RELIGIOUS LEADER (1760-1831)
Richard 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 over 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 slaves 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 $2000. 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
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
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.
Revised: July 18, 2013.