First African Baptist Church was constructed by private citizens for use by their house slaves before the Civil War. Its first use was in 1861 as a prayer house then it was sold in 1868 to newly freed slaves. During Reconstruction, the church was filled with Beaufort’s black elite. Black politicians, lawyers, missionaries and businessmen all filled the pews including Robert Smalls. It was this cross section of politics and religion in the new south that lead some to call the church “the most aristocratic black church in the south.”
When Paul Robeson came to visit Beaufort, he made a stop at First African Baptist and when the church’s founding pastor, Reverend Arthur Waddell, passed away, the small congregation lovingly buried him on a soft patch of grass right next to the church.
Photo credit: Fallon N. Green, The Gullah Guide to Greater Beaufort