In 1808, a few African-Americans, armed with their faith in Jesus and strengthened by mercies already seen, left the worship service of the First Baptist Church of New York City and withdrew forever their membership. These African-Americans, accompanied by a group of Ethiopian merchants, were unwilling to accept racially segregated seating in God's house and determined that they would organize their own church. During June, they established themselves in a building on Anthony Street (later Worth Street) calling themselves the Abyssinian Baptist Church - a name inspired by the ancient name of the nation from which the merchants of Ethiopia had come, Abyssinia. The Rev. 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 earliest years, 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 Rev. 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.
Shortly after the turn of the century, The Rev. Dr. Charles Satchell Morris - who in later years became a missionary to South Africa - succeeded Robert Wynn as Abyssinian's minister. From 1902 until his health failed in May of 1908, Morris led in a manner his successor was to call "brilliant.' The Waverly Place church was sold and the income was used to begin purchasing both a church and an apartment house on Fortieth Street. When illness interfered with his administration and ministry, Dr. Morris relinquished the pastorate. Nonetheless, Abyssinians could look back on one hundred years and see that the few had become many and God had, indeed, prospered their affairs.