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Allen, Richard 1760–1831

Richard Allen 17601831

Religious and civil rights leader

At a Glance

Joining with and Separation from St. Georges

The Founding of a Church

The Struggle for Independence

The Continuing Fight for Justice

Sources

Richard Allen was one of the first African American religious and civil rights leaders in the United States. Allen discovered religion after hearing a wandering Methodist preacher at a secret gathering of slaves in Delaware. He drove a salt wagon during the Revolutionary War and purchased his freedom in 1780. In 1786, he traveled to Philadelphia to preach to the black congregation at St. Georges Methodist Church. After separating from St. Georges in 1794, Allen helped found the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and then went on to found his own Methodist congregation which he called Bethel Church. Allen became the first black deacon of the Methodist Church and eventually, after thirty years of struggle with the white Methodist congregation at St. Georges, founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Allen became the AMEs first bishop and was recognized as one of the leading voices in the free black community of the early nineteenth century.

Richard Allen was born into slavery on February 14, 1760 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Allen worked on the household staff of Philadelphia lawyer Benjamin Chew. When he was seven, he and his family were sold to a Delaware farmer named Stokley Sturgis. Allens work changed from that of a household servant to a field hand. Despite the hardship of the work, Allen was not bitter toward his new master. In his biography The Life Experiences and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, he portrayed Stockley as more like a father to his slaves than anything else.

In 1777 when Allen was seventeen years old, two events took place that were to change his life forever. Firstly, his mother and three siblings were sold. He would never see any of them again. Secondly, Allen experienced a religious awakening. He heard about a meeting where a traveling Methodist preacher was to speak and decided to attend. The results of the meeting were profound. In his biography, Allen wrote, I was awakened and brought to see myself, poor, wretched and undone, and without the mercy of God must be lost. Allen joined the local Methodist Society and began to organize services with a local preacher named John Gray. The meetings were held in secret because of a Delaware law which forbade any meetings between black men without the presence of a white man. Allen was attracted to Methodism by its complete opposition to the institution of slavery and its straightforward, accessible interpretation of the Gospel.

Unlike most slaveowners of the period, Sturgis encouraged his slaves to attend religious services every two weeks. Eventually, preachers were invited to stop at Sturgiss farm. On one occasion, Sturgis and his family came to the service to hear a preacher named Freeborn Garrettson, a former slaveowner who had become vehemently opposed to slavery. Garrettson gave a sermon using a verse from Daniel 5:27 which read, Thou art weighed in the balances, and thou art found wanting. Garrettson applied this passage to

At a Glance

Born Richard Allen, February 14, 1760 in Philadelphia, PA; died March 18, 1831; married a former slave from Virginia named Sarah, 1800; six children.

Earned freedom from slavery 1780; Free African Society (FAS), co-founder, 1787; Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founder, 1794; first black deacon of a Methodist Church, 1799; first bishop of African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1816; American Society of Free Persons of Colour, president, 1830; Free Produce Society, founder, 1830.

the institution of slavery. He reasoned that when slaveowners stood before God on judgment day, they would be found wantingthat isthey would go to Hell. Sturgis was so moved by the sermon that he decided to free all of his slaves. However, his financial debts prohibited him from freeing them outright. It was agreed that Allen could purchase his freedom for the sum of 2,000. By working extra hours doing odd jobs such as cutting cord wood, Allen saved the 2,000 and bought his freedom in 1780 at the age of twenty.

Work for a free black man was scarce, but Allen continued to make his living cutting wood. He also drove a salt wagon during the Revolutionary War. Driving a wagon gave him the opportunity to travel to different communities, all the while developing his reputation as a preacher. Allen preached at meetings for blacks and whites in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It was this reputation that brought him back to the city of his birth, Philadelphia.

Joining with and Separation from St. Georges

In 1786 St. Georges, the first Methodist Church in Philadelphia, invited Allen to preach to its black congregation. Allen was given the 5:00 A.M. service, but he was soon attracting an increasingly larger black congregation. In Philadelphia at the time, 70% of the black population was free. Allen would also travel to three or four different churches during the day to preach to other congregations. His preaching was extremely effective and he quickly began to attract more black parishioners to St. Georges. However, the increasing numbers of black people in the church made the white members nervous. Eventually, the black parishioners of St. Georges were forced to relinquish their seats and sit along the wall. Allen and other black religious leaders such as Absalom Jones recognized the need for a new type of church which would serve the needs of the African members of the congregation. Allen approached the elder of St. Georges to ask to establish a separate black Methodist Church. He was denied, but as the elders term lasted only one year, Allen was content to wait and ask again when a new elder was installed. At the end of the year, Allen approached the new elder, whom Allen referred to as the Reverend Mr. W., and this time was rejected and also insulted. Instead of granting the black parishioners request to leave, the trustees at St. Georges decided to build a new balcony to segregate the black parishioners from the white ones. The desire for independence led Allen and Jones to establish the Free African Society (FAS) in April of 1787. W.E.B. Dubois called the FAS the first wavering step of a people toward organized social life. The FAS was established to aid the widowed, sick, and jobless. The organization also regulated marriages and attempted to improve public morals.

One day in November 1787 Absalom Jones, William White, and Allen came late to services at St. Georges and were ushered into the new gallery. They went to seats above their accustomed places in the church. They were unaware that they were not allowed to sit in the new section of the church, which they and many other black members of the congregation had helped build. As the three men were on their knees in prayer, a trustee of the church grabbed Jones by the shoulder and attempted to drag him from his knees. Steven Klots book Richard Allen: Religious Leader and Social Activist reported that Jones said, wait until the prayer is over, but the trustee insisted that the black men leave immediately. Jones again said, Wait until the prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more. Another trustee was called and this provoked a general exodus by most of the black members of the church. Allen later said, we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued by us in the church.

The Founding of a Church

After the exodus from St. Georges, the black members turned to the FAS for spiritual guidance, but they soon discovered that the organization was better suited to secular concerns. Allen also was having his difficulties with the organization because he believed it was too heavily influenced by the Quakers. Allen felt that Quaker culture was too restrictive and philosophically opposed to the spontaneity and enthusiasm of a Methodist service. This difference of opinion led to Allen being read out of the society in 1789. Despite expulsion from the FAS, he continued to be very important to the organization. He was chosen by the FAS to find a site and purchase it for the construction of a new church. In 1791, members of the FAS broke ground for what would eventually become the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

Both Allen and Jones wanted to remain affiliated with the Methodists, but two factors influenced their decision. First, William White, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church, was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of the project. Secondly, the Methodist leaders heavy-handed attempts to control the worshipers who had left St. Georges continued unabated. The Reverend John McClaske threatened to expel the dissenters from the Methodist Church permanently. Time-Lifes book on African American historical figures entitled Leadership reported that Allens reply was to tell him, If you deny us your name, you cannot seal up the Scriptures from us, and deny us a name in heaven. The people of St. Thomass wanted to elect Allen as their first pastor, but he declined saying that I could never be anything but a Methodist. In 1804 Absalom Jones became Americas first black Episcopal priest when the Episcopal Church recognized the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

Allen still wanted to establish a separate place for African Methodists. Although the elders at St. Georges wanted to segregate white and black parishioners, they still preferred that both groups worship together. The thought of an entirely separate African Methodist Church beyond their control was unacceptable. Allens group was continually denied official acknowledgment, which would have allowed a pastor to administer sacraments to the new congregation. In 1793, a catastrophic event in Philadelphia illustrated the depth of character that Allen and the black community possessed.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 struck Philadelphia with a vengeance and killed 5,000 of the citys 50,000 residents. Allen and Jones were asked to lend assistance, especially after much of the medical community had fled the city. At the time it was believed, erroneously, that blacks were less likely to contract yellow fever. Allen and Jones agreed to help. For the next several weeks, Allen organized crews to remove the dead while Jones found nurses to help the doctors. Despite the invaluable assistance the black community offered during the crisis, they were still criticized. Matthew Carey, a man who fled Philadelphia during the epidemic, claimed that black people had profited from the yellow fever by stealing from abandoned houses and charging exorbitant prices for corpse removal. Allen and Jones responded to these charges by publishing a pamphlet entitled A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People During the Awful Calamity in Philadelphia, which defended the conduct of black people during the epidemic. The mayor of Philadelphia issued a statement supporting Jones and Allen.

In July 1794, Allen established the Bethel Church in a converted blacksmith shop on land he originally bought for St. Thomass. In November 1794, Allen issued a Declaration of Independence stating that Bethel was not simply an African branch of St. Georges, but a separate entity. He also used the name African Methodist Episcopal Church for the first time. Although Allen declared Bethels independence, he was still dependent on St. Georges for ministers because no black men had been ordained. A new elder at St. Georges, Ezekiel Cooper, saw an opportunity to exert control over the new congregation. Cooper threatened to take away the Methodist name from the Bethel congregation. Allen responded that they could take away the new congregations name, but couldnt deny its members a place in heaven. Cooper tried a another tactic. In 1796, he proposed that St. Georges incorporate Bethel Church. Allen and the other trustees at Bethel agreed. The incorporation followed the normal Methodist model, but allowed Bethel to retain its African heritage. Allen was forced to relinquish ownership of Bethel, although he remained the owner of the land. For the next ten years, the congregation at Bethel enjoyed a period of relative peace.

Allen worked diligently to fulfill Bethel Churchs mission to build each other up. In the churchs first two years of existence, membership increased from 20 to 121 members. Allen also opened a childrens day school and a night school for adults. In 1799, he became the first black deacon to be ordained in the Methodist church. Allen soon turned his attention to the issue of slavery and published three pamphlets expressing his concerns. In An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves and Approve the Practice, Allen rationally confronted some widely-believed myths about slavery and compared the plight of the American slave to the plight of the ancient Israelites in Egypt. In To the People of Color, Allen tried to offer hope to all slaves and reminded free blacks of their responsibility to help those people still enslaved. His third essay, A Short Address to the Friends of Him who Hath no Helper, praised prominent white men such as Benjamin Rush and Robert Ralston for assisting the black community.

Allen did more for the abolitionist movement than write pamphlets, however. For example, the basement of Bethel Church was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Allen also collected money to help slaves escape to the North and, in 1795, he helped 30 newly-freed Jamaicans find housing. By 1805, Bethel Church had 456 registered members and Allen had married a former slave from Virginia named Sarah. He divided his time between his church, his work as a shoemaker, and his family, which would grow to include six children.

The Struggle for Independence

After approximately ten years of peace between St. Georges Church and Bethel Church, trouble arose once again. St. Georges pastor, Reverend James Smith, forbade the practice of any religious service at Bethel, claiming he had the right to suspend religious services based on the incorporation papers signed by the two churches. Allen and his congregation found this situation unacceptable and maneuvered quickly to thwart Smiths intentions. Allen met secretly with a trusted Quaker lawyer and together they created the African Supplement. The Supplement, which gave Bethel Church independent status because of its unique position as a purely African church, was voted upon by members of the congregation and passed unanimously. Smith was furious and, in retaliation, informed the Bethel congregation that it would be charged 600.00 per year for administration of sacraments such as communion and baptism. The people of Bethel appealed and eventually had the fee reduced to 200.00.

Following the confrontation with Reverend Smith, Allen was faced with another disturbing incident. In 1808 a slaver, a man who captured runaway slaves and resold them in the South, claimed that Allen was a recently escaped slave. Allen sued the man for false accusation and perjury, eventually winning an 800.00 settlement. When the slaver could not pay, he was thrown into debtors prison.

Although Allen was vindicated, the slavers claims illustrated the precarious nature of his freedom and the freedom of other blacks. He renewed his drive for independence from St. Georges and his attacks on the institution of slavery. He fought doggedly with the elders at St. Georges for the right to control Bethel Churchs destiny. In 1811, when minister Stephen Roszel refused to administer the sacraments at Bethel unless the African Supplement was repealed, Allen found ministers from another church to serve the community. In an attempt to diminish the size and influence of Bethels congregation, trustees from St. Georges opened another black Methodist church. The plan failed miserably. In 1813 the new elder at St. Georges, Reverend Robert Roberts, demanded the right to preach at Bethel. On one occasion, he tried to force his way to the pulpit during services. The congregation packed the church so tightly that Roberts was not able to get to the pulpit. In 1815 another elder, Reverend Robert Burch, had Bethel put up for sale at public auction. Allen was forced to buy back his own property at a cost of 10,125, an enormous sum in the early nineteenth century. Burch eventually went to court to win the right to preach at Bethel. The judge ruled in Bethels favor, reasoning that Burch had no right to preach to a congregation that would not listen to him. This ruling gave Bethel de facto independence. After years of struggle, Bethel had won its freedom from the white-controlled Methodist Conference and was established as its own organization with Allen as its leader.

The Continuing Fight for Justice

The final phase of Allens life centered around two main goals: the expansion of the AME Church and securing the rights of black people. To build on the foundation of Bethels success, Allen organized a conference of black churches in April of 1816. Delegates came from Baltimore, Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and Salem. Allen was elected chairmen of the conference. The council adopted all the tenets of Methodism except the system of elders, which would again put African churches under the control of whites. Delegates also elected the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Reverend Daniel Coker of Baltimore. Coker declined and Allen was named in his place. On April 11, 1816, Allen became the first black bishop in the United States. Five ordained ministers, including Absalom Jones, participated in the ceremony. Allen remained pastor at Bethel, but focused on expansion of the AME church.

Although the AME church continued to grow steadily, it experienced growing pains. In 1820, an AME church in New York splintered and formed the American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. In Philadelphia, a group split from Bethel Church and formed the Wesley AME Church. The worst setback for AME expansion took place in South Carolina. A church was burned to the ground and a minister forced to flee to Philadelphia after it was revealed that the church was being used as a meeting place for a group of slaves and former slaves who were planning a revolt. As a result, the AME church was faced with virtual extinction in the South. Eventually, the AME church expanded successfully into western Pennsylvania and Ohio, and even sent a mission to Haiti.

While Allen was working to establish and enlarge the AME church, a new movement emerged that threatened the rights of all free blacks. The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed soon after Allen became a bishop in December of 1816. The ACS advocated either the voluntary emigration or forced expulsion of all free blacks from the United States to Africa. Founded by the Reverend Robert Finley, the ACS believed that colonization in Africa would be beneficial for most free black men, many of whom had a very difficult time in the United States. Other members of the group included Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Madison, and Henry Clay. An article entitled Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church on the Historic Philadelphia Home Page quoted two prominent figures in American history who were members of the ACS. Jefferson said, Let the ocean divide the white man from the man of color. Clay, a United States Senator from Kentucky, expressed the beliefs of many ACS members when he described free blacks as pernicious and useless, if not dangerous. Allen was outraged that anyone would try to expel him and other free blacks from their own country. In response to the growing threat of the ACS, Allen organized a meeting attended by 3,000 people at Bethel Church. Allen declared that free blacks must support those blacks who were still enslaved, and furthermore, that free blacks should enjoy all the rights and privileges of any other citizen of the United States. In a Philadelphia newspaper, Allen and other black leaders addressed the place of the free black man in America. Part of their statement reads as follows: Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first cultivators of the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil, which their blood and sweat manured; and that any measure, or system of measures, having a tendency to banish us from her bosom, would not only be cruel, but in direct violation of those principles, which have been the boast of the republick (sic). Allen even argued his point in Americas first black newspaper, the Freedom Journal.

In addition to the threat posed by the ACS, Allen and other free blacks had to contend with increasingly restrictive laws. In 1827, the state of Ohio instituted the Black Code, which required each black resident to post a 500 bond to guarantee their good behavior. Since very few people, black or white, had this sum of money, a large number of blacks were forced to leave the state, with many residing in Canada. The Black Code nearly wiped out the AME church in Ohio. To combat this rising tide of repression, Allen called another meeting of black leaders in 1830. Despite the travel restrictions imposed on black people of the time, 40 delegates from seven states attended. Allen was elected president of the American Society of Free Persons of Colour, for Improving their Condition in the United States; for Purchasing Lands; and for the Establishment of a Settlement in Upper Canada. The groups first priority was to improve conditions for free blacks. Proposals to explore possible relocation of free blacks to Canada were also considered. Allen also led the Free Produce Society, which pledged to buy goods produced only by non-slave holders.

On March 18, 1831, Allen died at the age of 71. His funeral was widely attended by free blacks from throughout the United States. William Lloyd Garrison wrote in the abolitionist newspaper The Genius of Universal Emancipation that Allen was one of the purest friends and patriots that ever exerted his energies in favor of civil and religious liberty. His noble deeds will remain cherished in the memory of mankind as imperishable monuments of eternal glory. Richard Allens legacy remains strong today. His beloved AME church today has 2.5 million members with 8,000 ministers in 6,200 congregations. Perhaps more importantly, he was one of the first black voices to speak out for the rights of African Americans. He is the descendant of contemporary civil rights activists and without Allens pioneering efforts, their successes would not be possible. In a document now stored at the Library of Congress, a sermon given in the Allen Chapel of the AME church on February 20, 1898, by the Reverend John Palmer addressed the question of Richard Allens greatness. If true greatness consists in that self sacrificing heroism and devotion which makes a man insensible and indifferent to his own personal welfare, interest, comfort, and advantages; and to deny himself of all for the sake of others, and for the elevation and advancement of others, without a single promise of reward,we say, if these constitute greatness, then Richard Allen, the first bishop of the AME church was great.

Sources

Books

Allen, Richard. The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. Nashville: Abingdon, 1960.

Klots, Steve. Richard Allen: Religious Leader and Social Activist. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Rollins, Charlemae H. They Showed the Way. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1964.

Papanek, John L. (ed). African Americans: Voices of Triumph. New York: Time Life Inc., 1993.

Online Databases

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. Historic Philadel-phiaHomepage. [Online] Internet, January 9, 1997.

Palmer, John M. Was Richard Allen Great. Library of Congress Homepage.[Online] Internet, January 11, 1997.

Richard Allen-African American Historical Figures. African American Biographical Profiles Index. [Online] Internet, January 11, 1997.

Michael Watkins

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Allen, Richard (1760-1831)

Richard Allen (1760-1831)

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Church founder and bishop

Early Life. Richard Allen was born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760 and sold to a man in Delaware while still a child. He experienced a religious conversion as a teenager, joined the Methodist Church, and began preaching the Gospel to all who would listen. Though Allens master was not a churchgoer, he permitted Allen and his brother to attend Methodist meetings. At Allens request, he also allowed a renowned Methodist preacher to speak in his house. The sermon convinced the master that slaveholding was wrong, and he gave Allen the opportunity to purchase his freedom. Allen worked at a variety of jobs and traveled extensively, preaching and offering religious counsel as he went.

Philadelphia Ministry. Once free, Allen returned to Philadelphia, where he had been asked to minister to the black members of Saint Georges Church. He was extremely successful and added many more African Americans to the church rolls. The black community in Philadelphia was largely uneducated, poor, and unchurched and included many recently freed slaves who had migrated north in search of work. Allen wanted to reach out to these long forgotten people, as he called them, and believed that the best way to do so would be to establish an all-black church. Although rebuffed in this effort by the white elder of Saint Georges, Allen and another black church member, Absalom Jones, decided in 1787 to organize a nondenominational religious group, the Free African Society, to serve as a mutual aid organization and a source of religious and moral guidance for African Americans. The members of the society continued to belong to the mixed-race (and white-run) Saint Georges Church until 1792, when black members were suddenly commanded to sit upstairs in the gallery instead of on their normal benches on the main floor. After Absalom Jones was forcefully relocated by white trustees during a prayer session, all of the black members of the church walked out, never to return. Some formed an Episcopal church and others, following Allen, remained Methodists and formed the Bethel African Church in 1794.

Community Leadership. Allen remained committed to Methodism because he felt its informal preaching style was suited to the unlettered men and women he hoped to reach. Furthermore, he believed that the Methodist system of discipline, in which each member kept watch over all the others, would help reform behavior and uplift people into sober and pious lives. The size of the Bethel African Church and the extent of Allens influence in the black community grew rapidly. Committed not only to the spiritual development of his flock but also to their moral, educational, and political improvement, Allen helped found numerous societies to pursue these goals, including the Bethel Benevolent Society and the African Society for the Education of Youth. These organizations were meant to foster community action and racial pride and to help African Americans get out of poverty through discipline and hard work. Only by leading upright lives, Allen believed, could they alter racist assumptions about their inferiority.

Formation of the A.M.E. Church. During the first decade of the nineteenth century Allens Bethel African Church increasingly came into conflict with the white elders of the Methodist conference to which the church belonged. The elders wanted to control the church property, as well as to determine who preached there, while the black church members sought to retain these privileges for themselves. Similar struggles were occurring in other cities, and in 1816 Allen called black Methodists from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to a convention in Philadelphia. After discussing their common problems, the delegates resolved to form a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, which they hoped would preserve us from that spiritual despotism which we have so recently experienced. Richard Allen was elected the churchs first bishop.

Growth of the Church. Not all church leaders supported Allens ideas about church structure and discipline, and many thought him overly ambitious. He was criticized for being too public in his condemnation of white people and thus promoting racial tension and was falsely accused of improper use of church funds. By 1821 two additional black denominations had been established by those who rejected Allens leadership. Nonetheless, the A.M.E. church prospered under his guidance. By 1826 membership in the denomination had grown to almost eight thousand people, who were served by seventeen itinerant ministers. By 1827 the church had sent missionaries west to Ohio, north to Canada, and as far south as Haiti. Allen continued his single-minded effort to improve the situation of African Americans. In 1827 he published a statement condemning colonization (the plan to send freed slaves to Africa), arguing that this land which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds, and the gospel is free. In 1830 he served as the president of the national Negro convention, which made recommendations to black leaders for encouraging racial unity, self-help, and education in agriculture and the mechanical arts. A year later Allen died at the age of seventy-one, having taken important steps toward making his country a place where African Americans might prosper and live with dignity.

Source

Albert J. Raboteau, Richard Allen and the African Church Movement, in Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

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Richard Allen

Richard Allen

Richard Allen (1760-1831), American Methodist bishop, rose from slavery to freedom to become the first African American ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Richard Allen was born on Feb. 14, 1760, the slave of a Quaker lawyer in Philadelphia who sold him to a planter near Dover, Del. While laboring on his new master's farm, he showed an interest in religion, was converted, and joined a Methodist society. His master, who encouraged his religious work, was in turn converted and allowed Richard and his brother to earn their freedom. Allen educated himself. As a free African American, he traveled through Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, preaching to both whites and blacks and maintaining himself by cutting wood, laboring in a brickyard, and driving a wagon.

The warm, informal style of early Methodism won Allen's loyalty. He was one of two African Americans who attended the organizing conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784 at Baltimore. He traveled and preached effectively with white Methodist ministers but declined to accompany Bishop Francis Asbury into the slaveholding South.

In 1786 Allen was invited to preach occasionally at St. George's Church in Philadelphia. Preaching in the early morning or evening, he had particular success among African Americans. By the end of the year his prayer meetings included 42 African American members, and he thought of establishing a separate place of worship. At first he was dissuaded by persons of both races. But when the African Americans discovered that their increasing membership was to be forcefully segregated in the new gallery of St. George's, they refused to submit to this insult and withdrew in 1787. They formed the Free African Society for economic and social reasons. The new organization solicited funds and secured a place to meet, only to find that they had divided loyalties. A minority established the African Protestant Episcopal Church and kept the building, while the majority organized an independent Methodist Church with Allen's leadership and financial undergirding.

Bishop Asbury dedicated the new building, Bethel Church, when it was completed in 1794, and 5 years later he ordained Allen as the first African American deacon in Methodist history. Despite these ties, friction continued between the new congregation and Methodist leaders over supplying ministers and ownership of the Bethel property. When a legal decision supported the congregation's independence in 1816, all official connections with the Methodist Episcopal Church were severed.

African American congregations in other cities had encountered similar problems, and in April 1816 the representatives of 16 churches met at Philadelphia to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen was chosen its first bishop. In 1817 he denounced the American Colonization Society's plan to return the free African Americans in the United States to a colony in Africa. In 1830 Allen started the first national movement to resettle free African Americans in Canada. By the time of his death on March 26, 1831, his leadership had solidified the growing denomination and given it national standing. The African Methodist Episcopal Church continued to grow, becoming part of the antislavery movement and the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War.

Further Reading

Allen's short but essential autobiography is The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States (1800; repr. 1960). Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom (1935), is a well-documented biography. Also useful are William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887; repr. 1968); Carter G. Woodson, The History of the Negro Church (rev. ed. 1921); Langston Hughes, Famous American Negroes (1954); Emory Stevens Bucke, The History of American Methodism vol. 1 (1963); and Richard R. Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1963).

Additional Sources

Mwadilifu, Mwalimu I. (Mwalimu Imara), Richard Allen: the first exemplar of African American education, New York: ECA Associates, 1985. □

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Allen, Richard (1760-1831)

Richard Allen (1760-1831)

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Founder of the african methodist episcopal church

Up from Slavery . Richard Allens race and his religious experiences together shaped the course of his life and allowed him to become a leader of the free African American community in the northern states in the post-Revolutionary era. Allen was born into slavery in Philadelphia on 14 February 1760. After moving with a new owner to Delaware in 1767, Allen was converted to Methodism, drawn by its message of Christian freedom, and soon began preaching. An early success was the conversion of his owner, who allowed Allen to buy his own freedom in 1781. Moving back to Philadelphia, Allen became active as a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. By 1784 he came to the attention of Francis As-bury, the first Methodist bishop, who offered Allen the opportunity to preach in the South, although not to slaves. Allen turned this offer down, preferring instead to preach to the growing free black community in Philadelphia.

A Black Church . Allen was one of several African American members of Saint Georges Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Although the church officially allowed the mixing of races, hostility toward African Americans was very much a part of the black members experience, and an increasingly troubling one to Allen. Disturbed by the trend toward segregation, Allen and some companions founded the Free African Society on 12 April 1787, one of the first African American religious groups in the United States. Later that year the need for an independent black church became dramatically clear when Allen, Absalom Jones, and William White were pulled from their knees while praying in Saint Georges and told to move to the balcony, the only place blacks were allowed. Allen and the others then withdrew and centered their religious lives on the society. When that group began to adopt Quaker principles, Allen left to form a black Episcopal church. Allen left this church in turn, forming Bethel Church in 1794, the first black Methodist church. Under Allens leadership Bethel became the center of a network of black Methodist congregations. In 1816 sixteen of these churches joined to form the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the first African American denomination. These churches chose Allen as their first bishop, and he was installed on 11 April 1816 by the laying on of hands of his fellow black ministers.

Wider Visions. In keeping with the expansive goals of American evangelicalism and with the message of freedom he had found in Methodism, Allens work was not limited to churchly duties. He had a broad vision of his mission grounded in a desire to serve God and his followers. His church sponsored a day school for the children of its members, opening in 1795. In 1804 that activity broadened as Allen founded the Society of Free People of Colour for Promoting the Instruction and School Education of Children of African Descent. Allen was also active in the early movements promoting the abolition of slavery, both in Pennsylvania and in the nation. At his death on 26 March 1831, Allen had shaped not only the basis of independent black churches, but had made a significant contribution to the development of independent African American political life in the North as well.

Sources

Richard Allen, The Life, Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, Written by Himself (N. p., 1793; reprinted, Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1983);

Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).

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Allen, Richard

Richard Allen, 1760–1831, American clergyman, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born a slave in Philadelphia and purchased his freedom. He became pastor of a black group that had seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. When the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized nationally (1816), Allen was consecrated its first bishop. An ardent abolitionist, he publicly challenged the morality of slavery and did much to lay the philosophical groundwork for the black nationalist movement.

See biographies by M. M. Mathews (1963), C. V. R. George (1973), and R. S. Newman (2008).

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Allen, Richard

Allen, Richard (first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church): see AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.

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