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Rev. Robert Hickman
*Robert Hickman, born on this date in 1830. He was a Black laborer and minister.
Robert Thomas Hickman was born enslaved near Boone, Missouri. He was, however, allowed by his owner to learn to read and write. Hickman also became a slave preacher for the people held in bondage in the area.
Hickman worked near Boone as a rail splitter and escaped in 1862, making it to the Union Army lines in Jefferson City. Here he got work as a quartermaster and a cook in the government hospital. The spring after emancipation, Hickman led a group of Boone County Blacks by constructing a crude raft which they hoped would take them to freedom. When he and 75 Black men, women and children were discovered adrift near Jefferson, Missouri, they were rescued and towed upriver to St. Paul, Minnesota by the steamboat Northerner. The “contrabands” arrived in St. Paul on May 5, 1863. A second group of Missouri fugitive slaves reached St. Paul ten days later under the protective custody of Chaplain J.D. White and escorted by Company C of the 27th Iowa Regiment.
Although both groups were initially harassed by Irish dock workers in St. Paul, the men quickly found work as teamsters and laborers. As the families settled into their new lives in Minnesota, Rev. Hickman sought a place of worship for these newcomers who called themselves “Pilgrims.” After holding services in individual homes in St. Paul, in the winter of 1863 they succeeded in renting a room in a downtown concert hall. In January 1864, Rev. Hickman and the Pilgrims received mission status from the First Baptist Church of St. Paul. On November 15, 1866, Rev. Robert Hickman and the other migrants formally organized Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul.
They celebrated the creation of the church with a baptismal service on the shores of the Mississippi River. Despite his crucial role in getting the settlers to Minnesota and establishing Pilgrim Baptist Church, Hickman was not licensed to preach by the Baptist Church. Thus between 1866 and 1877 two white ministers, William Norris and Andrew Torbert, led Pilgrim Baptist. Eventually licensed to preach in 1874 and ordained the following year, Hickman became the congregation’s official minister in 1878. Rev. Robert Hickman continued to lead the church until his retirement in 1886. Hickman is most remembered for the group of slaves including his family, whom he led to freedom in what became the Rondo community of the capital city and helping to establish the first Black church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Robert Thomas Hickman died in St. Paul, Minnesota on February 6, 1900.