Richard Allen, First Christian Church   Leave a comment


Richard Allen, Founder of the first African American Christian Church

Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831)[1] was a minister, educator and writer, and the founder in 1816 of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. He opened his first church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church. Allen had started as a Methodist preacher but, together with his supporters, wanted to establish a black congregation independent of white control. The AME church is the oldest denomination among independent African-American church.

[edit] Early life and freedomRichard Allen was born into slavery in 1760 on the Sturgis plantation in Delaware. He had a brother, and with him attended meetings of the local Methodist Society, which was welcoming to slaves and free blacks. Richard had taught himself to read and write. Converted early, he joined the Methodists at age 17. He began evangelizing and attending services so regularly that he attracted criticism from local slave owners. Allen and his brother redoubled their efforts for Sturgis in order to continue as exhorters for Methodism.

Reverend Freeborn Garrettson, who had freed his own slaves in 1775, began to preach in Delaware; he was among many Methodist and Baptist ministers after the American Revolutionary War who encouraged slaveholders to emancipate their people. When Garrettson visited the Sturgis plantation to preach, “Allen’s master was touched by this declaration… began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful…” Sturgis soon was convinced that slavery was wrong, and offered his slaves an opportunity to buy their freedom. In 1780, Richard was able to get a slavery agreement from his master Stokeley.[2]

[edit] Marriage and familyAllen married Sarah, who was born into slavery in 1764 in Virginia’s Isle of Wight County. She had been brought to Philadelphia at age 18 and was free by 1800, when they met. They were married within a year. They had six children: Richard, Jr.; James, John, Peter, Sarah and Ann.[3]

In addition to the work of the family, Sara actively assisted Allen in the church and supported work to take care of runaway slaves, including feeding and clothing them. In 1827, seeing that the ministers coming to conference looked bedraggled, she organized Daughters of Conference as a women’s organization to assist the church with their skills. Initially they helped provide material support to the ministers, including mending their garments.[3] The women’s organization continued after her death, taking on more social welfare issues for church members and the community.

The church vestry voted to build a gallery for the segregated use of blacks. Allen also regularly preached on the commons near the church, slowly gaining a congregation of nearly 50, and supporting himself with a variety of odd jobs.

Allen and Absalom Jones, also a Methodist preacher, resented the white congregants’ segregating the blacks for worship and prayer. They decided to leave St. George’s to create independent worship for African Americans. This brought some opposition from the white church as well as the more established blacks of the community. In 1787, Allen and Jones led the black members out of St. George’s Methodist Church.

They formed the Free African Society (FAS), a non-denominational mutual aid society, which assisted fugitive slaves and new migrants to the city. Allen, along with Absalom Jones, William Gray and William Wilcher, found an available lot on Sixth Street near Lombard. Allen negotiated a price and purchased this lot in 178He opened his first church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church. Allen started as a Methodist preacher but, together with his supporters, wanted to establish a black congregation independent of white control. The AME church is the oldest denomination among independent African-American churches. He was born into slavery in 1760 on the Sturgis plantation in Delaware. He had a brother, and with him attended meetings of the local Methodist Society, which was welcoming to slaves and free blacks. Richard had taught himself to read and write. Converted early, he joined the Methodists at age 17. He began evangelizing and attending services so regularly that he attracted criticism from local slave owners. Allen and his brother redoubled their efforts for Sturgis in order to continue as exhorters for Methodism. Reverend Freeborn Garrettson, who had freed his own slaves in 1775, began to preach in Delaware; he was among many Methodist and Baptist ministers after the American Revolutionary War who encouraged slaveholders to emancipate their people. When Garrettson visited the Sturgis plantation to preach, “Allen’s master was touched by this declaration… began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful…” Sturgis soon was convinced that slavery was wrong, and offered his slaves an opportunity to buy their freedom. In 1780, Richard was able to get a slavery agreement from his master Stokeley. Allen married Sarah who was born into slavery in 1764, in Virginia’s Isle of Wight County. Sarah had been brought to Philadelphia at age 18 and was free by 1800, when they met. They were married within a year. They had six children: Richard, Jr.; James, John, Peter, Sarah and Ann. In addition to the work of the family, Sara actively assisted Allen in the church and supported work to take care of runaway slaves, including feeding and clothing them. In 1827,.7 to build a church, but it was years before they had a building. Now occupied by Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, this is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States owned continuously by African Americans. he d

Over time, most of the FAS members followed Absalom Jones to form a new congregation. Some had been members of the Episcopal Church in the South; he founded the African Church. It was accepted as a parish congregation in the Episcopal Church and opened its doors on July 17, 1794 as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Many blacks had been familiar with the Episcopal denomination, which shared common roots with Methodism in the Church of England. In 1795, Absalom Jones was ordained as a deacon, and in 1804 as a priest, becoming the first black ordained in the United States as an Episcopal priest.

Allen and others wanted to continue in the Methodist practice. Allen called their congregation the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Using a converted blacksmith shop which they moved to the site on Sixth Street, the leaders opened the doors of Bethel AME Church on July 29, 1794. They were at first affiliated with the larger Methodist Episcopal Church. In the beginning, they had to rely on visiting white ministers. In 1799, Allen was ordained as the first black Methodist minister, by Bishop Francis Asbury, in recognition of his leadership and preaching. He and the congregation still had to continue to negotiate white oversight and deal with white elders of the denomination.

In 1816, Allen united four African-American congregations of the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Salem, New Jersey; Delaware, and Maryland. Together they founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first fully independent black denomination in the United States. On April 10, 1816, Allen was elected its first bishop. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest and largest formal institution in black America.

[edit] Underground RailroadFrom 1797 until his death in 1831, Allen and Sarah operated a station on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves. Mother Bethel Church continued such aid until the Emancipation. During and after the Civil War, the congregation also aided blacks migrating to Philadelphia to live from the rural South, helping them to learn its urban ways.

[edit] Colonization or emigrationAt first, Allen supported the idea of American free blacks emigrating to Africa; he also supported emigration to the new republic of Haiti, which achieved independence in 1804. Its government tried to recruit American blacks to immigrate there, as it needed people with skills and political experience to help build the new society. In the face of strong opposition by Philadelphia’s black community, Allen dropped ideas of emigration.[citation needed]

Most blacks disagreed with the white-led American Colonization Society that organized the emigration movement. They wanted rights in what they considered their own country; they were native born and many had generations of family in the United States.[citation needed] Allen, Jones, and James Forten, a successful businessman and sail maker, were acknowledged leaders of the free black community in Philadelphia.

[edit] Negro ConventionIn September 1830, black representatives from seven states convened in Philadelphia at the Bethlehem AME church for the first Negro Convention. A civic meeting, it was the first on such a scale organized by African-American leaders. Allen presided over the meeting, which addressed both regional and national topics. The convention occurred after the 1829 riots in Cincinnati, when whites had attacked blacks. After the rioting, 1200 blacks left the city to go to Canada.[4] As a result, the Negro Convention addressed organizing aid to such settlements in Canada, among other issues. The 1830 meeting was the beginning of an organizational effort known as the Negro Convention Movement, part of 19th-century institution building in the black community.[5]

[edit] Death He died at home on March 26, 1831.[6] His body was interred in a tomb at the lower level of the church.

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Posted February 15, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Religious, Uncategorized

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