History of Centenary Methodist Church
There has been a Methodist presence in the St. Louis area since as early as 1808, with the first meeting taking place at Cold Water Creek some twelve miles north of St. Louis City. The Centenary Methodist Church in downtown St. Louis can trace its history to an early mission on Broadway and Pine and then to a church on Fourth Street between Myrtle and Elm called the Fourth Street Church. In 1839 the Centenary Methodist Church Organization began with its present name and upon completed construction of its new church in 1842, established a new location at the Northwest corner of Fifth and Pine Streets. In 1869 it made its final move to the present location at 55 Plaza Square (Sixteenth & Pine or 16th & Olive).
Centenary’s history of inclusion of the Black community
“Colored Persons” were members of the Centenary Methodist Church of St. Louis from its early beginnings in the 1820s. When Centenary’s church building was located on Fourth Street, called the Fourth Street Church, the African M. E. Church was built soon after on a nearby street and was considered a part of the Fourth Street Society. The Negroes worshipped separately but were ministered to by the regular Fourth Street pastor in the afternoon until there were two pastors appointed to the Fourth Street Church. Then one of them, usually the younger, served the colored congregation. Indeed, one third to almost one half of the church members were Negroes. This lead Dr. J. E. Godbey to write in his Condensed History of First Church (first printed in 1879): “This shows that while the Negroes were in slavery the church did not neglect them…they stood united in the same faith…communed at the altar…and were often united in bonds of truest Christian sympathy.”1
Wesleyan Cemetery record keeping
It is probably with this same philosophy that the church buried and re-interred their colored members. They were listed in the Wesleyan Cemetery ledger books separately under “List of Colored Persons.” This database consists of all those people so entered starting from the very first entry in July 1847, shortly after the first Wesleyan Cemetery opened and extending to 1868.
The Centenary Methodist Church of St. Louis had three locations for the burial of its dead.
- Franklin Ave. & 23rd (Unknown name & dates; No records available)2
- 1847 - Southwest and Southeast corners of Grand and Laclede Avenues; extending to Market Street, on the East side of what is now Grand Avenue. Called Wesleyan Cemetery.
- 1878 - Southeast corner of what is now Olive Street Road and Hanley Avenue. Also called Wesleyan Cemetery.
In 1952 the Cemetery Association was dissolved and those interred at the Olive & Hanley Avenue location were removed and re-interred in Memorial Park Cemetery and various other local cemeteries.
Aspects of the ledger books and the index
The Wesleyan Cemetery ledger books recorded burials of white people and “Colored Persons” separately. The microfilming of these records is probably not complete and was not done chronologically. However, the listing is presented both chronologically and alphabetically here for the researchers’ benefit. While many individuals are listed only as the “Negro Slave of” so and so and some by their first names only, there are also many listed by their first and last names.
Many first names were abbreviated in the records. These names were written in their long form for this listing for the benefit of researchers. The spelling of names varies greatly and is indicative of the time period where phonetic spelling was used. Therefore, a family name might be spelled three different ways but refer to the same family. The use of brackets [ ] indicates additional comments by the author for clarity.
The fee for burials differed depending on whether the person was a child or an adult. If there was no age listed but the amount charged for the burial clearly indicated the person’s age, “child” or “adult” was listed as the person’s age.
Not all of the pages have every column filled in completely so there are many blanks in the database.