Richard Allen, Founder of the A.M.E. Church
February 14, 1760-March 26, 1831
Richard Allen, the founder and first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born a slave on February 14, 1760 on the estate of Benjamin Chew, Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1774-1777.
Richard Allen, his parents and three other children were sold to a Mr. Stokeley in Delaware, near Dover. Allen recorded that Stokeley was a very tender and humane man who was more like a father to his slaves than a master. As Richard and his brother grew older, they were permitted to attend meetings of the Methodist Society. Allen was converted at the age of 17. He began preaching in 1780. Through thrift and industry, he and his brother worked at night to pay for their freedom.
He commenced traveling in 1783 and later returned to Philadelphia and joined the white congregation at St. Georges' Methodist Episcopal Church. He was licensed to preach in 1784 and was permitted to hold services in the morning about 5 a.m. As the attendance of colored people at St. George's increased, the hostile attitudes of the officers and members also increased and on a Sabbath morning in 1787, the sexton met them at the door of the church and sent them to the gallery. One morning, at St. George's, while prayer was going on Allen heard considerable scuffling and low-talking. As he raised his head, he saw the trustees pulling Absalom Jones and William White off their knees telling them that they could not kneel there. When the prayer was over, the black people, led by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, withdrew from the St. George's Church.
Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, William Gray and William Wilcher were appointed to find a lot to build a church where the worship of God could be carried on without interference. A lot was selected on Sixth Street near Lombard, in Philadelphia, and Richard Allen was authorized to negotiate for its purchase. The lot belonged to Mark Wilcox. This lot, purchased by Richard Allen in 1787, is the oldest parcel of real estate owned continuously by black people in the United States. All church buildings of Mother Bethel have been erected on the same ground.
Despite his lack of formal medical training, Allen was a noted "Bleeder", the equivalent of our present day surgeons. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a leading physician of the time and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, gave praise to Bishop Allen for his services during the Black Plague in 1793 which took the lives of thousands of Philadelphians.
In 1791 Allen established what was known as the Blacksmith Shop Meeting House when he purchased an abandoned blacksmith shop forma man named Sims and moved it to a plot of ground on 6th Street between Lombard and Pine Streets. This building was dedicated as a church in 1794 by Bishop Francis A. Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church. From July 1805, Allen conducted services in the "Roughcast Church". This had been the first brick church erected on American soil by people of color. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was organized in Philadelphia in 1816. Richard Allen was consecrated as its first Bishop at the General Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 10, 1816. In 1841 the red brick church was built to replace the old roughcast one, and remained in use until the present church (dedicated in 1890) was erected in its place on the original plot of ground.
Allen was an organizer of the Free African Society, a group that fostered self-help and self-dependence. He established day and night schools, and was co-organizer of the first Masonic Lodge among colored men in Pennsylvania, African Lodge 459 in Philadelphia. From 1797 to his death on March 26, 1831, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railway for escaping slaves. This work was continued by Bethel Church until the Emancipation.
Bishop Allen was married to Sarah Bass Allen. He was the father of six children- Richard Jr., James, John, Peter, Sarah and Ann.