Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831) was a minister, educator, writer, and one of America’s most active and influential Black leaders. In 1794, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent Black denomination in the United States. He opened his first AME church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
|Church||African Methodist Episcopal Church|
|Installed||April 10, 1816|
|Term ended||March 26, 1831|
by Francis Asbury
|Died||March 26, 1831 (aged 71)|
|Buried||Mother Bethel AME Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Denomination||African Methodist Episcopal Church|
|Spouse||Flora, Sarah Bass|
|Children||Richard Jr., James, John, Peter, Sara, and Ann|
|Occupation||Founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, minister, abolitionist, educator, writer, and one of America's most active and influential black leaders|
Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831) was a minister, educator, writer, and one of America's most active and influential Black leaders. In 1794, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent Black denomination in the United States. He opened his first AME church in 1794 in Philadelphia.
Elected the first bishop of the AME Church in 1816, Allen focused on organizing a denomination in which free Black people could worship without racial oppression and enslaved people could find a measure of dignity. He worked to upgrade the social status of the Black community, organizing Sabbath schools to teach literacy and promoting national organizations to develop political strategies.
Early life and freedom
He was born into slavery on February 14, 1760, on the Delaware property of Benjamin Chew. When he was a child, Allen and his family were sold to Stokley Sturgis, who had a plantation. Because of financial problems he sold Richard's mother and two of his five siblings. Allen had an older brother and sister left with him and the three began to attend meetings of the local Methodist Society, which was welcoming to enslaved and free Black people. They were encouraged by their master Sturgis although he was unconverted. Richard taught himself to read and write. He joined the Methodists at 17. He began evangelizing and attracted criticism from local slave owners. The slave owners were angered by his actions.
Allen and his brother redoubled their efforts for Sturgis so that no one could say enslaved people did not do well because of religion.
The 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 and began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful. Sturgis was soon convinced that slavery was wrong and offered enslaved people an opportunity to buy their freedom. Allen performed extra work to earn the money and bought his freedom in 1780 when he changed his name from "Negro Richard" to "Richard Allen."
Marriage and family
Allen's first wife was named Flora. They were married on October 19, 1790. She worked very closely with him during the early years of establishing the church, from 1787 to 1799. They attended church school and worked together purchasing land, which was eventually donated to the church or rented out to families. Flora died on March 11, 1801, after a long illness. Scholars do not know if they had any children. After moving to Philadelphia, Allen married Sarah Bass, a freed slave from Virginia. She had moved to Philadelphia as a child and the couple met around 1800. Richard and Sarah Allen had six children. Sarah Allen was highly active in what became the AME Church and is called the "Founding Mother."
Allen was qualified as a preacher and admitted in December 1784 at the famous "Christmas Conference", the founding and considered to be the first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in North America. Held at the old original Lovely Lane Chapel meeting house on the narrow lane off modern South Calvert and German (now Redwood) Streets in old Baltimore Town, (now Downtown Baltimore), largest town/city and port in Maryland. He was one of the two Black attendees of the Conference along with legendary Harry ("Black Harry") Hosier, (c.1750-1806), but neither could vote during deliberations in Lovely Lane. Allen was then allowed to lead services at 5 a.m., which were attended mostly by Black people. But as preacher Allen had family responsibilities, eschewing future bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), Irishman Robert Strawbridge (c.1732-c.1781?) and "Black Harry" Hosier's practices of horseback circuit riding routes to rural country churches and "Bible stations", visiting far off parsons and "living in the saddle", so he moved northeast to Philadelphia, a center of free Black people and the biggest city in the new United States and second only to London in the English-speaking world, of the now fractured British Empire.
By two years later in 1786, Allen became a preacher at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia but was restricted to the early-morning services. As he attracted more Black congregants, the church vestry ordered them to be held in a separate area for worship. Allen regularly preached on the commons (central park) 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' leaders' segregation of blacks for worship and prayer. They decided to leave St. George's to create an independent self-reliant worship place for African Americans of the large cosmopolitan capital city. Unfortunately that brought on some opposition from the white church as well as the more-established Black people of the community who wanted to merely "fit in" or not stir up any hard feelings.
In protest in 1787 (the same famous summer with the Constitutional Convention holding locked-in sessions in the old Pennsylvania State House, now frequently called "Independence Hall", with delegates from the "13 Original States"), Allen and Jones led the Black members out of the St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church. They formed the Free African Society (F.A.S.), a non-denominational mutual aid society that assisted fugitive enslaved people from the South and new migrants coming into the city of Philadelphia. Allen, along with Absalom Jones, William Gray and William Wilcher, found an available lot on Sixth Street near Lombard Street. Allen negotiated a price and purchased this lot in 1787 on which to build a church, but it was several years before they had a building. Now currently occupied by Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, it is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States that has been owned continuously by African Americans.
Over time, most of the F.A.S. members chose to return to the spiritual home of their youth and forefathers and affiliate with the neighborhood parishes of the former Church of England as it slowly recovered from the wartime bitterness of the Revolution after the British ministry government ending the War in the Treaty of Paris ratified in 1783 by the Confederation Congress in Annapolis.The Anglicans which had reorganized themselves in a newly independent America now after the Peace in 1785 with nine dioceses on the East Coast / Atlantic Ocean shores meeting and uniting in their first General Convention as renamed "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" (later known simply today as "The Episcopal Church, U.S.A."), with the old familiar Elizabethan era old English texts in the "Book of Common Prayer", with some minor revisions in the first American edition of 1789, replacing prayers for His Royal Majesty, the King and ministers to those for the new President, members of the Congress, Governors and lawful state Commonwealth officials. As many Black people and "Methodists" in Philadelphia had already been Anglicans since the 1740s. It was only during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and with the part-time occupation of Philadelphia as the "Patriots" / rebels' capital by the British Army that drove out most of the old English/British ministers of the old Anglican faith (priests) They founded the African Church with Absalom Jones leading services and preaching the Word. It was accepted as a parish congregation, and opened its doors on July 17, 1794, known as the "African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas". The following year of 1795, the now Rev. Mr. Absalom Jones was ordained as a Deacon (one of the earliest in American Episcopal/Anglican Church history) and nine years later in 1804, he became the first Black person ordained in the United States as a Priest / Presbyter (Pastor) of The Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
Allen and others wanted to continue in the more simpler and evangelical Methodist practices inspired by George Whitefield, John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley. Practices and traditions that had originally been brought from England by Francis Asbury, Robert Strawbridge and interpreted in America by Daniel Coke, Daniel Alexander Phelps. Allen called their congregation as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), and over time it became known as "Mother Bethel" Church. Converting a blacksmith shop on Sixth Street, the leaders opened the doors of Bethel A.M.E. Church on July 29, 1794. At first, it was affiliated with the larger Methodist Episcopal Church, as organized in Baltimore in 1784, and the Philadelphia congregation had to rely on visiting white ministers for consecrating the bread and wine / sacred elements in the Sunday worship service of Holy Communion / "Eucharist. Otherwise, as a Deacon, he could lead services reading the Scriptures, preaching sermons and leading the assembled prayers and intercessions, In recognition of his leadership and preaching, Allen was ordained as the first Black Methodist minister/elder by Bishop Francis Asbury of the M.E. Church in 1799. He and the "Mother Bethel" congregation still had to continue to negotiate with white oversight and deal with white elders of the predominantly white Methodist Episcopal Church denomination. A decade after its founding, the Bethel A.M.E. Church of Philadelphia had 457 members, and by 1813, it had risen amazingly to 1,272.
In April 1816, 22 years after the organizing of "Mother Bethel" congregation in 1794, Rev. Allen called for a general conference meeting in Philadelphia and proposed the uniting of the five African-American congregations then existing in the eastern areas of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia; Langhorne/Attleborough, Pennsylvania; Salem, New Jersey; Delaware and Baltimore, Maryland. Together, they founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E. Church), the first fully independent Black denomination in the United States. On April 10, 1816, the other ministers elected Allen as their first Bishop, which he served in the episcopal office for 15 years until his passing, but 37 years total ministering to "Mother Bethel" of Philadelphia. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest and largest formal institution in Black America.
From 1797 until his 1831 death, Bishop Allen and his wife Sarah operated a station in the "City of Brotherly Love" on the Underground Railroad on the East Coast line for fugitive enslaved people fleeing from further south in the slave and border states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The social themes of Bishop Allen's preaching were abolition, colonization, education, and temperance. The preaching style was almost never expository or written to be read, but the subject delivered in an evangelical and extemporized manner that demanded action, rather than meditation. The tone was persuasive, not didactic.
In September 1830, Black representatives from seven states convened in Philadelphia at the Bethel 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 1826 and 1829 riots in Cincinnati, when whites had attacked Black people and destroyed their businesses. After the 1829 rioting, 1,200 Black people had left the city to go to Canada. 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. Conventions were held regularly nationally.
Death and burial place
Legacy and honors
- In 2001, the Richard Allen Preparatory School, a charter school, was opened in his name in southwestern Philadelphia.
- Richard Allen Schools, a charter school system in Ohio, is named after him
- In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante named Allen as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.
- In 2010, a park in the Philadelphia suburb of Radnor Township was named for him.
- The Richard Allen Homes, a public housing project in Philadelphia, were named for him.
- A street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is named after him.
- Allen University, a historically Black university in South Carolina, was renamed in Allen's honor when it moved from Cokesbury to Columbia in 1880.
- A stamp honoring Allen was issued by the United States Postal Service in February 2016, with a first-day ceremony in Philadelphia, as part of the ongoing Black Heritage Series.
- A life-sized statue of Allen, by Fern Cunningham-Terry, was erected by Mother Bethel Church July 10, 2016.
- A mural, The Legacy of Bishop Richard Allen and AME Church Mural, was unveiled on July 4, 2016, at 38th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia.
- On February 14, 2022, Allens Lane in Philadelphia's Mt. Airy neighborhood was re-attributed to Richard Allen by resolution of the city's council, facilitated by the efforts of State Rep. Chris Rabb (PA House 200th). A re-attribution of Septa's Allen Lane station is also contemplated.
- George, Carol V. R. Segregated Sabbaths; Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches 1760–1840 (1973), scholarly biography
- Wesley, Charles H. Richard Allen: Apostle of freedom (1935)[ISBN missing]
- Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1967.
- Newman, Richard S. Freedom's prophet: bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the black founding fathers. NYU Press, 2008.[ISBN missing]
- Bowden, Henry Warner (1993). Dictionary of American religious biography (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-313-27825-3.
- "Richard Allen, Bishop, AME's first leader". Archived from the original on December 12, 2015. Retrieved January 2, 2016.
- Suzanne Niemeyer, editor, Research Guide to American Historical Biography: vol. IV (1990), pp. 1779–1782.
- Herb Boyd, ed., "Richard Allen, from 'The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen'", Autobiography of a People, Random House Digital, 2000
- Newman 2008, p. 43
- Wesley, Charles H. Richard Allen, Associated Publishers, 1935, pp. 15–18
- Newman 2008, p. 172
- "Sara Allen" Archived February 7, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Brotherly Love, PBS, retrieved January 14, 2009
- Nancy I. Sanders (2010). America's Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders with 21 Activities. Chicago Review Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-61374-121-4.
- James Henretta, "Richard Allen & African-American Identity" Archived July 20, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Early America Review, Spring 1997, accessed May 16, 2012.
- George, Carol V. R. (1973). Segregated Sabbaths; Richard Allen and the emergence of independent Black churches 1760–1840. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 190–191.
- George, p. 162.
- Carter G. Woodson, Charles Harris Wesley, The Negro in Our History, Associated Publishers, 1922, pp. 98, 140 (digitized from original at University of Michigan Library, retrieved January 13, 2009).
- Wesley, Charles H., Richard Allen, Associated Publishers, 1935, pp. 234–238.
- "Bishop Richard Allen". Jones Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church. 2005. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
Bishop Richard Allen died at his home, on 150 Spruce Street, on March 26, 1831.
- Company, Johnson Publishing (February 19, 1979). "Ebony". Johnson Publishing Company – via Google Books.
- "Our Namesake". Richard Allen Schools. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8
- "Richard Allen, Forever Stamp". Ad. United States Postal Service. 2012. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
- "Allen Lane Station Renaming". Archived from the original on February 14, 2022. Retrieved February 14, 2022.
- James Henretta, "Richard Allen & African-American Identity", Early America Review, Spring 1997.
- "Richard Allen", Africans in America, PBS
- "The African Methodist Episcopalians" at the Wayback Machine (archived August 28, 2006), Religious Movements, University of Virginia
- Richard Allen, The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, Philadelphia: Martin & Boden, Printers, 1833, full text online at Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina.
- Scot McKnight, "Shame on the Philadelphia Methodists".