Mt. GILEAD AME CHURCH
1500AD? – 1775: Lenni-Lenape resided in Buckingham Valley, village site in vicinity of “Konkey Hole”, near “Holicong”, a funnel depression & spring in the limestone geologic formation. Legends include Native American chasing deer, falling into the hole and coming out 4 miles to the east at Aquetong Spring. Isaac Still lead remaining Lenape from Holicong westward in 1775 “far from war & rum”.
1681: William Penn receives charter from King Charles II for Pennsylvania- Holy Experiment– first time government established which invited peoples of all religions, cultures & nationalities to settle in Pennsylvania with freedom to worship and reside under loose Frame of Government.
1681: Bucks County among the three original Pennsylvania Counties, initial land grants were Patents directly from William Penn, Proprietor & Governor.
1682: Land Patents from William Penn to William Telner for 1,000 acres– north slope of Buckingham Mountain and valley to York Road (Route 263); Mt. Gilead site adjoins on 984 acres to John Reynolds.
1703: Buckingham Township, the largest and most central of Bucks County municipalities, divided via John Culter survey from Solebury and officially organized. 35 land holders of tracts averaging 300-400 acres, nearly all Quakers and over half residents on their lands, they were farmers & artisans.
1705: Falls Meeting grants permission for Buckingham Meeting to build 1st meetinghouse.
1703-4: Deed of partition between brothers Lawrence & Enoch Pearson secures right of Lawrence to access lime from quarries – 1st documented lime industry in region. Pearsons owned east Route 413 from Route 202 southeast to top ridge line of Buckingham Mountain, including Wolf Rocks.
18th century: lime produced locally on farms close to mountain & source of wood for charcoal. From Furlong east to Limeport near Center Bridge is largest deposit of limestone in Bucks County and beyond.
1720’s – 1760’s: major disputes among Buckingham residents regarding course of Durham Road (Rt. 413); early path essentially Holicong Road over mountain, most direct, but difficult with steep slopes; 2nd path around foot of mountain on west side, then to cut across fields over to Holicong Road; 3rd path along property line of Hughes and Pearson/Jamison, now present-day Route 413. Thus, Holicong Road over the mountain one of the earliest roads in the area.
1755: Phila. meeting prohibits slave owning Quakers to hold leadership roles; by 1774 read out of mtg.
1768: Buckingham Friends Meetinghouse built by Mathias Hutchinson, master builder, whose farm Partridge Hall was just southeast in limestone valley along Street Road. Meetinghouse demonstrates the successful industry and overall wealth of this area, dominated by English Quakers. Lime nourished the soil and provided stone and lime powder for building stone buildings. Workforce needed at quarries.
18th & 19th c.: Free Blacks found employment with Quaker farmers, both for farm work and also for the production of lime and quarry stone. Many were allowed to build homes on the mountain near to the quarries on “wood lots” owned by farmers in the valley. Quarries & Kilns were numerous on many of the farms flanking Watson & Lahaska Creeks. Fine stands of chestnut cut for charcoal fuel for kilns.
1780: PA 1st state to pass Abolition Law. States below Mason-Dixon line (southern boundary of PA) retained legal slavery much longer, making PA a refuge for fugitive slaves. In 1780 Bucks County recorded 580 slaves, by 1790 number dropped to 261. Dutch & Scot-Irish more frequent slaveholders. 1789: assessment in Buckingham noted 4 slaves– 3 owned by tavern owner William Bennett (Dutch).
1796: Mother Bethel congregation of African Methodist Episcopal denomination founded by Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia, 1st meeting in his blacksmith shop. Officially organized in 1816.
1809: Bethlehem AME Church in Langhorne Borough founded to serve area blacks, adjoining black neighborhood platted as “Washington Village”. Note, Jeremiah Langhorne area landholder in 1740’s granted 300 acres to his two freed slaves- Cudjo & Jo- to become Doylestown.
**1822: 15 members of AME Church on Buckingham Mountain are recorded, served by circuit ministers from Langhorne. Adjoining land of 8 acres owned by John Betts since 1804, from father Thomas Betts’ 201 acres acquired in 1771 from James Wood, who was granted right to 210 of 984 acres of John Reynolds, from mountain ridge extending down SE slope.
**1834: 10 members recorded to support own congregation- founded Mt. Gilead AME Church & built small log church (site not verified, possibly east corner of present church building w/ 20’ x 20’ footers).
**1843: Daniel & Phyllis Yeomans, member & minister and adjoining landowner, deeded 11.5 square perches of land (41 feet x 75 feet) for $5 to John Anderson, Thomas York and Charles Yeomans, acting as Trustees in trust of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, who incorporated as Mt. Gilead Church. “Together with the privileges of a road or way, one perch wide (16.5 feet) through the land of the said Daniel Yeomans from the lot above described northwesterly adjoining the land of Thomas Atkinson to the Public Road…” (BC DB 69, page 35) This is the church building lot.
**1852: Expanded church to present stone edifice 25’ x 35’: unique as rural church, stone construction and with basement. Basement only under newer part of church, with offset along SW side, thus possible hiding area for fugitive slaves. New carved marble datestone in SE gable peak. Possible older cornerstone in East corner, no date or carving visible.
1820’s-1860’s: Legend as Underground Railroad stop. Fugitive Slave Laws made it illegal to harbor or assist runaway slaves. Several “roads” crossed Bucks County, strategic position between Philadelphia and New Jersey & New York. Empathetic abolitionist Quakers active in assisting “conductors” along several pathways, but little official documentation due to illicit nature. Mt. Gilead very remote, yet very close to major roads such as York Road- Route 263 and Durham Road- Route 413. Lime industry & wagon transport of products to Delaware Canal, as well as Delaware River crossings, enabled secret transport of fugitives, similar to Richard Moore’s pottery wagons in Quakertown- Bethlehem Rd-Rt 309.
1834-1844: Big Ben Jones notable runaway slave who lived and worked here for number of years. His owner from the south came up & recaptured him, but local Quakers negotiated his release for $700. While formidable at 6’10” tall & over 300 pounds, his injuries gave him permanent disabilities, he died at Bucks County Almshouse. Estimates of over 30,000 fugitive slaves moved along the UGRR.
1858: Area legend Albert Large lived as a hermit in Wolf Rocks cave on the mountain for 20 years without detection. Quarry workers William Kennard & other blacks saw smoke from his “chimney” and discovered him. The remarkable news of the hermit was published as far away as London.
**1860: Thomas & Jane Atkinson of Buckingham Township sell 49.44 square perches of land, 0.309 acre, adjoining Daniel Yeomans & Church property for $1.00 to Samuel Russell, Joseph Johns, Theophilous Anderson, Percy Brown & Anthony Emmons, Trustees in Trust for first section of cemetery (southern half along parking lot and running in front of church building, adjoining Holicong Road). Note: this deed not recorded until 1909- indexed in a separate, 20th century deed index & not easily found (DB353/259). 1861: first marked burial in cemetery.
1883: Moses Hopkins, former slave & mountain resident died, buried in cemetery. Descendant William Hopkins & wife Mildred lived not far, near Forest Grove & became church caretakers.
Late 19th c.: Lime industry shifted toward the Delaware Canal with coal more available as fuel for the kilns than local timber. Limeport on the canal near Centre Bridge active during mid-late 19th century. Less activity for lime burning in Buckingham. By 1890’s cement competition reduces lime demand.
Mountain black population & congregation diminishes with waning work opportunities, some move to more urban areas. Period accounts still document revival meetings with high attendance, i.e. 500 – 1,000, with nearly half of the participants white.
1891: Railroad to New Hope completed through this section on north side of the mountain near quarries. Offered connection from New Hope via Ivyland to Philadelphia. Country & summer retreats.
**1909: John Leary sells 30.53 perches of land (1/5 acre) to Lewis Hartless, William Hopkins, Thomas Steward, David J. Hartless, William Giles, Charles Pratt, Charles G. Pratt, Trustees in Trust for $20. This is the 3rd parcel and was purchased for cemetery, making three land parcels total owned by the church: one with church, two with cemetery. Deeds specify how organization should be structured. (DB349/574)
1930’s–1940’s: “revival” camps popular, Mt. Gilead saw gatherings of several hundred people. Nearby pavilion built to serve for dining and activities. . Known as “Wolf Rockers” popular camp meetings, mostly white attendees, “Arbutus Parties” in spring to seek out the rare mountain flower Trailing Arbutus. Walter Lewis oversaw the church had repairs, especially to roof, and vestibule added.
Mid-late 20th century: reduced activity, mostly with burials in cemetery, occasional weddings.
1980’s: William & Mildred Hopkins “caretakers”– William repoints stone exterior, Mildred fixes interior
1991: Holicong Security– William Croce (now daughter Buena) on adjoining property, donated security system to assist with deterring vandalism. Buckingham Civic Assn. provided electricity.
**1991: Thomas & Sandra Barford transfer 0.336 acres to Mt. Gilead AME for parking area SE of cemetery for $1.00 (DB342/2318). Church now owns 4 parcels totaling 0.905 acres.
Late 20th c into 21st c.: John Reinhart, friend of William & Mildred Hopkins, helps with caretaking. Active with Forest Grove Presbyterian, John began to seek ways and people to formalize ownership & care of church. Services renewed three to four times a year– Easter, Memorial, Giving Thanks & Christmas.
2000-2002: Cemetery markers inventoried, list of names & dates at Bucks County Historical Society.
2003: Bucks County Community College students, lead by Prof. Kathryn Ann Auerbach, undertake full Historic American Building Survey documentation of church and property. Archival Ink on Mylar drawings in Library of Congress. Research and drawings helped renew interest in church.
2013-14: Meagan Ratini, former Bucks Co Comm College Hist. Pres. student, as Masters’ thesis for Univ of Massachusetts, undertakes Ground Penetrating Radar study of the cemetery to locate graves and establish information regarding the burials. Church Board of Trustees works to formalize cemetery to allow for new burials.
**2014: Mt. Gilead Community Church organization established to preserve the church and cemetery and continue tradition of services. Work closely with Forest Grove Presbyterian Church & Macedonia Baptist Church, Newtown to coordinate services, ministers, music contributions and hospitality.
2023: Trustees of Mt. Gilead include Deacon Harold Vereen, Rev. David Jackson, Rev. Wakaki Thompson, Naomi Teat, Phyllis Teat, Monique Jones, Leanne Yerkes.
- Mt. Gilead rare as a rural AME church, majority in urban/town areas near canals, RR & work.
- Mt. Gilead stands as one of the oldest surviving physical AME church buildings.
- Mt. Gilead uncommon with its full stone construction- built by skilled quarrymen & masons.
- Mt. Gilead has clear association of fugitive & former slaves among its congregation.
- Mt. Gilead served over 30 years as unofficial Underground Rail Road station.
- Mt. Gilead benefitted from empathetic support from Buckingham community, even from 19th century; revival services attended by both blacks & whites.
- Mt. Gilead has had members distinguished in county & statewide history.
- Mt. Gilead still maintains connection to descendants of early members, nearing 200 years of heritage sustained & celebrated.
Compiled by: Kathryn Ann Auerbach, native of Buckingham Township
Erwinna, Pennsylvania April 2023