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Richard Allen

Richard AllenRichard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the Free African Society. He was born a slave in Philadelphia and with his family was sold to Stockley Sturgis, the owner of a plantation near Dover, Delaware.

With the permission of his master, Allen joined the Methodist Society, learned to read and write and started to preach at Methodist meetings. After his conversion, Allen said that he worked harder to prove that religion did not make slave worse servants. At Allen’s request, a Methodist meeting was held in the Sturgis’ home. 

The sermon that day was “Thou are weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Sturgis converted to Methodism and then decided that slave holding was wrong. In January of 1780 Sturgis agreed that Allen could hire himself out and purchase his freedom for $2,000. It took Allen five years to raise that sum of money.

Allen preached at meetings to blacks and whites in Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He was requested to serve at the St. George’s Church in Philadelphia where he quickly increased the black membership. He immediately saw the need for a separate place of worship for Africans but was insulted by a white elder at St. George’s when he suggested this.

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones organized the Free African Religious Society in 1787. Some five years later, the black members of St. George’s walked out when Absalom Jones, who was praying in the front of the church, was asked to get up off his knees and move to the rear of the church. This made it more clear that they needed a separate place of worship. The Free African Society took the lead in raising the money to create a church for the African members of the congregation.

The new church was called “The African Church of Philadelphia” and it became a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. Richard Allen along with eleven other members were committed to the principles of Methodism and formed the Bethel African Church. By 1816 there were several African Methodist Churches around the country and that year they met to form the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. On April 11, 1816 Richard Allen was named the first bishop of this church.

In addition to his role as a church leader, Allen vigorously responded to white verbal attacks against the black community. He challenged the American Colonization Society, founded a day school and published articles in Freedom’s Journal. Allen also operated businesses and as a result was able to serve the church without collecting a salary.

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