Leland Leads The Way

Records from Broad Run, Warrenton, Mount Zion, and First Baptist churches appear to conclude that this body of Zion is an offspring of the mixed congregations of both Broad Run and Warrenton Baptist Churches where, before the War, slaves, worshipped from the White churches’ balconies. 

Minutes from the Broad Run Baptist Church note that “On August 11, 1849, 15 members of the Broad Run Church, 9 White and 6 Negroes withdrew their membership to constitute a Church in Warrenton.  They held their meetings in Miss Harriett Swift’s school room on the ground floor of the Odd Fellows Hall until a regular meeting house could be constructed.  On December 7, 1849, a deed from W. H. Gaines conveyed to the trustees of the Warrenton Baptist Church a lot on the corner of First and Main Streets.  

Leland Warring

The History of the Warrenton Baptist by Edna M. Stephenson reinforces the same and adds a list of the black slaves who were presented for membership and received as candidates for baptism:  “Cyrus, servant of Susan Evans; Ellen, servant of Elias Edmonds; Catherine, servant of John Smith; Francis, free woman.  An early roster notes 28 members, 19 White and 9 Black, as having joined in 1849…”   The December 1861 minutes state “…the church entered into a contract with the Confederate authorities to be used as a hospital during the War and by 1863 many of the colored brothers and sisters left to unite with their Yankee friends.    John T. James, Clerk”

After the War, some Negroes (now freed from their slave owners), left the church to establish a meeting place of their own, worshipping in a large frame building on Calhoun Street, directly back of the T. N. Fletcher, Jr. property.  They called their organization the Zion Baptist Church.  It is safe to state that the two Negro Churches in Warrenton are also offshoots of the Broad Run Church…”   (File 00226 AAHA, The Plains, Virginia) 

And so it was that two years after the abolishment of slavery, Leland Warring of Spotsylvania County was on a mission to organize churches in Warrenton and Northern Virginia, giving freed Negroes the opportunity to worship on their own, in their own way. Church services had been conducted in cabins, but in August 1867, Reverend Warring and a group of “ex-slaves” purchased the site on Lee and Calhoun Streets for $400.00, organizing what was to become “a great church… known as Little Zion,” a property that was paid off in two years! (FBC 100th Anniversary History).  

Deed 63, page 381 Tax Records.  John   McGill.  Rice Payne


You can imagine…with this new “freedom” membership grew, and soon there was the need for a larger house of worship. Not all the brothers and sisters, however, dwelt in unity; there was dissension over a “trivial” matter, and soooo…a large faction of the group sought out to purchase THIS property on Old Alexandria Pike once occupied by both Episcopalians and Presbyterians at a cost of $600, and the First Baptist Colored Church was born, prospering under the dynamic leadership of Reverend Leland Waring, the first Negro minister in Northern Virginia.

In an effort to establish other houses of worship for ex-slaves and freedmen, Warring went throughout the area on “a mission from God,” leaving the church in the capable hands of Brother Sam Morgan, an outstanding and dedicated church member who assumed leadership and gave temporary guidance to the congregation until a new minister, Reverend Dennis, was chosen to assume the pastorate. Many more joined the church.

George Horner

Reverend George Horner succeeded Reverend Dennis; however, in 1883, some disgruntled members called for change in leadership.  Reverend Horner, along with many in the congregation, left First Baptist Church and organized Mount Zion Baptist Church (now Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church), literally blocks across town—back in the direction of the original gathering place!  Those who remained at First Baptist continued under the Reverend Hines until ill health forced him to resign.