|Died||February 13, 1818
|Known for||Anti-slavery petitioner|
|Relatives||Julian Abele (architect)|
Absalom Jones (1746 – February 13, 1818) was an African-American abolitionist and clergyman. After founding a black congregation in 1794, in 1804 he was the first African American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints and blessed under the date of his death, February 13, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as "Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818".
Jones was born into slavery in Sussex, Delaware in 1746. When he was sixteen, he was sold to a storeowner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the store's clerks taught him to write. While still a slave of Mr. Wynkoop, he married Mary King, another slave, on January 4, 1770. By 1778 he had purchased his wife's freedom so that their children would be free, and in another seven years he was able to purchase his own.
Jones became a lay minister at the interracial congregation of St. George's Methodist Church. Together with Richard Allen, he was one of the first African Americans licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.
In 1787 Jones and Allen, together with other black members, left St. George's, as they were tired of being segregated to a gallery and given second-class status in the congregation. They founded the Free African Society (FAS), first conceived as a non-denominational mutual aid society, to help newly freed slaves in Philadelphia. Jones and Allen separated over their different directions in religion, but they remained lifelong friends and collaborators.
At the beginning of 1791, Jones started holding religious services at FAS. This became the core of his congregation for a new church. Wanting to establish a black congregation independent of white control, Jones in 1792 founded the congregation of the African Church in Philadelphia. It petitioned to become an Episcopal parish. The church opened its doors on July 17, 1794, as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black church in Philadelphia. Jones was ordained as a deacon in 1795 and as a priest in 1804, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. He was a well-known orator and helped establish the tradition of anti-slavery sermons on New Year's Day.
A month after the church opened, the Founders and Trustees published "The Causes and Motives for Establishing St. Thomas's African Church of Philadelphia," clearly stating their intent
"to arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained us up in."
It was rumored that Absalom possessed supernatural abilities to influence the minds of assembled congregations. White observers failed to recognize his oratory skills and believed rhetoric to be beyond the capabilities of black people. Numerous other African-American leaders were similarly implicated in supernatural activities due to these beliefs.
Fugitive Slave Act
After he was said to be the first slave to be a priest in the 19th century, Jones took part of the first group of African Americans to petition the U.S. Congress. Their petition related to the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act which was criticized for encouraging cruelty and brutality, and noted the danger which free blacks risked of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. While U.S. Representative George Thatcher of Massachusetts responded with the desire to amend the Fugitive Slave Act, other representatives' resistance to changing the law forced his proposal to fail.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
On a parallel path, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent black church within the Methodist tradition. He and his followers converted a building and opened on July 29, 1794 as Bethel AME Church. In 1799, Allen was ordained as the first black minister in the Methodist Church by Bishop Francis Asbury. In 1816, Allen gathered other black congregations in the region to create a new and fully independent denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, he was elected the AME's first bishop.
- "Absalom Jones' Marriage to Mary", Brotherly Love, PBS, accessed 14 January 2009
- "A Discourse...African Church", Brotherly Love, PBS, accessed 14 January 2009.
- "The Causes and Motives for Establishing St. Thomas's African Church...", Africans in America, PBS, accessed 15 January 2009.
- "Leadership Gallery: The Reverend Absalom Jones, 1746-1818", Episcopal Church Archives
- Lewis, Harold T., The Reverend Canon, "Absalom Jones: A Model for Self-Determination", sermon, Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, Connecticut, Sunday February 10, 1991.
- Thomas F. Ulle, A History of St. Thomas' African Episcopal Church, 1794–1865, Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania
- "A Thanksgiving Sermon" (1808), Antislavery Literature Project
- "The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas", Information at the Official Web site of the Episcopal Church
- African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Official Website
- Official Web site of the Diocese of Pennsylvania
- Absalom Jones birthplace in Milford, Delaware is at coordinates