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Rev Peter Stanford - Birmingham's first Black Minister

Rev. Peter Stanford

Rev. Peter Stanford took delight in being called "Birmingham's Coloured Preacher". In his autobiography he entitled the last chapter "I am Pastor of an English Baptist Church, With my Good Name Vindicated Before the World".

His Early Years
Rev. Stanford was born into slavery and was nameless for much of his childhood. His father was sold before his birth and his mother's owner regarded him as an addition to his wealth. He was about three years old when the Civil War broke out between the Northern and Southern states of America. His mother was sold to the Southern traders and he was placed under the care of a Black woman. He passed three more years of his life, neglected, hungry, ragged and dirty. A few years of his life were spent among the Native Americans, who 'kidnapped' him, and under whose care he learned their language, to run, swim, fish, shoot with bow and arrow, and thus he obtained his livelihood.

At the close of the war he was left by the Native Americans in a wood but was fortunately taken charge of by the Society of Friends, who sent him to a African American Children's Shelter, in Boston, Mass. After remaining there for a year he was adopted by a Mr Stanford who gave him his name. He eventually ran away and got out of Boston in the coal box of a railway train; he became a street 'Arab', and a boot blacker, getting his first lessons at street corners and in 'doss houses' from another outcast, almost as poor and as friendless as himself. This continued until the year 1872.

His Life of Ministry Begins
In 1872 Rev. Stanford met and became friends with the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Pastor of Shiloah Presbyterian Church, New York who treated him very kindly. In 1875 Rev. Garnet assisted him after he had continued his studies, in gaining employment as a yard boy at Suffield College. This job eventually provided him with the opportunity to join the College classes but this was not achieved without having to fight discrimination as a result of his colour. Eventually he was accepted by everyone and instead of being referred to in the derogatory terms "Nigger Peter" he was addressed as Mr Stanford. He completed his college course in June 1881 through the kindness of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and W.E. Dodge, Esq., he was given work as a missionary to the Black community, living in Hartford, Connecticut. His lack of finances forced him to work in the foundry in the day and preach at night, taking services on Sundays.

Rev Stanford Arrives in England
The Rev. Peter Stanford arrived in Liverpool England on 14 February 1883. He journeyed to London on the same night of his arrival in Liverpool. After some time he left London and travelled to Leeds, Barnsley, and Keighley, in Yorkshire. In the latter part of 1885 he went to live in Bradford. However, Bradford did not prove to be a welcoming environment and he therefore moved to Birmingham, in June 1887. He found somewhere to live on Priestly Road in Sparkbrook. In Birmingham he met and married a lady from West Bromwich whom he described as one who had an "ardent zeal for Christ". They were married on 13 August 1888. He claimed that the example and affection of his wife made him a better and happier individual.

Rev Stanford's Ministry in Birmingham
Rev. Stanford attended the annual meeting of the Midland Baptist Association, held at Stafford, in June 1888, and was introduced to the Rev. Charles Joseph, pastor of the Victoria Street Baptist Chapel, Small Heath. Rev. Stanford found that members of the church in Birmingham were quite warm and accepting. In his autobiography he describes his experience of being shunned, slighted and actively opposed in his efforts to preach the Gospel of Christ by members of the Christian churches. However, Birmingham proved to be a more welcoming environment which was different from the places he had been during the previous six years he had spent in England.

On 8 May 1889,the Rev Peter Stanford received and accepted the following call from the Baptist Church, Hope Street, Birmingham:

Baptist Church, Hope Street,
Birmingham, May 8th, 1889.

To the Rev. P.T. Stanford.
Revd. and Dear Sir,

At a meeting on Wednesday, May 8th, it was unanimously decided that we, the members and congregation attending the above place of worship, invite you to become our pastor. You know our condition will not allow us to offer you a large salary, but we offer you our prayers, willing hearts, and hands. Remember, dear Brother, this call is from God, and He has promised to supply all our needs. Trusting you will see your way to accept our offer.

We are, yours faithfully,
Signed on behalf of the Church

JAS. CLARK, Secretary

Rev Stanford's Resilience and Determination
In spite of this request from the church the Rev Peter Stanford was not allowed to take up his position without difficulty. However, he acknowledges in his autobiography that through the grace of God, the kindness of the Rev. Chas. Joseph, and his solicitor A. T. Carr, Esq. of Birmingham, he surmounted the difficulties he faced. He once related his struggles in the columns of an evening newspaper, telling of his hard and wearing trials in his efforts to carry on the work. He was libelled, slandered, ostracised, suspected, and opposed but in spite of this he did have supportive Christian friends. He was a man of resilience and although he faced struggles he did not succumb. He was aided in his efforts by his wife along with an army of workers. Rev Stanford realised that the contribution of his wife, the Rev. C. Joseph, Rev. M.N. Hennessy, Rev. Travers Sherlock, B.A. were instrumental to his success. He gave praise to God that in spite of his birth as a slave and the colour of his skin he became a pastor in the great city of Birmingham. He remained at the Hope Street Baptist Church until the end of 1890. Under his leadership the work at the Hope Street Church grew with flourishing schools and organisations. When he retired he was presented with a valuable gold watch.

Wilberforce Memorial Church in Birmingham
Rev. Stanford succeeded in becoming minister of his own Wilberforce Memorial Church in Birmingham. This church occupied a building which was once used as a dancing academy on Priestley Road in Sparkbrook. He was placed in this building by the generosity of a friend who sympathised with him and his endeavours. However, managing this church proved to be quite a challenging task. In an effort to show the gratitude he felt towards William Wilberforce for his work on behalf of Black people he contemplated building in Birmingham a church to replace the one he was using. He decided that it would named after his present church.

Outside his ministerial duties Mr Stanford had an interest in political and social matters. He was a member of three or four of the Birmingham Friendly Societies, had a keen interest in social and philanthropic work. He was also a singer and musician. He used these talents to enhance the services at his church.

Rev Stanford's Interest in His Brothers and Sisters in Africa
Rev. Peter Stanford was chairperson at a lecture delivered by the Rev. J. Jenkin Brown, on the subject of "The Congo and its Martyrs". This lecture led him to read the book published by the Baptist Missionary Society, called "The Rise and Progress of the Work on the Congo River." The attention he gave to that subject led him to the conclusion that the wrong individuals were being sent to do the work in Africa. This created in him a burning desire to return and minister among his own people in Africa.

Rev. Stanford was a well educated man and wanted his race to benefit from the blessings of education and religion which he had himself received. He claimed that there were 7,747,990 Black people in the United States of America and Canada and that 2,300,000 of these individuals were Christians. He therefore put forward the case that these Black people should be trained for work in Africa on the grounds that they were better adapted for the climate there than any other race. He realised that in order to achieve this goal it was necessary to establish an institution to train these Black men and women. He also desired for that institution to have some connection with the English Foreign Missionary Societies. He thought that it was possible to establish an institution in Canada because it belonged to England. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of the African Baptist Association and the response he received gave him the assurance that the matter would be addressed. For twelve months he worked on preparing himself for the work of assisting his fellow Black brothers and sisters in Africa. It was necessary for at least ,000 to be raised in order for him to accomplish his goal and he therefore seized every opportunity that presented itself to achieve this. Among those whom he approached on behalf of his "life's object" were Her Majesty the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone. However, there is no record that he actually received any financial assistance from these individuals apart from sympathetic and kindly letters.

In 1889, Rev. Peter Stanford published his autobiography, "From Bondage to Liberty" which provides a detailed account of his life in North America and England.

Further Reading
Information on the Rev Peter Stanford was gained from the following sources:

Birmingham Faces and Places vol. V1 pp 182-184
Stanford Peter (1889)From Bondage to Liberty

Both of these books are accessible in
Archives and Heritage (Floor 6)
Birmingham Central Library.
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