Peter Williams, Jr.

williams_peter

Described as a “genuine African,” Peter Williams and his parents were enslaved Africans. Williams’ enslaver, Mr. Aymar, was a tobacconist. He was also a Loyalist who left the country during the Revolutionary War. Having developed a skill, Williams went into business for himself as a tobacconist. He would eventually own a house, store, and other property–including himself. In 1783, Williams became the “property of the John Street Methodist church who bought him for forty (40) pounds.” From June 10, 1783, through October 20, 1796, Peter Williams worked off the debt and “refunded every pound the trustees had paid his master, and thus purchased himself.”

When Peter Williams led the African American members of the congregation from the church, he was leaving a church that compelled its African American members to wait to be served communion until all of the white members had been served. The realization that the church was not serving the needs of the African and African American community, and that African Americans could not be ordained as minister, were part of what motivated Williams to secede. Williams was the father of Peter Williams, Jr. (1780-1840), the first African American ordained minister in the Protestant Episcopal church. Peter Williams, Jr., became the first leader of St. Phillips African Church in 1819.