Afrolumens home link Enslavement
Female African American factory workers pose for a group portrait, circa 1920.



Harrisburg's African American Community Moves Through the Twentieth Century


Study Areas



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

Civil War

US Colored Troops

Year of Jubilee (1863)

The Building of Zion Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Rev. Walker Tolliver, First Full-Time Pastor

Research and commentary by Harryette Mullen

The following news article appeared in the Harrisburg Daily Telegraph, April 25, 1897. (Thanks to Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson Jr., frequent contributor to Afrolumens, for scanning the original news clipping.) The writer gives a detailed account of the cornerstone ceremony for Zion Primitive Baptist Church, now The Greater Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Walker Tolliver, the first full-time pastor, and several founding members of this church were born into slavery in Virginia. This special outdoor service was an occasion to raise funds for a new church building.

The news story demonstrates the self-determined literacy of Rev. Tolliver, a former slave from Virginia who apparently educated himself as an adult in Harrisburg, the fervent singing of guest minister Rev. Edwards of Middletown, the eloquence of Rev. J. Wallace, and the dramatic flair and persuasiveness of Rev. William Brown, visiting from Berryville, Virginia. It also indicates that Rev. Walker Tolliver (1854-1931) was pastor of Zion Primitive Baptist Church as early as 1892, when the congregation possibly met in a storefront owned by Travis Puller, a retail grocer who lived with his wife Leallen on Marion Street, near Zion Baptist Church members Daniel and Bessie Potter, James and Catherine Smith, and William and Jennie Williams in 1880. Probable relatives of Travis Puller, Warren and Matilda Puller, lived near a Jamaica-born minister, Rev. J.J.F.S. (John) Lyons, on Margaretta Street in 1900. A Virginia-born minister, James Barnes, lived near John and Elizabeth Lyons in 1870. In addition to grocer Travis Puller, members of the Virginia-born Puller family living on or near Marion and Margaretta, between 1870-1920, include laborer Warren Puller and cart driver Edward Puller.

Walker Tolliver also worked as a drayman, or cart driver, when he first came to Harrisburg from Madison, Virginia, circa 1888-89. James Smith and William C. Williams worked as hod carriers when they arrived from Virginia. Members of the Puller family may be related to the family of William C. Williams, whose obituary is posted on Afrolumens. At his death his wife was Eliza Williams.  The Williams, Smith, and Potter families were early members of Zion Baptist Church. H.T. Mitchell, last surviving child of Walker and Hattie Tolliver, recalls that widows Hattie Wise Tolliver (1871-1958) and Eliza Williams donated to the church a silver chalice engraved with the names of their deceased husbands: Walker Tolliver, pastor, and William C. Williams, deacon, of Zion Primitive Baptist Church.

Harrisburg Daily Telegraph, April 25, 1897

Cornerstone--Beginning of the Construction of a New Church on Marion Street

Yesterday afternoon the cornerstone laying at the new Zion Primitive Baptist Church (colored) on Marion Street, near Calder, took place. It was an event of no little interest in that section of the city, and brought out a large congregation. The exercises were held on a temporary flooring, covering the foundation work, and began at 2:30 with Scripture reading by the pastor Rev. Walker Tolliver. Rev. Mr. Edwards, of Middletown, sang Behold a Sure Foundation Stone which God in Zion Lay with such fervor that some of the good brethren on the front seats could hardly restrain their pent-up desire to join in. Rev. William Brown of Berryville, Va., a solemn-looking gentleman wearing spectacles, offered prayer. This was followed by the sermon by Rev. J. Wallace, who took for his text I Peter 2:6, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth in him shall not be confounded. Brother Wallace waxed eloquent as he warmed up to his subject and urged upon the people the importance of earnest, united effort in fighting Satan. He said that if they would but put their shoulders to the wheel they would soon be in possession of a comfortable little church free of debt.

Rev. Mr. Brown of Berryville, followed Rev. Mr. Wallace in an appeal for contributions. He announced that he wanted to raise $200 for the Harrisburg congregation before the day was over.

Then the exercises were transferred to the cornerstone, which was a block of bluestone resting in the northeastern end of the brick foundation wall. Here Mr. Brown resumed his appeal for aid. One of the brethren was appointed clerk to keep a register of the names of the contributors who were asked to come up and drop their offering in the hole in the ground, Brother Brown remarking, Now brothers and sisters, don t be afraid that we are going to set your money in that stone. Oh no. It will be used in the building of the church. Thus addressed, the giving commenced and for a short time the pennies, nickels, half dollars, and dollars dropped into the hole in quick succession. Then things began to lag a trifle and Brother Brown struck up a hymn, but got too high and gave way to another brother who did better, Brother Brown explaining that his forte was raising money, not singing.

At the service in the evening it was announced that a large sum had been raised toward the new church during the day, and the people were greatly encouraged there of. Work was begun on the new church, which will be a frame affair like the old, March 25th. It will be 28 x 50 feet in size, whereas the old church was only about 24 x 24. The seating capacity will be 800. The congregation numbers some fifty members. Rev. Mr. Tolliver has been the efficient pastor about five years.

Related Articles:

Afrolumens Project Home | Enslavement | Underground Railroad | 19th Century | 20th Century

Original material on this page copyright 2024 Afrolumens Project
The url of this page is of change/zion.html