Historical Marker #1347 commemorates Freetown Church, which is located near Gamaliel, Kentucky, in Monroe County.
The church was built in the late 1840s by three former slaves who had been freed by their owner, William Howard. Howard had migrated to Monroe County, Kentucky, from North Carolina in 1802. There, he purchased a large amount of farmland. Like many large landowners during this era, Howard owned slaves who worked his fields.
Due to a variety of reasons, some slaveholders grew disillusioned with the institution. Some had become slave owners by inheritance. Growing hateful of the institution's effect on both them and their slaves, they emancipated their bonds people. Some owners made provisions for their emancipated slaves to immigrate to a free state; others requested that the freedmen colonize to Africa; while others, like Howard, allowed them to remain near their former slave homes.
When Howard freed his slaves in the 1840s, he provided each of them with a small parcel of land. The church was eventually built near these properties. The emancipated slaves established Freetown, the first African American settlement in Monroe County. Understanding the importance of religion in building a strong community, Howard's former slaves, including George Pipkin, Albert Howard, and Peter West, built the log church structure, Freetown Church, which stands to this day.
During the antebellum years, slaves and free African Americans in the South often worshipped in segregated areas of white congregations. When allowed, however, they more often chose to experience religious fellowship on their own terms, in their own style, and in their own buildings. These shared spiritual experiences built close knit communities and promoted a sense of solidarity and security. In addition, church buildings in African American hamlets also served as school buildings. The Freetown Church was also a school.
Now known as the Mount Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.