London Ferrill, also spelled Ferrell, (1789–1854) was a former slave who became the second preacher of the First African Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, serving from 1823 to 1854. During his 31 years of service, Ferrill attracted and baptized many new members in the growing region; by 1850 the church had 1,820 members and was the largest of any in the state, black or white.
He gained support from both black and white leaders of the city. The funeral procession for Ferrill numbered 5,000 people, the largest in the city after that of the statesman Henry Clay. This was the first black church west of the Allegheny Mountains and the third oldest black Baptist congregation in the United States.
Early life and education
London was born into slavery in 1789 in Hanover County, Virginia, where his enslaved mother was owned by Richard Ferrill, an English immigrant. The unmarried master died soon after the boy's birth and his estate, including slaves, was inherited by his sister Ann (Ferrill) Winston. She named the slave boy London Ferrill after her brother, who was likely his father, as he was of mixed race.
Some recent researchers believe the naming suggests that Ferrill may have been of mixed race.  His white father was likely Richard Ferrill. As noted by Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family (1999), a study of the interracial relationships among his ancestors, mixed-race slaves were frequently given names that distinguished them from the others. London Ferrill is an example of such naming.
Ann Winston died when London Ferrill was eight or nine years old. When her estate was settled, the boy was sold away from his mother to Colonel Samuel Overton. Soon the master apprenticed Ferrill to learn carpentry, a skilled trade. This was often the pattern for children of white masters, to give them an artisan skill to enable them to support themselves as adults.
Ferrill was baptized in 1809 at the age of 20 and had a conversion experience with the Baptists. The minister and congregation approved of his preaching and singing, and he began to preach more widely in the community. Ferrill's freedom was bought by his wife Rhoda Hood after Overton's death. 
Marriage and family
As a young man, Ferrill married a free black woman named Rodah. After Overton's death, when Ferrill had gained freedom, he and his wife migrated to Kentucky, where they were believed to settle in Lexington about 1812.
A few years after Rodah's death in 1833, Ferrill adopted two orphaned children, Eleazer and Elizabeth Jackson, who were brother and sister. He never remarried and traveled often in the region, where he preached at revivals and baptized many new converts.
Ferrill started preaching in Lexington, and in 1822 he was ordained by the First Baptist Church, a white congregation. Its leaders helped the First African Baptist Church be covenanted in "fellowship" in 1822, which meant it continued to be independent. In 1823 the Trustees of Lexington appointed Ferrill as the preacher for the First African Baptist Church, to succeed the aging founder, Peter Durrett. It was the oldest black Baptist church west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Ferrill worked well with both blacks and whites in the growing city. In 1824 his church was received into the Elkhorn Association, the local Baptist association. After several years, Ferrill had created considerable goodwill. White leaders initiated a legislative petition to permit him to remain in the state, in response to a threat from rivals competing for control of the church. They had threatened to force Ferrill from the state, using the law that required free blacks from other states to leave Kentucky after 90 days.
In 1833 Ferrill was notable as among the few clergy to stay in Lexington during the cholera epidemic, when he cared for the sick, dying and bereaved. Five hundred of the city's total 7,000 population died, including his wife Rodah and nearly one-third of the congregation of Christ Church Episcopal. Other ministers who stayed were Rev. Benjamin Bosworth Smith of Christ Church, whose wife also died in the epidemic; and Father Ed McMahon of the Catholic Church.
With the growth of Lexington and the region, Ferrill baptized many new converts, including those in outlying areas. He continued to attract members to his growing congregation. By 1850 the First African Baptist Church had 1820 members, both slave and free, and was the largest congregation, black or white, in the state. He was said to have baptized 5,000 persons during his years of service. He frequently traveled around the area to preach and baptize.
Ferrill died of a heart attack in 1854. His funeral procession numbered nearly 5,000, the largest in the city after that two years before for the statesman Henry Clay. Because of his high reputation and long service in the city, Ferrill was buried in the Old Episcopal Burying Ground, the only African American so honored.
In 2010 Christ Church Cathedral had a special service with First African Baptist to commemorate Ferrill, at which both choirs sang. Christ Church parishioner Robert Voll, who has worked on the monument and community garden projects (see below), said, "London Ferrill was a force for unity, a force for connecting the black and white communities of Lexington."
Legacy and honors
- 1854, Ferrill was the only black to be buried in the Old Episcopal Burying Ground.
- 2008, Christ Church Cathedral dedicated its community garden in Ferrill's honor.
- 2010, Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) helped gain approval for a city monument installed in Ferrill's honor at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground. The state has also memorialized the site with a highway marker. Christ Church held a joint service with First African Baptist to commemorate Ferrill.
- A.W. Elder, "Biography of London Ferrill, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Colored Persons, Lexington, KY.": A.W. Elder, printer, 1854, 12 pgs, online edition, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, accessed 6 May 2011
- Tom Eblen, "Churches join to honor former slave", Lexington Herald-Leader, 21 Feb 2010, accessed 28 Aug 2010
- Townsend, John (1974). Lore of the Meadowland: short studies in Kentuckiana (Print) (Reprint ed.). Lexington Ky: Keystone Printery.
- "First African Baptist Church", Lexington, Kentucky/A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, National Park Service, accessed 29 August 2011
- J. H. Spencer, "Colored Baptists in Early Kentucky", in A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885, Volume 2; rpt. 1988, pp. 653–669, accessed 6 May 2011
- H. E. Nutter, "A Brief History of the First Baptist Church (Black) Lexington, Kentucky", in Souvenir, Sesqui-Centennial Celebration, 1790–1940, Lexington, KY: 1940, accessed 22 Aug 2010
- "Christ Church Episcopal", Lexington, National Park Service. Retrieved 21 August 2010.
- The Advocate, The Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, Summer 2008, p. 5