Free African Americans established lives and businesses in Maine starting in colonial times. Dr. Antonius Lamy, described in a 1672 court document as “Anthony a black man”, may have been Maine’s first doctor, and Reuben Ruby ran a coach service in Portland starting in the 1830s.
Descendants of these entrepreneurial families—now 8th and 9th generation “Mainers”—continue to live in Maine.
This advertisement for Ruby's hack service was found in the 1834 Portland Directory, printed by Arthur Shirley.
John and Sarah Williams Young of Hallowell posed for this ambrotype, made by A. F. Morse.
By the 1820s, enough black families called Portland home to form their own church. Although there were other churches in Portland in which to worship, the treatment the black members of the church experienced from their fellow church goers was not welcoming. Prominent black community members wrote a letter in 1826 to the Second Congregational Church in Portland, protesting their treatment. It listed several examples of grievances, including,
“Our numbers amount to about six hundred. Provision for the accommodation of a very few of our people is made in several houses of public worship; but while the provision is totally inadequate to our wants, the privilege granted us is associated with such circumstances, calculated to repel rather than to invite our attendance. Nay, pardon our misapprehensions if they be such, we have sometimes thought our attendance was not desired.”
From that letter, the Abyssinian Religious Society was incorporated in 1828. The meetinghouse was built in the 1830s on land owned by Reuben Ruby, at the corner of Mountfort and Newbury Streets, where it still stands. The church remained in use until 1916.
James Augustine Healy (1830-1900) was the first African-American to serve as a Roman Catholic bishop in the United States. He was Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine from 1875 to 1900.
The eldest of 11 children born to an Irish father and mixed-race mother in Georgia, Healy attended Holy Cross College, seminaries in Montreal and France, then served in Boston before become bishop in Maine.
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