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The August Quarterly Festival, also called Big Quarterly, is an annual celebration to commemorate the founding of the Union Church of Africans, the first African American Church, independently incorporated 1813, in the United States.  Simply put, it is a celebration of African American Religious freedom in the United States.  The August Quarterly, which began in 1814, became a kind of Independence Day for Black people on the Delmarva Peninsula.  In fact, in the early years of the festival “abolitionists and Underground Railroad conductors of the stature of Thomas Garrett and Harriet Tubman were often in the Wilmington area to assist slaves who chose to escape”.  The Big Quarterly, over the years, has remained a time of reunion, religious revival and celebration of freedom for the people in and around Wilmington, Delaware.


The African independent church movement began some years before the Big Quarterly festival.  In 1805, Peter Spencer, born in captivity, but who at that time had his freedom, led a group of approximately 40 people out of the predominately white Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church.  Although Spencer and the others started a separate church at that time, they remained connected to the white denomination under uncompromising guidelines.  by 1813, Peter Spencer and William Anderson, another leader with Spencer, led a group of persons to leave the church to organize the Union Church of African Members in September 1813.  The Big Quarterly is a commemoration and celebration of that religious exodus.


1.                   The festival, during the years of slavery, provided a rare platform for those Africans held captive to worship GOD with each other, as well as with free men and women.  It was reported in the Wilmington Morning News in 1889 that “permission gave them one day of freedom…the opportunity to talk over the long deferred promise of freedom that everyone of them felt was some how ingrained in the religion of Jesus”.

2.                   This was one of the very few social opportunities for African Americans.  People who were separated from their relatives by the inhumanity of slavery, held reunions and persons separated a whole year met to spend the day together.  It was the one social event of the year where people could show off clothes, gather to tell stories, dance, share African music, good humor and home style cooking.

3.                   The festival provided a forum for free African Americans to discuss colonization and other issues of slavery.  It also gave some people the opportunity to escape slavery.  This was so prevalent that some whites became suspicious of the August Quarterly festival, and older people in the Black community would sometimes refer to the festival as “Big excursions on the Underground Railroad”.

4.                   The event commemorates the founding of African Union Methodism.  “Those affiliated with the Spencer Churches are reminded of the bitter struggles of Peter Spencer, William Anderson and the 40 or so other Blacks who struck a great blow for religious freedom”.  A year after Spencer’s death in 1843, and until today, the festival has included a wreath laying ceremony to remember the leader of the African Union of Churches and the founder of the August Quarterly Festival.

5.                   The festival kept alive the ecumenical spirit amount African American church men and women of a variety of backgrounds.  At one time, Black churches in Wilmington and the surrounding communities, of various denominations and backgrounds, would close down on Big Quarterly Sunday to join the festival.


Carter G. Woodson said, “those who forget their history are destined to repeat it”.  Of course the August Quarterly is a part of history that we want to remember and repeat, but not merely for the sake of repetition and romanticized remembrance.

August Quarterly points to the struggle for freedom in all human forms and away from the elements of history that need not be repeated.  Enslavement of any race of people need not be repeated.  People not being able to worship GOD in the way they want need not be repeated.  People being divided and separated by class and status need not be repeated.  Simply put, August Quarterly is the anti-thesis to bondage, captivity and religious oppression.


Therefore, August Quarterly represent a people who found a way to sing the songs of Zion in a strange land.  It represents the nobility of African American people and their ability to strike a candle of light in the midst of the world’s darkest night.  It represents the African American community, centered around GOD, family and freedom of religion.  What the August Quarterly is all about can be summarized in the major themes of the preaching, proclamation and ministry of the August Quarter founder, Peter Spencer; community, hope, salvation, self-determination and liberation.

Come and celebrate the Nation’s Oldest History of African American Religious Freedom with families and many friends.  Join us as we share this heritage with activities such as music, crafts, singing, preaching, stage performances, children’s events, fashion shows, storytelling, dramas, back-off, vendors, food, arts, African Clothing, books, tee-shirts, nationally known Recording Artists and much more.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free
.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be
burdened again by a yoke of slavery”    Galatians 5:

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