What would become known as Greater Mount Zion A.M.E. Church started with a small group of believers. A minister by the name of Samson Peters, a coppersmith by trade, welcomed the fore parents of Mt. Zion to worship in tents and in the coppersmith shop between 1782-1811. Thus, Greater Mount Zion A.M.E. Church has the distinction of being the oldest Black church in the City of Trenton.
Sampson Peters was a significant figure in Trenton’s African American community of the early 19th century for his role as a founding member and minister of the Religious Society of Free Africans of the City of Trenton, predecessor to Mount Zion A.M.E. Church. An abolitionist, he was outspoken against the American Colonization Society, which sought to return free Blacks and slaves to Africa; in 1830, he attended the first Convention of the American Society of Free Persons of Color, held in Philadelphia.
The initial place of worship was in a tent that was located on the site where the current Dr. Joan Cousin Apartment complex stands on Perry Street. However, when the winter weather conditions prohibited worshipping in a tent, a coppersmith shop owner by the name of Mr. Joseph Milnor, a white man, allowed the slaves to worship in his coppersmith shop.
In later years Mr. Milnor deeded the land upon his death to the free slaves. After this, property which was once a graveyard for slaves was purchased, the same property upon which the first church structure was erected. Two grave markers denoting the fact of the lands earlier use as a graveyard can be seen even today as you enter the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church at 135 Perry Street.
For the land to be deeded to these free Africans, the new owner had to be recorded at the registrar of deed’s office as the Trustees of Mt. Zion. The Trustees at that time were James Berry, Julius Steward, Leonard Ennis, Sampson Peters a coppersmith and the first Pastor, and Francis Miller.
Even though the congregation for many years was known as Mt. Zion African Church, in 1816, the year the African Methodist Episcopal Church came into existence as a denomination, Richard Allen founder and first Bishop, visited the Society and brought them into the AME denomination. Thus, the name Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was adopted and has been used from July 18, 1817, through the present.
The first deed for the property at 135 Perry Street bears the date of May 6, 1818. The second was conveyed to the Trustees of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, in trust by a Mr. Elias Stockton, for the sum of one dollar ($1.00) dated 1834. The first church was built by Rev. Walter Proctor, in 1819, and when finished the member formed a line of procession and marched from the coppersmith shop to the new church, with much rejoicing. This building was an old-fashioned stone structure.
It was expanded by Rev. C. Woodyard in 1858. In 1876, the building was torn down to the foundation and rebuilt by Rev. J.W. Stevenson. In 1948 another expansion program was launched to extend the front of the church building to the street, thereby increasing the space available for community outreach, recreation, health, and cultural activities. For its adaptability and beauty, it was considered the cathedral of the New Jersey Conference at that time.
The first parsonage at 311 North Montgomery Street was built in 1892 and was occupied by each successive pastor until 1961. In 1961 under the Pastorate of Rev. Jessie Jackson, a parsonage was purchased at 1486 Stuyvesant Avenue. Shortly thereafter, Mt. Zion purchase 33 Perdicaris Place which is the present parsonage.
Mt. Zion is no stranger to “being first”. It is the first Black religious organization in the City of Trenton. Mt. Zion had the first nursery for “colored children” in Trenton located on Belvidere Street. The church built a group home for girls in the eastern section (Wilbur Section) of the City.
Mt. Zion was also the first black church to incorporate a credit union, and along with Shiloh Baptist church, helped build the Kingsbury Corporation Apartments, which is currently located on Market Street in Trenton and continues to be a member of their Board of Trustees. Mt. Zion hosted the “Reverse Freedom Riders” a civil right group when they visited Trenton.
Through the years, Mt. Zion has hosted some of the most prominent and famous black public figures including W.E.B. DuBois, Roy Wilkins, and Rosa Parks after her famous protest on the bus in December 1955. In January 1956 Sister Parks made her first major speech at Mt. Zion. Her visit was sponsored by the NAACP.
Under the leadership of God ordained pastors, GMZ has had profound historic milestones and accomplishments in the Trenton community. In 2010 GMZ moved from Perry St. to Pennington Ave. The new building was formally owned by the first African American Catholic Church in Trenton.
In June of 2022 the Reverend Dr. Charles Franklin Boyer was appointed the 68th pastor and has undertaken several major projects and ministries.
Under his leadership Greater Mount Zion satisfied a $700,000 obligation to the First Episcopal District, opened GMZ properties up to Afghan refugees, moved in the state’s strongest Black faith rooted justice organization (Salvation and Social Justice which employs several GMZ members), established the Trenton Restorative Street Team to deal with gun violence, began renovated the sanctuary, the parsonage, and the original building on Perry Street, established the GMZCDC, opened the Myra Ashley Outreach Center, and won a two million dollar grant for a Black maternal health and restorative justice center located at 40 Pennington Avenue.
Greater Mount Zion is currently experiencing a renaissance and a revival.
Read more about the history of Great Mt. Zion AME Church:
Mount Zion AME Church: https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=4945
The History of Greater Mount Zion AME Church: The Oldest Black Church in Trenton: