Restoration: Buckingham’s oldest Black church is being preserved

Published 10:33 pm Saturday, June 24, 2023

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Buckingham County’s oldest Black church is going through some changes, as work continues to preserve it.

Alexander Hill Baptist Church was founded in 1865 and is a true gem in the religious journey of African Americans in Buckingham County. Before Emancipation, a brush arbor would have been used for worship by slaves as they were not allowed church buildings or school buildings.

The brush arbor, which has been recreated, is like any arbor, only this one would have had logs under it for seating and pine bows on top of it for shade. The preacher would stand on a “preacher’s mound” so as to be taller than his congregation. The mound is still intact and the Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources says it is a rare find. 

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The building itself was started sometime before 1869 and consisted of a foundation of three large rocks and large square logs for the building with a tin roof. A back section was added later which held the pulpit and the logs were covered with siding boards. The church also has a bell tower which from the early 1900s was used to announce the end of the war, marriages or deaths, etc. and sometimes to warn the community of danger during the Jim Crow years. 

An early deed

An early deed shows that one half acre land was deeded to Lidia Palmer (house slave of Alexander Moseley) and her husband Rev. Gabriel Palmer to establish a place of worship after Emancipation. This church was the “mother” church of many local churches in operation today including Warminster, Salem and Jerusalem. 

Alexander Hill Baptist Church is on The Virginia Registry of Historic Places and The National Registry of Historic Places. Historic Buckingham Inc., the United Baptist Association of Central Virginia, and the Buckingham African American Life and History Society are the forces behind the restoration of this project. 

Future for the oldest Black church

As part of the Jamestown 2007 Commemoration, Historic Buckingham hosted a brush arbor service, held on the property with over 300 in attendance along with newspaper and television coverage. Since 2007, efforts have been made to find monies to not only preserve the building but to have it become an educational tool to tell the story of the Black religious journey in Buckingham County.

The outside of the building is near completion with the use of a grant from Dominion Energy and some local donations. The foundation and inside restoration is still badly needed. Two acres of land from a generous neighbor was donated a few years back which has been turned into a parking lot for future tours by school children, university scholars, historic societies, and the general public who want to be able to touch and see this extraordinary piece of history that tells an American story. 

For more information or to make a donation towards this project, email: or call the Buckingham Historical Society at (434) 547-2296.

Martha Louis is president of Historic Buckingham. She wrote this as the group’s June history column for The Herald, detailing both the region’s past and future.