- Allen, Richard
- (1760-1831)founder of the African Methodist Episcopal ChurchRichard Allen was born a slave in Philadelphia on February 14, 1760, and grew up on the Sturgis family plantation near Dover, Delaware.Around the age of 18, Allen responded to the message of Methodist circuit riders, and his master subsequently encouraged his participation in Methodist meetings. He soon learned to read and write and began preaching. Eventually, Sturgis himself converted; he soon concluded that slavery was incompatible with his faith, and he worked out an arrangement for Allen to buy his freedom, which occurred in the early 1780s.Allen preached in Delaware and the surrounding states and finally settled in Philadelphia, where he became active at St. George's Church. He attended the 1784 conference at which the Methodist Episcopal Church (now an integral part of the United Methodist Church) was organized. He preached to meetings of blacks and whites in Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. He was requested to serve at St. George's, where he quickly increased the black membership. Early on, he and colleague Absalom Jones (1746-1818) saw the need for a separate place of worship for Africans, but they were opposed by a number of black and white members. in 1787, they organized the Free African Society to oppose slavery and assist blacks in Philadelphia, the first such independent black organization in the country.Later that year, responding to discrimination at St. George's, Allen, Jones, and some other black members left to form an independent congregation. Those black members who did not follow Allen would later form the Zoar Church, currently affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The Free African Society assisted in raising funds for the Allen-Jones group. The majority of members of the new congregation, "The African Church of Philadelphia," decided to affiliate with the Episcopal Church. Allen, however, wished to remain a Methodist, and along with his supporters he founded the Bethel African Church. The congregation was affiliated with the predominantly white Methodist Episcopal Church, whose bishop, Francis Asbury (1745-1816), dedicated their building in 1794. In 1799, Asbury ordained Allen as a deacon.The association with the Methodist Episcopal Church continued for two decades, but in 1815 problems arose over the ownership of the Bethel property. Similar problems confronted free black Methodists in other cities. In 1816, Allen organized a meeting of representatives of the several black congregations at which the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized. Allen was immediately ordained elder, and on April 11, 1816, consecrated as the church's first bishop. He continued to serve as the senior minister at Bethel, but made his living from a small boot and shoe business he oversaw.Over his years, Allen made numerous contributions to the development of Philadelphia's African-American community. He was a cofounder of the African Masonic Lodge (1798); he promoted a series of education initiatives; and he opposed the American Colonization Society's plans to send free blacks to Africa. His autobiography is a classic of early American black literature. A statue of Allen, the first erected by African Americans to celebrate the career of one of their leaders, stands in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.See also African-American Methodists.Further reading:■ Richard Allen, The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen (1793; reprint, Philadelphia: Lee & Yoakum, 1888)■ Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia in 1793, and a Refutation of Some Censures, Thrown Upon Them in Some Late Publications (Philadelphia: William W. Woodard, 1794)■ Marcia M. Matthews, Richard Allen (Baltimore: Helicon, 1963)■ Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostles of Freedom (1935; rev. ed., Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1969).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.