This church originally called the Soldiers Town Chapel grew out of the Soldiers Town meeting place first mentioned in the archives of 1817.
The area of Liberated African settlement was called Soldiers Town because it was mainly populated by recaptured Negro Soldiers or the African Corps.
The Soldiers Town meeting place must have been established shortly after the Portuguese Town meeting place in 1817, during the time of Rev. William Davies, who was the second missionary of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission to serve in Sierra Leone, and who came here in 1815, following the death of the first missionary, Rev. George Warren in 1815.
It was this Rev. William Davies who together with the Colonial Chaplain Rev. Leopold Butscher and in the presence of the Governor Sir Charles McCarthy baptized no fewer than one hundred and five children with new foreign names given to them at the end of November, 1817.
It was in this way that German, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English names were introduced into Sierra Leone and in particular to Soldiers Town.
Thus, the surnames, Wood, Boyle, Glover, Thornton, Wright, Bickersteth, Nicolls and Cline are Soldiers own names of ancient lineage. Because the work of the Methodist Mission expanded to various parts of the colony and the work load increased, Rev. William Davies appealed for a colleague to join him in the work. Accordingly, the Rev. Samuel Brown was sent out with his wife and they arrived in Freetown on Boxing Day 26th December 1817.
The first reference to a church building in Soldiers Town was found in the published report of the Missionary Committee of 1819 in which the Rev. Samuel Brown wrote as follows: –
“Soldiers Town is the first of the country villages for the fruit it has yielded to the Mission, on 13th February, 1817. I commenced my labors in it and took my stand in the open air on an elevated place, and assisted by some of our members form Freetown began the service. At first about twenty attended, chiefly females, afterwards and the number increased to fifty or sixty. I opened a wattled meeting house (Grass House), which cost us about $ 10 (Ten Pounds) and would accommodate a hundred and fifty hearers”.
The wattled building must have been in use for quite some time because in a communication forwarded to the Missionary Committee in London by the Missionaries in Sierra Leone dated 13th January, 1829, it was stated inter-alia- “At Soldiers Town we have a grass house, here the work of the Lord is in great prosperity, we have one leader, a superannuated soldier belonging to the Royal African Corps who about two years ago began a class here. He now has twenty-two members and six on trial. The Chapel will contain about eight persons. We preach here on Sabbath and Thursday evenings and there are generally more persons present than the place will contain. Thus, in all our societies the work of the Lord is in progress.”
The Leader referred to in the Communication was one Daddy Lambert. He is reported to have started the first Methodist Class Meeting in the Colony of Freetown. The archives have this to say- “It is worthy of notice that some of the Superannuated African Soldiers were made instruments in the hand of God to promote the course of Methodism in various localities. At Soldiers Town in Freetown, the first Methodist Class Meeting was begun by Daddy Lambert a Superannuated African Soldier”.
This building was built during the general superintendence of the Rev. Thomas Dove, who with his wife together with the Rev. Henry Badger arrived in Sierra Leone on the 19th November, 1837. Rev Dove had previously served in Macarthy’s Island in the Gambia. He took over control of the Mission on his arrival. Both Messrs. Dove and Badger were indeed the principal architects of the Sierra Leone Mission more particularly so Rev. Thomas Dove. Shortly after his arrival the Mission extended to Gloucester, Regent, Sussex, Hamilton, York, Kent and Waterloo.
It is not surprising therefore that we have Dove Memorial Methodist Churches in Regent, Waterloo, Gloucester and the Badger Memorial Methodist Church at Hastings, Kossoh Town. It was Rev. Thomas Dove who built most of these churches between 1837 and 1842.
As the records go, this church, formerly the wattled grass-house Soldiers Town Chapel, Was built together with the Mission House later to become the Wesleyan Methodist Boys High School, The Ministry of Social Welfare and currently the College of Theology and Management as Christopher Fyle records. “Dove then rebuilt Soldiers Town Church (which now became Zion Chapel) as combined church and mission house and began training teachers there in 1842. Thus today (2015) this building is one hundred and seventy three (173) years old now.
It is perhaps also significant to record that the funds for building both the church and mission house came from a Sergeant Major in the Royal African Corps one Peter Nicolls. The sum involved was 407 US Dollars, 13 Shillings, 8 Pence.
Another significant feature of this church in its early days was that it was here that the first ordination of African Methodist Ministries in Sierra Leone took place. The archives record this event as follows: – “The year 1844 was a memorable one in the annals of the Wesleyan Methodist in Sierra Leone, that being the year in which the Native Ministry commenced.
The pioneers were Rev. Joseph Wright who conducted himself with exemplary property and profited largely by his advantages at Richmond College and Mr. Rev. Charles Knight who like Rev. Joseph May had the privilege of being trained at the Borough Road Training College in England. After having spent nearly two years at Richmond College, Mr. Wright returned to Sierra Leone on 6th June, 1844, and both him and Mr. Knight were recommended to the Missionary Committee as candidates for the Conference. As Ministers on probation, they were solemnly ordained at Zion Church, Soldiers Town on Thursday 21st December, 1848, by the Rev. Henry Badger by virtue of his office as Presbyter Bishop. Mr. Dove having returned to England during the previous year. Large concourses of people assembled from various parts of the colony to witness the ceremony which was the first in connection with Methodism”.
On the 21st January 1967 the Methodist Conference was established by an Act of Parliament and took over the estate and leadership of the Methodist mission in Sierra Leone.
The Church was declared a National Protected Heritage Asset in June 2016 by President Ernest Bai Koroma then President of the Republic of Sierra Leone.