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Richard Allen, 1760-1831
The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. To Which is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Containing a Narrative of the Yellow Fever in the Year of Our Lord 1793: With an Address to the People of Colour in the United States
Philadelphia: Martin & Boden, Printers, 1833.


Richard Allen (1760-1831) was born a slave in Philadelphia but was sent with his parents and three siblings to a new home in Dover, Delaware in 1767. When he was still a child, Allen's parents and a sibling were sold away from him. Later, after hearing Methodist sermons, Allen converted to Christianity and began sharing the gospel with others. His master became one of his converts and allowed him and his brother to hire themselves out and purchase their freedom in 1781. Allen returned to Philadelphia, and for the next several years, he worked odd jobs while educating himself and preaching in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Although he had been accepted as a Methodist preacher at the first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, he and other black parishioners at St. George's Church withdrew from the church because of the discrimination they experienced there. They formed the Free African Society in 1787, and in 1794, Allen organized a black Methodist church called Bethel. In 1816, Bethel and sixteen other black congregations from the northeast united to form the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and chose Allen as bishop. Allen led this new denomination until his death. He was married twice: first to Flora in 1791 and, following her death, to Sarah in 1805, with whom he had six children.

Richard Allen's The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen (1833) sheds light on his involvement in the formation of both Bethel Church in Philadelphia specifically and the African Methodist Episcopal Church in general. In recounting the early days of the A.M.E., Allen emphasizes recurring conflicts with established Methodist leaders; these conflicts included the construction of an appropriate place of worship as well as the newly formed institution's denominational affiliations. He also addresses misconceptions about black involvement in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and asserts that while some African Americans refused to contribute to aid efforts, African Americans often helped the sick and prepared the dead for burial at minimal or no cost. Allen concludes his work with religious treatises on slavery. In the first, he specifically addresses slaveholders and those who approve of slavery; in an "Address to the People of Colour in the United States," he draws upon his own experiences in speaking to free and enslaved African Americans; in the final treatise, he speaks to those working to improve the plight of blacks.

Works Consulted: Bowman, John S., ed., Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Queen, Edward L, II, Stephen R. Prothero, and Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr., Encyclopedia of American Religious History, Rev. ed., New York: Facts on File, 2001.

Monique Prince

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