Posted on Sun, Feb 11, 2007
Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 - March 26, 1831) was an African American pastor and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Born as a slave of colonial jurist Benjamin Chew at Germantown, Pennsylvania (now a part of Philadelphia) in 1760, his family was soon sold to a Stockley Sturgis, whose plantation was near Dover, Delaware.
Converted early, he joined the Methodist Society at an early age, and began evangelizing and attending services so regularly that he attracted criticism from local slave owners. In response to this opposition Richard and his brothers redoubled their efforts for Stokely, whom Richard described as "unconverted...but... what the world called a good master". This hard and pious work lead Stokley to encourage preaching amongst his slaves, and soon he was convinced that slavery was wrong, and therefore offered his slaves an opportunity to buy their freedom.
He was ordained as a minister at the 1st conference of the Methodist church in North America, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1784. Eventually, in 1785 Richard bought his and his brothers freedom from Sturgis for $2000 each. The money, which took him five years to save, was largely earned by his support for the American Revolution. In 1786, he was a preacher at St. George's United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1799, he was the first colored minister ordained by Francis Asbury, and made an elder of the church in 1816.
Long having preached amongst his neighbors, Richard began preaching at St. George's Methodist Church, although this was only allowed in the early mornings, and within a segregated section built for their purpose. He also regularly preached on the commons, gaining a congregation of nearly 50, supporting himself with a variety of odd jobs.
Allen's desire to build a place of worship for African Americans brought only scorn from his white church and the established African Americans of his community. Rev. Absalom Jones, along with few others however supported the move. In 1787 they formed the "Free African Society" and left St. George's Methodist Church. In 1816 Richard united the African American congregations of the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, founding the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He was thereafter elected its first bishop.
Allen at first supported the "back to Africa" movement, and even a scheme for emigration to Haiti, but later was convinced by the overwhelming opposition of Philadelphia’s black community to oppose the white led American Colonization Society which organized it. Allen, Jones, and James Forten were the acknowledged leaders of the free black American community of that day.
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