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3/26/14 at 12:02 PM 0 Comments

Church History: Freed Slave Becomes Pastor

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Photo: Public Domain
Painting of Richard Allen

By William J. Federer

Richard Allen was born to slave parents in Philadelphia and sold with his family to a plantation in Dover, Delaware.

As a young man, Richard's master, Stokley Sturgis, gave permission for him to attend Methodist religious meetings where he learned to read.

In the year 1777, at the age of 17, Richard Allen was converted and determined to work even harder to prove that Christianity did not make slaves slothful.

Richard Allen invited a Methodist minister to visit his master and preach to him. Methodists were against slavery, as founder John Wesley had called it "that execrable sum of all villainies."

After his master heard that on the Day of Judgment slaveholders would be "weighed in the balance and found wanting," he converted and made arrangements for Richard to become free.

Richard Allen became a licensed exhorter, and in 1783, set out preaching in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, walking so much that his feet became severely blistered.

In the winter of 1784, Richard Allen, and also freedman Harry Hoosier, attended the Methodists "Christmas Conference," where the Methodist Church officially separated from the Church of England to form its own denomination.

Allen was invited but declined to preach in Southern States with the circuit-riding preacher Francis Asbury, America's first Methodist Bishop.

Instead, Harry Hoosier accompanied Francis Asbury as his carriage driver.

Harry Hoosier, though illiterate, memorized verbatim sermons and long passages of Scripture, resulting in Bishop Asbury letting him preach at his meetings with great effect.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, exclaimed that Harry Hoosier preached the greatest sermon he had ever heard.

Richard Allen and other African Americans from St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church began their own church.

Their first church building was dedicated by Bishop Francis Asbury in 1794.

Dr. Benjamin Rush and George Washington contributed to Richard Allen's church.

In 1816, Richard Allen led in the forming of an entirely new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the first African-American denomination organized in the United States.

The main building was in Philadelphia, named Mother Bethel AME Church. It is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States owned continuously by African Americans.

Jarena Lee became the first woman to receive "authorization" to preach, with Richard Allen giving his approval.

Richard Allen supported AME missionaries to Haiti. In 1827, the church sent Rev. Scipio Beanes to Haiti.

By Richard Allen's death, MARCH 26, 1831, the African Methodist Episcopal Church had grown to over 10,000 members, and since then, to over 3 million.

The motto of the AME Church is: "God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family."

Richard Allen wrote in his autobiography:

"I was born in the year of our Lord 1760, on February 14th, a slave to Benjamin Chew, of Philadelphia.

My mother and father and four children of us were sold into Delaware State, near Dover, and I was a child and lived with him until I was upwards of twenty years of age,

during which time I was awakened and brought to see myself poor, wretched and undone, and without the mercy of God must be lost...

I went with my head bowed down for many days. My sins were a heavy burden. I was tempted to believe there was no mercy for me. I cried to the Lord both night and day.

One night I thought hell would be my portion. I cried unto Him who delighteth to hear the prayers of a poor sinner; and all of a sudden my dungeon shook, my chains flew off, and glory to God, I cried.

My soul was filled. I cried, enough for me--the Saviour died."

Richard Allen stated:

"This land, which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country, and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds and Gospel is free."


William J. Federer is an author, historian and host of the radio commentary American Minute.

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