This Portsmouth Pearl was built in 1858 by the Free Will Baptist Church congregation as a meeting house which did not initially contain a steeple. It underwent expansion and renovation in the late 1860s that included the addition of a steeple and an entry bay. The Pearl has been known as the Free Will Baptist Church, the Pearl Street Baptist Church, the Peoples Baptist Church, the New Hope Church, and the Pearl Street Church. In 1915, the congregation of People’s Baptist Church raised money and purchased this building and relocated from the South Meeting House. This became the first church building to be owned by an African-American congregation in New Hampshire. Many notable public figures gave speeches at the church including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1952 as a student at Boston University. The church was reorganized in the 1970s as the New Hope Church and moved to another building in 1984. It is now known as the Portsmouth Pearl and is primarily used for catering events.
The Portsmouth Pearl was built in 1858 in Portsmouth,
New Hampshire by the Free Will Baptist Church congregation. It was initially
designed as a meeting house and did not contain a steeple. It was expanded in
the late 1860s to include a steeple and an entry bay. The original steeple was
reconstructed in the early 1900s and replaced with the current one. The Free
Will Baptist Church united with the Middle Street Baptist Church and left the
Pearl in 1915. The Pearl is recognized in the state and national historic
The People’s Baptist
Church, the first African-American church in New Hampshire, originated in 1873.
The members initially met in private homes throughout the community. In 1889,
James F. Slaughter hosted a multidenominational Bible-study in his living
quarters that formed the People’s Mission. The congregation relocated to the
South Meeting House in 1890. In 1893, it was reorganized and officially recognized
as the People’s Baptist Church. Reverend James Randolph served as its first
minister. In 1915, the congregation raised money to purchase and relocate to
the Pearl becoming the first African-American owned church building in New Hampshire.
The church became the center
of the political, social, and spiritual life of Portsmouth’s African-American
community. Services and activities offered by the church include care for the
sick, fund raising events, and charitable efforts. Many notable public figures
gave speeches at the People’s Baptist Church on Pearl Street. On October 26,
1952, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., then a student at Boston University,
delivered a sermon titled “Going Forward by Going Backward” at a program hosted
at the church. During the event was a performance by a guest choir from
Massachusetts, with soloist Coretta Scott. Rev. King and Coretta Scott were united
in marriage the next year.
In the 1970s, the congregation
reorganized as the New Hope Church and carries the legacy of People’s Baptist
Church. The New Hope Church relocated to Peverly Hill Road in 1984 where it is
still active today. The building was leased to a French restaurant called 72
Restaurant in 1984. In 2005, the Pearl was sold to Gary Dodds and underwent
renovations to update various features and rearranged the interior to resemble
the original design. Today, the building is the host of public events,
corporate events, and wedding receptions. The Pearl is currently for sale.