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News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. June 10, 2022: In 1887, Barbadian immigrant Joseph Sandiford Atwell made history by becoming the first black Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Virginia.

Atwell was born on July 1, 1831, in Barbados. After completing his education at Codrington College, an Anglican school on that island, he moved to the United States in 1863 and attended Divinity Hall, forerunner of the Philadelphia Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1866.

The following year the Diocese of Kentucky named him its first black deacon. In 1868 the Virginia Episcopal Church’s governing body recruited Atwell to preside over Saint Stephen’s Church in Petersburg, ordaining him a priest the following year. Though he helped his church grow in size and wealth, he chafed under restrictions that put his ministry under the Committee on Colored Congregations. In 1873 he left Virginia for Saint Stephen’s Church of Savannah, Georgia, and eventually took over historic Saint Philip’s Church in New York City. He died there in 1881.

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