Richard Allen - 1760 -1831
Richard Allen, the founder and first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
was born a slave on February 14, 1760 on the Benjamin Chew estate. Deeply religious from
an early age, Allen was converted at the age of 17. He began preaching in 1780 and was ordained
in 1799.Through thrift and industry,he and his brother worked at night to pay for their freedom.
Despite his lack of formal medical training, Allen was a noted "Bleeder", the equivalent of
our present day surgeons. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a leading physician of the time and one of
the signers of the Declaration of Independence, gave praise to Bishop Allen for his services
during the Black Plague in 1793 which took the lives of thousands of Philadelphians.
In 1791 Allen established what was known as the Blacksmith Shop Meeting House when
he purchased an abandoned blacksmith shop from a man named Sims and moved it to a
plot of ground on 6th Street between Lombard and Pine Streets. This building was dedicated
as a church in 1794 by Bishop Frances A. Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
From July 1805, Allen conducted services in the "Roughcast Church". This had been the first
brick church erected on American soil by people of color. The African Methodist Episcopal
denomination was organixed in Philadelphia in 1816. Richard Allen was consecrated as its
first Bishop at the General Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvana, April 10, 1816. In 1841
the red brick church was built to replace the old roughcast one, and remained in use until
the present church (dedicated in 1890) was erected in its place on the original plot of ground.
Allen was an organizer of the Free African Society, a group that fostered self-help and
sel-dependence. He established day and night schools, and was co-organizer of the first
Masonic Lodge among colored men in Pennsylvania, African Lodge 459 in Philadelphia.
From 1797 to his death on March 26, 1831, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railway
for escaping slaves. This work was continued by Bethel Church until the Emancipation.
Bishop Allen was married to Sarah Bass Allen. He was the father of six children.
Richard jr., James, John, Peter, Sarah and Ann.