African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was a radically distinct Protestant denomination that became an advocate for the cause of abolition and a bulwark of the African American community and set a precedent for future African American churches of other denominations.

Summary of Event

On April 9, 1816, sixteen African Methodist delegates met in Philadelphia to unite as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Most of these delegates had gained their spiritual leadership skills through self-study and life struggles. From Philadelphia and Attleborough, Pennsylvania, delegates joined representatives from Baltimore, Wilmington, and Salem to elect a bishop. African Methodist Episcopal Church Allen, Richard African Americans;churches Methodists;African Methodist Episcopal Church Philadelphia;African Methodist Episcopal Church Jones, William [kw]African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded (Apr. 9, 1816) [kw]Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded, African (Apr. 9, 1816) [kw]Episcopal Church Is Founded, African Methodist (Apr. 9, 1816) [kw]Church Is Founded, African Methodist Episcopal (Apr. 9, 1816) [kw]Founded, African Methodist Episcopal Church Is (Apr. 9, 1816) African Methodist Episcopal Church Allen, Richard African Americans;churches Methodists;African Methodist Episcopal Church Philadelphia;African Methodist Episcopal Church Jones, William [g]United States;Apr. 9, 1816: African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded[0870] [c]Religion and theology;Apr. 9, 1816: African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded[0870] [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 9, 1816: African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded[0870] Asbury, Francis Jones, Absalom

Accounts vary as to what happened next. Some reports indicate that the Reverend Daniel Coker Coker, Daniel , a Baltimore teacher and school founder, was elected bishop but declined the office the following day in deference to Richard Allen, who had organized the convention. Other records relate that both Allen and Coker were elected; Allen saw no need for two bishops and assumed the role of vice-chair. One account states that Coker’s light skin made him unacceptable as the first head of a racially separate institution. Whatever the process, the outcome was the election of Richard Allen, who was consecrated as the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on April 11, 1816. From the original sixteen delegates in 1816, membership grew to 7,257 in the year 1822.

Philadelphia provided a receptive haven for African American leaders. Before the American Revolution (1775-1783) American Revolution (1775-1783);and slavery[Slavery] , manumissions in that city had run high and a private school for African children had been founded. Following the Revolutionary War, city leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush established abolition societies, and the state legislature passed laws for the gradual emancipation of slaves.

Richard Allen, who has become known as the founder of African American Protestantism, was born a slave in 1760 in Philadelphia. Sold to the Stokeley plantation near Dover, Delaware, Delaware Allen attended evangelical tent meetings and experienced a religious conversion when he was seventeen years of age. He joined the Methodist Society, which held classes in the forest under the leadership of a white man, Benjamin Wells Wells, Benjamin . Allen became a convincing proselytizer, converting first his family and then his owner, who agreed to permit Allen to purchase his own freedom in 1777.

Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church through 1876.

(Library of Congress)

Allen worked at many jobs and preached at his regular stops, developing broad contacts through his travels. As an aide to other itinerant preachers, he met Bishop Francis Asbury, who established the first General Conference of the Methodist Church in America in 1784. When Asbury Asbury, Francis asked Allen to accompany him on a southern trip, with the stipulation that Allen must not mingle with slaves and must accept segregated Segregation;and churches[Churches] accommodations, Allen refused to accompany him and returned to Philadelphia in February, 1786.

Because the church was one of the only legal meeting places for African Americans, religion became a major focus of African American life. Allen joined such Philadelphia leaders as former slave clerk and handyman Absalom Jones, and other members of the St. Thomas vestry: James Forten Forten, James , a freeborn sailmaker; William White White, William ; Jacob Tapisco Tapisco, Jacob ; and James Champion Champion, James . Allen and Jones became lay preachers throughout the city—especially at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church at early morning and evening services. As African American attendance at services increased, racial conflict became apparent. In November, 1786, African Americans worshiping at St. George’s were ordered to sit in the gallery. After mistakenly sitting in the wrong section of the gallery, Allen, Jones, and White were physically removed while praying at the Sunday morning worship service.

The humiliation of this incident led to a mass exodus of African Americans from the church and a movement to create a separate church as an organized act of self-determination. In the spring, the African American leaders established the Free African Society Free African Society Philadelphia;Free African Society , the first mutual aid society established to serve their community. By 1791, they were holding regular Sunday services, assuming lay leadership positions, and making plans for the construction of a church building. The effectiveness of the society’s leadership and organization was demonstrated to white leaders during the yellow fever Yellow fever;in United States[United States] epidemic of 1793.

The leaders differed over the issue of church affiliation, with the majority voting to unite with the Episcopal Church Episcopal Church;and African Methodist Episcopal Church[African Methodist Episcopal Church] . On July 17, 1794, the St. Thomas African Church was dedicated as the first African church in Philadelphia, a Protestant Episcopal church with Absalom Jones as pastor. Jones became the first African American priest in 1804.

Jones and Allen favored Methodism, but only Allen withdrew from the Free African Society Free African Society Philadelphia;Free African Society to form a separate church. Bishop Asbury Asbury, Francis of the Methodist Episcopal Church presided over the dedication of Allen’s creation, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, on July 29, 1794. Allen declared the church independent in management but did not sever all relations with the Methodist Episcopal Church. The articles of incorporation ensured independence by allowing membership only to people of African descent. Allen then became the first African American to receive ordination from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.

Such church independence helped African Americans resist the insults and subordination resulting from slavery and racial prejudice and reflected a growing role of the church in the black community. Sermons in the church underscored the need for the African American community to become self-reliant through the church, schools, and economic organizations in order to gain group solidarity and recognition. Christian character, in turn, depended upon Christian education. In the summer of 1795, Bethel cooperated with the Society for the Improving of the Condition of the Free Blacks by arranging for the arrival, temporary housing, and placement for newly emancipated slaves.

Church trustees petitioned the African school for free instruction. Bethel not only established the first Sunday school for African Americans but also set a precedent with the 1795 opening of the first day school established by African Americans for their children. The day school was soon followed by a night school for working people. In 1798, Allen and Jones gained permission from Prince Hall of Boston to set up the Second African (Masonic) Lodge in Philadelphia. Because music Music;African American was an integral part of African American worship, Allen enhanced the cultural expression of his people by compiling a collection of sixty-four hymns for his congregation in 1801.

As increasing numbers of women experienced religious conversions and entered preaching, Allen supported their spiritual growth by allowing an Englishwoman, Dorothy Ripley, to speak to his congregation in 1803. In 1804, he established the Society of Free People of Color for Promoting the Instruction and School Education of Children of African Descent. In 1809, he helped James Forten Forten, James and Absalom Jones organize the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality in Philadelphia, to provide community supervision of the morality of African Americans and to establish means for their moral uplift. These leaders recruited three thousand members for the Black Legion during the War of 1812. The successful functions associated with African American churches led to greater membership. By 1813, St. Thomas had a membership of 560, while Bethel Church had 1,272 communicants.

After the African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1816, the movement spread to other cities and along the seaboard states. Church leaders continued their pioneering efforts for group solidarity. In January, 1817, the First Negro Convention Negro Convention movement met at the Bethel Church to protest the plans of the American Colonization Society for emigration of free blacks to Africa. During that same year, Allen’s church supported the first female licensed worker of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Jarena Lee Lee, Jarena . Also in 1817, Allen and Jacob Tapisco published the First Church Discipline as well as a book of hymns compiled by Allen, Daniel Coker Coker, Daniel , and James Champion Champion, James . After the death of Absalom Jones in 1818, Allen served as Book Steward until 1820; the position served as the foundation for the church’s Book Concern, which continued to unite followers across the country through the twentieth century.


In later years, the church continued to improve the conditions for African Americans. It supported the use of boycotts Boycotts;and slavery[Slavery] to protest the economic basis of slavery through the Free Produce Society of Philadelphia, which was organized at an assembly at Bethel Church on December 20, 1830, to advocate purchase only of produce grown by free labor. The First Annual Convention of the People of Color, convened in Philadelphia in 1831, elected Richard Allen as its leader shortly before his death on March 26, 1831. The African Methodist Episcopal Church has survived in the twenty-first century as an integral part of the African American community and continued its strong leadership role.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Richard. “Letters of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.” Journal of Negro History 1, no. 4 (October, 1916): 436-443. The common concerns of the two leaders are expressed in their correspondence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labors of the Right Reverend Richard Allen. 1833. Reprint. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1983. Presents an accounting of Allen’s religious life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Angell, Stephen W., and Anthony B. Pinn, eds. Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000. Study of the role of the AME Church during the Civil War and and its aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dodson, Jualynne E. Engendering Church: Women, Power, and the AME Church. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Exploration of the important role of women in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; includes a history of the church.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dvorak, Katharine L. An African American Exodus. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1991. Provides the history and theology of the nineteenth century African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">George, Carol V. R. Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Rise of Independent Black Churches, 1760-1840. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. A standard account of the development of the independent churches.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mwadilitu, Mwalimu I. [E. Curtis Alexander]. Richard Allen: The First Exemplar of African American Education. New York: ECA Associates, 1985. Examines Allen’s educational leadership through the church.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, Gary. “New Light on Richard Allen: The Early Years of Freedom.” William and Mary Quarterly 46 (April, 1989): 332-340. Consideration of Allen’s role in early national history by a leading authority on early American race relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rasmussen, R. Kent. Farewell to Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of Segregation in America. New York: Facts On File, 1997. Written for young adults, this history of segregation in the United States discusses the founding of the AME Church in the wider context of African American responses to segregation and points up the importance of churches in African American history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wesley, Charles. Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1935. The standard biography of Allen.

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Related Article in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Paul Cuffe. African Methodist Episcopal Church Allen, Richard African Americans;churches Methodists;African Methodist Episcopal Church Philadelphia;African Methodist Episcopal Church Jones, William

Categories: History