Rev. James Newton Gloucester of what has been called the Gloucester family dynasty was among the most influential and wealthy New York abolitionists of his time. The son of John Gloucester, Sr., who founded the first African-American Presbyterian church in the United States and the brother to several Presbyterian leaders, James Gloucester founded Siloam Presbyterian Church in 1849 in Brooklyn, NY, which is still active today.1 Gloucester was an active supporter of the Underground Railroad, a notable sponsor of John Brown, and a friend and colleague of Frederick Douglass. His writings are published in many African-American newspapers, and he was a delegate to the notable 1843 National Convention of Colored Citizens.2

James Gloucester was likely born in Philadelphia around 1811, though some census report that he was born in 1818 in Virginia.3 He was one of ten children and eventually married one of his foster sisters Elizabeth in 1830. At that time they owned a clothing store in Philadelphia.4 In 1850 the Gloucester family moved to New York, where James founded and was a minister of the Siloam Presbyterian Church, a common meeting ground for abolitionists and orators including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.5 The property from the church cost over $4,000; and its title was held by a committee of white men.6

During John Brown’s journey to Harpers Ferry, he stayed for one week in the Gloucesters’ home. Gloucester sponsored John Brown, writing in 1858: “I wish you Godspeed in Your Glorious work.”7 When Gloucester could not attend a Philadelphia meeting with Brown and other abolitionist leaders, he famously pledged “$25 more” to Brown in lieu of his absence. Following Brown’s death, Gloucester held memorial services at Siloam Presbyterian Church.8

James Gloucester’s legacy is based on his influence and work as a reverend, though interestingly, the true breadwinner of the Gloucester family seems to have been his wife, Elizabeth, who was an expert in real-estate and investing as well as the owner of a furniture store in Brooklyn.9 After Elizabeth’s death, she left a will with most of her estate to her children.10 James publically declared that all transactions were made in her name but with his money.11 Eventually the courts ruled (in his favor) that he co-owned the businesses and was awarded a substantial amount of the estate.12

Towards the end of his life, Gloucester was reportedly a practicing physician until his death in 1890. He was known to be an eccentric herbalist who treated his patients with water and cider concoctions.13 Following his wife’s death, he allegedly tried his hand at real estate but did not fair well. At the time of his death, however, his estate was valued at more than $100,000–equates to approximately two million dollars in contemporary US dollars. The Gloucesters were one of the wealthiest African-American families of the 19th century.


Unknown contributor.

Edited by Sarah Patterson, Curator and Gerti Wilson.

  1. “Siloam Presbyterian Church History of Siloam Presbyterian Church.” Siloam Presbyterian Church History of Siloam Presbyterian Church. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.
  2. Colored Conventions.” Minutes of the National Convention of Colored Citizens: Held at Buffalo (1843): 1-39. Print.
  3. 1855 Census New York, State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013; see also Year: 1870; Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 3, Kings, New York; Roll: M593_946; Page: 265A; Image: 535; Family History Library Film: 552445.Physical letter
  4. “Mrs. Gloucester’s Will to be Contested.” New York Globe [New York, New York] 22 Sept. 1883: 3. Print.
  5. Morris, Montrose. “Walkabout: The Gloucester Family of Brooklyn.”, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. .
  6. Quarles, Benjamin. Allies for Freedom; Blacks and John Brown. New York: Oxford UP, 1974. Print.
  7. “African American Attendee.” African American Attendee. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.
  8. Source sought.
  9. “African American Attendee.” African American Attendee. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. .
  10. “Mrs. Gloucester’s Will to be Contested.” New York Globe [New York, New York] 22 Sept. 1883: 3. Print.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.