Black history … some local stories you never knew

blackhistoryPORTLAND – One of the most overlooked monuments to black history in America, the Abyssinian Meetinghouse, was one of the nation’s first black churches, a station on the underground railroad and a platform for famous abolitionists.

Built in 1827 by black seamen in the merchant and coastal ferry fleet, it started to decline after the wreck of the steamship Portland. She sunk in a gale in 1898 killing all 192 passengers and crew, including 30 leading church members.

The church is the third-oldest African-American church still standing in the country and is now undergoing restoration.  But it doesn’t stand alone. The Mariners’ Church is just down the street and this religious home served as the place where the first Afro-centric history of the world, Light and Truth, written by Robert Benjamin Lewis, was printed.

One of the key African-American sights in Maine is the Portland Freedom Trail, which comprises 16 marked sites (including the churches) and highlights individuals associated with the Underground Railway and anti-slavery movement.

Maine, like the other New England states, has a rich and sometimes rocky religious history, but did you know that James A. Healy, America’s first African-American Roman Catholic Bishop, was ordained for the Diocese of Portland in 1875.

Just up the coast in Brunswick , is the First Parish church and 1850, after listening to an inspiring sermon, young Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.




David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at