John Gloucester was one of the earliest African-American ministers in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and his story is told by William Catto in his book, A Semi-Centenary Discourse. Gloucester, born in 1776, had been the slave of Reverend Gideon Blackburn of Tennessee, who saw great potential for gospel ministry in the young man. When the opportunity for Gloucester to minister as an evangelist and pastor in Philadelphia was brought to Blackburn's attention by Dr. Archibald Alexander, Blackburn freed Gloucester and sent him to Philadelphia to work. Ordained by the Presbytery of Union in Tennessee in 1810, he was received by the Philadelphia Presbytery in 1811 and set about preaching the gospel in the city. He pastored the newly formed First African Presbyterian Church for decades. William Catto, who followed Gloucester in the pulpit of First African Presbyterian Church, summarized the coming of Gloucester to Philadelphia in this way:
"With many, the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church were in bad odor, and they failed not to make capital of it; others were 'careful for none of these things.' So it can be perceived that it required a man of no ordinary nerve and large share of the grace of God in his heart to battle with and overcome these opposing forces. Mr. Gloucester was the man for the occasion and the time; opposition could never deter him from duty; if God was for him, he cared not who was against him; in Christ lay all his strength and hope of success. Naturally, he was of a strong mind, as well as of stout, athletic frame, with a voice the deep tones of which fell powerfully on the ear he preached the Word. He was also a very sweet singer, and it is said of him that such was the melody and rich tones of his voice that, whenever he sang, a volume of music would roll from his mouth, charming and enchaining, as by a spell, the listening audience, and holding them in sweet suspense until he would cease to sing, when the spell would be broken and the people relieved, determined upon the first occasion to return and enjoy the labors of this devoted man as he broke unto them the bread of life, and sang again another of those songs of Zion. In prayer he was mighty; such was the fervor and energy, such his wrestling when engaged, that souls have fallen under its power, deeply convicted of sin."
May the Lord continue to raise up pastors black and white to bring the gospel of life to sinners from every tribe, tongue, people and nation!