Richmond was incorporated as a city, Joshua Morris conducted a prayer meeting in the home of John Franklin at Carrington and Pink Streets on Union Hill. This group of Christian believers organized the Richmond Baptist Church, the first Baptist church to be constituted in a Virginia city and the first church of any denomination to be organized in Richmond.

In 1813 the women of the church formed the Female Missionary Society, the first such in Virginia and the second in the South. In 1815, a second missionary organization began in the church by Deacon William Crane. His compassion for black men and women led to the establishment of a school for slaves made up of twenty young men. They met three evenings each week to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and the Bible. Because of his love and devotion, two of his students, Lott Cary and Collin Teague, purchased their freedom and gave themselves to African missions, sailing to Liberia in 1821 on the first colonization ship. The Providence Baptist Church, which was organized in Deacon Crane’s home, is today the “Westminster Abbey” of Liberia, the building in which the Liberian Declaration of Independence was signed, and is a national shrine. The heroic exploits of Cary and Teague are appropriately portrayed in the beautiful Baptist history windows in the Providence church chapel.

First Baptist has been first in many other ways. Not only was it the first church of any denomination to be organized in Richmond, the first Baptist church organized in a Virginia city, and the first church in Virginia to organize a missionary society for women, but it also was the first in the city to organize a Sunday school for children, the first in America to send her own members as foreign missionaries to the continent of Africa, the first in the Southern Baptist Convention to have a church library.

From its inception the church has been strong in its commitment to missions. For many years after its founding in 1845, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now the International Mission Board) occupied offices in the church building. Many missionaries have gone out from First Baptist, among whom are the following pioneers: Lott Cary and Collin Teague; Henrietta Hall Shuck, first American woman missionary to reach China; Dr. George Green, first medical missionary to the Nigerian Baptist Mission; Reverend William B. Johnson, missionary to China who became the first Southern Baptist missionary to Indonesia.

Senior Pastors of First Baptist

  • 1780-1786 Joshua Morris
  • 1788-1824 John Courtney
  • 1825-1833 John Kerr
  • 1833-1835 Isaac Taylor Hinton
  • 1836-1849 Jeremiah Bell Jeter
  • 1850-1854 Basil Manly
  • 1854-1874 John Lansing Burrows
  • 1876-1879 Ebenezer W. Warren
  • 1879-1884 James B. Hawthorne
  • 1885-1903 George Cooper
  • 1905-1927 George W. McDaniel
  • 1928-1934 Charles W. Daniel
  • 1936-1968 Theodore F. Adams
  • 1968-1982 Luther Joe Thompson
  • 1983-2006 Peter James Flamming
  • 2008-present James Green Somerville