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St. Matthews Episcopal Church (now St. Matthews St. Josephs Episcopal Church)

St. Matthews Episcopal Church, located in Detroit, Michigan, is one of the nation’s oldest African American churches. This small but historic parish community has been one of Detroit’s most influential and highly respected institutions. Founded in 1846,[1] the church was a center of abolitionist and Underground Railroad in the 19th century. This was in large part because of its early leadership. Underground Railroad activists, William Lambert and Rev. William Monroe, who had left Second Baptist for reasons unknown, were involved with St. Matthews since its founding. Both men were leaders of Detroit’s African American community and documented Underground Railroad activists, instrumental in the Colored Vigilant Committee of Detroit. Rev. James Theodore Holly was ordained as deacon of the church in 1855, and a priest in 1856. Holly had previously worked with Henry Bibb in Canada publishing the Voice of the Fugitive, a black anti-slavery newspaper which reported on Underground Railroad related activities. He also encouraged free and enslaved blacks to participate in the Underground Railroad by immigrating to Canada.   

Members of the church, such as George J. Reynolds (aka J.G. Reynolds) and Robert Banks were also active in the Underground Railroad. It is also maintained that many freedom seekers were among the congregation of the church, as evidence shows that the church’s population dwindled after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.

The church has occupied various locations throughout its history and has been at its current location since merging with St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in 1971.



[1] Some sources have the founding year as 1845.

Visitor Information: Currently open to public.

Location: 8850 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Wayne, 48202

Contact Information: 313-871-4750 (main phone)

Website: St. Matthews Episcopal Church (now St. Matthews St. Josephs Episcopal Church)

National Park Unit: No

Ownership: St Matthews and St Joseph Episcopal Church Paula Martin, Sr. Warden; Rudolf Markoe, Jr. Warden

Location Type: Site

Religious Denominations: Other