First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill lays claim to the designation as the oldest continuously operating African American church in Tennessee because it traces its origin back to First Baptist Colored Mission which first met to hold prayer services in 1835. Up to that point Nashville’s black Baptists, both enslaved and free, worshipped at First Baptist Church which was founded in 1824 as the first Baptist Church in the city. In fact ten years after its founding, African Americans comprised half the congregation.
The following year, 1835, black congregants received permission to hold separate prayer services. In October 1847 black members of First Baptist were allowed to rent an old school building where they conducted services three Sundays each month.
In January 1848, First Colored Baptist Mission (FCBM) officially established separate services under the white assistant minister and assisted by three free black preachers, John Dodd, Henry Howard, and Nelson G. Merry. A former slave tutored by white ministers, Merry became the moderator for the Mission in 1853. On November 29 of that year he was ordained a minister in the Baptist Church.
By 1856 the Mission had over 200 congregants. It continued to grow until the Union Army occupied Nashville on February 25, 1862 and imprisoned Merry for preaching sedition against the United States government. Merry was eventually released and on January 1, 1863 church members celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation. As the Civil War came to an end, Mission members petitioned First Baptist Church to become an independent church under the name First Colored Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee.
On August 13, 1865 First Colored Baptist Church (FCBC) obtained its independence from First Baptist Church. By this point the new church had 500 members. Nelson G. Merry continued to lead the new church and in fact remained its pastor until his death in 1884.
By 1872, the church with over 3,000 members, built its first edifice on Spruce Street and adopted the name Spruce