In 1808, a group of Africans in America and Ethiopian sea merchants, armed with their faith in God and strengthened by mercies already seen, left First Baptist Church in lower Manhattan and withdrew forever their membership. They had refused to accept racially segregated seating in God’s house and were determined to start their own church. Inspired by the ancient name of the nation from which the Ethiopian merchants had come, Abyssinia, the group formally organized themselves as The Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York. Reverend Thomas Paul, a minister from Boston, aided the new congregation in becoming organized as the first African-American Baptist Church in the state of New York. Abyssinian called as its first pastor the Rev. Vanvelser.
In its infancy, Abyssinian bought property on Worth Street. After several years, a new building was needed and the members sold the property for $3,000. Thereafter, they held services at the Broadway Tabernacle and in buildings on Thompson and Spring Streets before seeking another permanent place of worship.
Rev. Vanvelser was succeeded by The Reverends Sigel, Benjamin Paul, James Hayborn, Lomis Samson White, John T. Raymond, and Thomas Henderson. In 1856, Abyssinian Baptist Church called the Rev. William Spellman to serve as its pastor. During his administration from 1856 to 1885, the membership increased to 1,600 and the $3,000 realized from the sale of the Worth Street property was applied to the purchase of a church building on Waverly Place. Following Spellman’s retirement, the Reverend Robert D. Wynn of Norwich, Connecticut was called to the pastorate of the church. For sixteen years he led a congregation that continued to increase in numbers and together they freed the Waverly Place property from indebtedness.