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Chester County Press

Lincoln University submits grant proposal for Hosanna Church restoration

11/08/2023 12:36PM ● By Richard Gaw

One of the most important symbols of the history of Chester County and its prominent role in civil rights is on the verge of being awarded the gift of preservation.

In coordination with the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Commonwealth’s 250th Celebration Commission (A250PA), the Pennsylvania Legislature has made funding available for projects related to the meaningful understanding of the Declaration and its significance for today. 

Under the guidance of Lincoln University President Brenda Allen, former Sen. and Lincoln trustee Andy Dinniman and Lincoln Vice President Ava Willis-Barksdale prepared a grant proposal with Dr. Larycia Hawkins, Director of Lincoln University’s new Center for the Study of the Underground Railroad for the restoration of Hosanna Church/Free African Meeting House at Lincoln University. 

Hosanna A.U.M.P. Church and cemetery are surviving monuments to the 19th century village of Hinsonville that was settled by free -- and determined to be free -- Black Americans who were landowners, laborers and directly involved in major social movements like the Underground Railroad and the eventual abolition of slavery; the founding of Ashmun Institute (renamed Lincoln University in 1866 to honor President Abraham Lincoln); and the Civil War, during which 18 Hinsonville men enlisted in the Union army, many of whom are buried at the Hosanna cemetery.

The congregation built their first church at this site in 1843, just five miles from the Maryland border, where slavery was legal prior to 1865. During that time, Hosanna hosted abolitionist meetings, and its members operated within an extensive, interracial network of pro-freedom activists. Worship services provided sanctuary for freedom seekers while members sheltered and fed freedom seekers their nearby homes. 

Chartered in 1854, Ashmun Institute was cofounded and supported by Hosanna members who are acknowledged Chester County Underground Railroad agents. Some church members, along with numerous Ashmun/Lincoln students, joined the 200,000 United States Colored Troops to reunify the country and liberate four million Americans from slavery. 

As read on the historic marker located at the site, Hosanna was first known as the African Meeting House and in 1843, formally organized as a church. Hosanna served as an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Many of the great abolitionists of the time, including Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, spoke at Hosanna.

Former long-time Lincoln University administrator and dean Cheryl Renée Gooch, now the executive director of the African American Resources Cultural and Heritage Society, is the author of Hinsonville’s Heroes: Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania (The History Press, 2018). In 2015, she spoke at a celebration at the church. 

“This church was the social and spiritual center of the community here,” she said. “Hinsonville was a community of self-determined people who assisted their fellow human beings in escaping slavery, while also helping to establish a university to educate free men of color. Imagine that. A lot happened here. There’s memory here.”

America250PA was begun in 2018 to plan, encourage, develop and coordinate the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding, Pennsylvania’s integral role in that event and the impact of its people on the nation’s past, present, and future. All 67 counties in the Commonwealth have signed resolutions in official support of the initiative, making America250PA the first U.S. Semiquincentennial State Commission in the nation to receive statewide county support.

To find out additional information on this project and how to assist in support for the grant, please contact Ava Willis-Barksdale ([email protected]) at Lincoln University.

To learn more about America250PA, visit