Morris Brown (January 8, 1770 – May 9, 1849) was one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and its second presiding bishop. He founded Emanuel AME Church in his native Charleston, South Carolina as well as conferences of AME churches in the American Midwest and Canada.
Early and family life
Born on either January 8 or February 13, 1770 to free blacks in Charleston, Brown received no formal education but was considered part of the city's African American elite. He became a shoemaker, and after a religious experience in the Methodist Church, received a license to preach.
Brown married Maria, and they ultimately had six children.
In 1817, Brown traveled north to Philadelphia, where Rev. Richard Allen and 15 delegates from four northern states had founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church the previous year, shortly after Pennsylvania courts had allowed Rev. Allen's Mother Bethel AME Church to legally split from the Methodist denomination. Rev. Allen ordained Brown a deacon, and an elder the following year.
Rev. Brown returned to Charleston where soon a dispute with the white Bethel Methodist congregation (which had allowed African Americans to meet in its basement) over the former African American graveyard led many African Americans (former members of the Bethel and two other Methodist congregations) to form a separate congregation, which later became known as Emanuel AME Church.
In 1821, after white authorities announced the crushing of a slave insurrection plot of Denmark Vesey, an important figure in the Emmanuel AME Church, which had grown to over 1400 members, Rev. Brown was imprisoned as a suspected collaborator for nearly a year, but never convicted. Nonetheless, his church was burned to the ground and formally closed.
Upon his release in 1822, Rev. Brown fled to Philadelphia with his wife and two young sons, as did former slave Henry Drayton, and parishioners Charles Carr and Amos Cruickshanks. James Eden and a majority of the dispossessed South Carolinians joined the First Scots Presbyterian Church, and Eden later sailed with the first emigrants from Charleston to Liberia, where he died many years later. In Philadelphia, Rev. Brown resumed his shoemaking craft according to census records. He also became Rev. Allen's valued assistant, and was formally named Mother Bethel's assistant pastor in 1825, and assistant bishop the following year.
Morris Brown was consecrated bishop (and Allen's putative successor) on May 25, 1828, at the denomination's General Conference. He traveled extensively to establish new congregations and conferences. At Hillsboro, Ohio in August, 1830, Brown organized the denomination's western churches (15 ministers and 1194 communicants, all in the territory between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River) into the Western (later Pittsburgh) Conference. Limited evangelization could be done in the South because even free blacks could be captured and sold into slavery. Emanuel AME church had reopened in Charleston, only to be closed in 1834 as South Carolina banned all black churches in the aftermath of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Virginia, thus forcing the congregation to meet secretly until after the Civil War. Nonetheless, the Baltimore AME conference thrived, three AME churches had been founded in Virginia before the Civil War, and New Orleans also requested a traveling evangelist from the General Conference in 1848.
Upon Allen's death in 1831, Brown succeeded him as the new denomination's leader. Edward Waters, who evangelized in the Midwest, was named his assistant the following year and consecrated as bishop during the General Conference in 1836, although he resigned that position in 1844 and resumed status as an elder (and died in Baltimore on June 5, 1847).
After Ohio began enforcing notorious Black Codes in 1829, and other states (including Pennsylvania in 1838) followed suit, many African Americans had moved north, some to Canada. Bishop Brown organized the Canada Conference in Toronto in July 1840. The General Conference that year also assigned two missionaries: Elder N. Cannon to New England and Elder William Paul Quinn to the West. Growth within the latter also allowed its division: the Indiana conference was established at Blue River in October 1840 and Elder Quinn assigned to supervise both parts of the former Western conferences. At the May, 1844 General Conference, Elder Quinn reported that he had established 47 churches with 2000 members (including, daringly, one each in the slave territories of Louisville, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri), assisted by 20 traveling and 27 local preachers. Fifty Sunday schools had also been organized (with 2000 students), as well as forty temperance societies and 17 camp meetings. Rev. Quinn was then consecrated as (suffragan) bishop and Bishop Brown's putative successor.
Aware that his own limited literacy affected his preaching, Brown also mentored Daniel Payne, who had moved to Pennsylvania from Charleston after authorities closed his school in 1835. Rev. Payne studied at the Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, then moved to Philadelphia, where beginning in 1841 he helped Bishop Brown educate the denomination's clergy. The following year, the Lombard Street riot occurred near Mother Bethel Church, confirming the uneasy state of race relations in the City of Brotherly Love, but fortunately sparing the church building. At the General Conference of 1844, Brown helped Payne secure the adoption of a resolution requiring a regular course of study for ministers. Payne became the denomination's first historiographer in 1848, and its sixth bishop (assisting Bishop Quinn) in 1852.
While in Canada presiding at that Annual Conference later in 1844, Brown suffered a stroke which affected him the rest of his life. The Philadelphia Conference granted him a $200/yr pension in 1845, and he continued as active in church affairs as his health permitted.
Death and legacy
Morris Brown died in Philadelphia on May 9, 1849, having helped expand his denomination to include six conferences, 62 elders, nearly 300 churches and more than 17,000 members. His protege, Rev. Payne, delivered the eulogy. Once buried in the former Mother Bethel Burying Ground (the records for which were lost in dissension and aftermath of the federal Fugitive Slave Law which split the church the following year), he is now interred together with Bishop Allen within the Mother Bethel church.
After the American Civil War, Rev. Richard Harvey Cain of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church bought a Lutheran church building whose congregation had diminished by 1866, and the following year established the Morris Brown AME Church (becoming its first pastor). Furthermore, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the South, Morris Brown College in Atlanta, established in 1881 by the North Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was named after him.
- Charles Spencer Smith, A History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Book Concern of the AME Church, Philadelphia 1922) p. 14 et seq.
- compare http://www.blackpast.org/aah/brown-morris-1770-1849 and Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton, Gary L. Ward, Encyclopedia of African American Religions available at https://books.google.com/books?id=fxsmAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA126&lpg=PA126&dq=morris+brown+african+methodist+episcopal+grave+1849&source=bl&ots=lIm6aDQztC&sig=ss8HYpO6NcVE2jEiUg37uSwHw8Y&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dqmIVeuODonjsAXY34LABw&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=morris%20brown%20african%20methodist%20episcopal%20grave%201849&f=false
- Smith pp. 14–15
- Smith p. 14
- Jacqueline Akins, "And He Shall Direct Your Path: the Bethel A.M.E. Congregation 1792–1839" (University of Pennsylvania thesis 2004), p. 44
- "Charleston County Public Library – South, Carolina". CCPL. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- "Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church". Seeking4truth.com. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- "Brown, Morris (1770–1849) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". The Black Past. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- Smith p. 16
- James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion: the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (Oxford University Press, 1995) pp. 37–49
- "The African American Experience". Testaae.greenwood.com. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- Nelson T. Strobert, Daniel Alexander Payne: The Venerable Preceptor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (University Press of America, 2012) at p. 55
- NRHP Nomination form for 405–411 Queen Street, Philadelphia at p.8, available at http://www.preservationalliance.com/files/405-25QueenSt_Nomination.pdf
- "Where We Come From". Morris Brown AME Church. 2013-03-08. Retrieved 2015-06-24.