The Coloma Emmanuel "African Church"

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

The establishment of the Emmanuel Church originated in South Carolina in 1818 specifically for enslaved African Americans as it related to their ability to worship and practice Christianity.


In 1855 the Emmanuel Church of Coloma construction started and it was completed in 1856. According to Rev William Kipp's diary he returned to Coloma one year after his initial visit in 1855 to commence the church. Decorations were put into place and services were held in the court yard, not in the building. He mentioned that the people who wanted the Church could barely hold a sentence and insinuated their ignorance. Rev Kipp never indicated the ethnicity of the people he was referring to; however our research indicates that European pastors of the Methodist Church interacted with African Americans.


We are unsure who actually funded the building of the Coloma Emmanuel Church; however the recording of a deed from Peter and Elizabeth Wimmer to the Methodist Episcopal Board of Trustees was filed in 1857 before they left and returned to Utah by way of the overland trails.


The year 1857 was a significant year because the county seat for the town of Coloma was moved to Placerville which many European families followed due to the voting power and rights of the county seat. In 1859 to 1862 according to the Episcopal Dioceses of all their churches in the United State " The Coloma Emmanuel only had 6 members and no funds reported to have been received or raised during that five year time span. In 1862 the Colored Citizens of Coloma met in the Emmanuel Church building referred to as the Methodist Church (M.E) to plan a celebration for the emancipation of the African slaves in the West Indies. It was moved that the Colored Citizens of Placerville be invited to the celebration in Coloma and Rufus Burgess was appointed Secretary.

The European Methodist that remained in Coloma reported discontinued use of the Emmanuel Church due to it falling to dis-repair in 1863. However the Colored Citizens of Coloma report to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Convention indicated they had a comfortable building clear of debt and wanted a school for their children. The report minutes also revealed that one- hundred attended services on Sunday. The AME church appointed Rev Jennifer to the El Dorado circuit and Coloma was one of the 5 preaching points (Coloma, Mud Springs, Placerville, Shingle Springs, Diamond Springs).


In 1865 the Colored Citizens held a convention in Sacramento and present was Rev. Peter Killingsworth. Rev Killingsworth was estimated to be about 75 years old and nearing his death. His wife who proceeded him in death was mentioned by his own words and said to reside in the FREE soils of El Dorado County. Rev Killingsworth was referred to as a friend to the white Methodist church by members of the convention, even though some within that church were directly responsible for slavery and oppression. This reference may explain the truth behind the establishment of the Coloma Emmanuel Church. The 1865 meetings ended with a report of assets. El Dorado reported the existence of one church in the county situated on two lots and a total of $75,000 in aggregate land related to tax value. There were no schools and just over 300 colored citizens reported to be living in the county. The Burgesses, Johnsons, Wilsons, Gooch, Julian are the only five history mentions, who are the others?

The report of no schools for colored children in El Dorado County can be validated with this 1870 writing in the Pacific Appeal Newspaper, submitted by Rufus M Burgess. Mr. Burgess was very upset that the colored children in nearby towns were turned away from school and sent home. In this publication he challenges all the Colored Citizens in the state of California to come together and test this injustice. Oct, 1870 Pacific Appeal Newspaper +Letter to the editors from R. M. Burgess of Coloma California.


The AME Church was the educational system used for African American children because they were not allowed to attend schools with European children. In 1872 it is presumed that the Coloma Emmanuel Church was purchased by George H Ingham for unpaid taxes; however he referred to it as the African Church.

The European Methodist were no longer using the building, the Catholic Church certainly would not have been mistaken for the African church, in addition Mr. Ingham was highly educated and respected. In 1879 Mr. Ingham deeded the African Church to Rufus M Burgess, which is described as a significant piece of land located on lot 3 of block 7 on the township map in Coloma.


The Marshall Gold Discovery center makes no mention of the Emmanuel Church ever being used for a school and the documents of how they obtained it show no clear chain of title. Early maps and a cadastral survey of 1871 show the property surrounded by orchards and on the land once owned by H.B. Pierce.


The Coloma Emmanuel Church is the only church of the mines with direct ties to the Colored Citizens who were pioneers of California's Gold Rush. The Emmanuel "African" Church is one of the oldest buildings in the town and is situated on the same lot of which it was constructed in 1856. It's highly unlikely that the Methodist Episcopal Church would stand bye and watch the deterioration of a historic land make such as the Coloma Emmanuel Church if it remained part of their body of churches. Why the African Methodist Episcopal Church elders have allowed such a meaningful building to fall to disrepair is a question one would have to ask them. The church remains in disrepair and held by the State of California since it was gifted by a family who held no deed to property in 1928. It is our belief that the rightful owners of this building and once all the land and orchards around it is Rufus M Burgess.

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