Richard Allen (bishop)
Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831) was a minister, educator, and writer, and the founder in 1816 of 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]. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church in 1816. The AME church is the oldest denomination among independent African-American churches.
Born into slavery, Allen as a young man worked to buy his freedom from his master in Delaware. He went to Philadelphia in 1786, licensed as a Methodist preacher. He belonged for a time to St. George's Methodist Church, but he and his supporters resented its segregation and decided to leave the church. In 1787 he and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society (FAS), a non-denominational, mutual aid society for blacks in Philadelphia, which particularly helped widows and children. Eventually they each founded independent black congregations in 1794.
Early life and freedom 
Richard Allen was born into slavery on February 14, 1760 to Benjamin Chew, a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia. When he was a child, he and his family were sold to Stokeley Sturgis, who had a plantation in Delaware. When Sturgis had financial problems, he sold Richard's mother and three 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 slaves and free blacks. They were encouraged by their master Sturgis, although he was unconverted. Richard had taught himself to read and write. He joined the Methodists at age 17. He began evangelizing and attracted criticism from local slave owners. Allen and his brother redoubled their efforts for Sturgis so no one could say his slaves did not do well because of religion.
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... began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful..." Sturgis soon was convinced that slavery was wrong, and offered his slaves an opportunity to buy their freedom. Allen performed extra work to earn the money and bought his freedom in 1780, after which changing his name from "Negro Richard" to "Richard Allen".
Marriage and family 
After moving to Philadelphia, Allen married Sara (1764–1849), who was born into slavery in Virginia's Isle of Wight County. She had been brought to Philadelphia at age eight and was free by 1800, when they met. They were married within a year; she was Allen's second wife. They had six children: Richard, Jr.; James, John, Peter, Sara and Ann.
In addition to the work of the family, Sara actively assisted Allen in the church. She supported work to take care of runaway slaves, including feeding and clothing them. In 1827, seeing that the ministers coming to conference looked bedraggled, she organized the Daughters of Conference as a women's organization to assist the church with their skills. Initially they helped provide material support to the ministers, including mending their garments. The women's organization continued after Sara's death, taking on more social welfare issues for church members and the community. She died at the home of her youngest daughter on July 16, 1849, and was interred next to her husband in the lower level of Mother Bethel AME Church.
Allen was qualified as a preacher in 1784, at the first conference of the Methodist Church in North America, in Baltimore, Maryland. He was allowed to lead services at 5 a.m., which were attended mostly by blacks. He moved to Philadelphia, a center of free blacks.
In 1786, Allen became a preacher at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but was restricted to early morning services. As he attracted more black congregants, the church vestry ordered them to be in a separate area for worship. Allen also regularly preached on the commons 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' segregating the blacks for worship and prayer. They decided to leave St. George's to create independent worship for African Americans. This brought some opposition from the white church as well as the more established blacks of the community.
In 1787, Allen and Jones led the black members out of St. George's Methodist Church. They formed the Free African Society (FAS), a non-denominational mutual aid society, which assisted fugitive slaves and new migrants to the city. Allen, along with Absalom Jones, William Gray and William Wilcher, found an available lot on Sixth Street near Lombard. Allen negotiated a price and purchased this lot in 1787 to build a church, but it was years before they had a building. Now occupied by Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, this is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States owned continuously by African Americans.
Over time, most of the FAS members chose to affiliate with the Episcopal Church, as many blacks in Philadelphia had been Anglicans since the 1740s. They founded the African Church with Absalom Jones. It was accepted as a parish congregation and opened its doors on July 17, 1794 as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. In 1795, Absalom Jones was ordained as a deacon, and in 1804 as a priest, becoming the first black ordained in the United States as an Episcopal priest.
Allen and others wanted to continue in the Methodist practice. Allen called their congregation the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Converting a blacksmith shop on Sixth Street, the leaders opened the doors of Bethel AME Church on July 29, 1794. At first affiliated with the larger Methodist Episcopal Church, they had to rely on visiting white ministers for communion. In recognition of his leadership and preaching, in 1799, Allen was ordained as the first black Methodist minister by Bishop Francis Asbury. He and the congregation still had to continue to negotiate white oversight and deal with white elders of the denomination. A decade after its founding, the AME Church had 457 members and in 1813, it had 1,272.
In 1816, Allen united four African-American congregations of the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Salem, New Jersey; Delaware, and Maryland. Together they founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first fully independent black denomination in the United States. On April 10, 1816, the other ministers elected Allen as their first bishop. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest and largest formal institution in black America.
Underground Railroad 
From 1797 until his death in 1831, Allen and Sara operated a station on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves. Mother Bethel Church continued such aid until the Emancipation. During and after the Civil War, the congregation also aided blacks migrating to Philadelphia from the rural South, helping them to learn its urban ways.<
Negro Convention 
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 blacks and destroyed their businesses. After the 1829 rioting, 1200 blacks 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 on a national level.
Death and burial 
Legacy and honors 
- Allen is honored with a feast day, March 26, on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on March 26.
- 2001, the Richard Allen Preparatory School, a charter school, was opened in his name in SW Philadelphia.
- In 2002, Molefi Kete Asante named Richard Allen as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.
- 2010, a park in Radnor Township was named for him. Radnor is situated approximately 15 miles west of Philadelphia.
- The Richard Allen Homes, a public housing project in Philadelphia, were named for him.
- A street in Cambridge, Massachusetts is named after him.
See also 
- Bowden, Henry Warner (1993). Dictionary of American religious biography (2nd ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-313-27825-3.
- 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
- Wesley, Charles H. Richard Allen, Associated Publishers, 1935, pp. 15–18
- "Sara Allen", Brotherly Love, PBS, accessed 14 Jan 2009
- James Henretta, "Richard Allen & African-American Identity", Early America Review, Spring 1997, accessed 16 May 2012
- 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, accessed 13 Jan 2009
- Wesley, Charles H., Richard Allen, Associated Publishers, 1935, pp. 234–238.
- "Bishop Richard Allen". Jones Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church website. 2005. Retrieved 2009-03-26. "Bishop Richard Allen died at his home located at 150 Spruce Street on Saturday, March 26, 1831."
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8
Further reading 
- James A. Henretta, Elliot Brownlee, David Brody, Susan Ware, and Marilynn Johnson, America's History, Third Edition, Worth Publishers, 1997
- Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1967.
- James Henretta, "Richard Allen & African-American Identity", Early America Review, Spring 1997
- "Richard Allen", Africans in America, PBS
- "The African Methodist Episcopalians", 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