The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1816 in Philadelphia by a group of free blacks led by Reverend Richard Allen. Reverend Allen was a former slave who worked in a Delaware plantation. He converted to Christianity in 1777 and was able to purchase his freedom in the same year. Three years after the end of the American Revolutionary War, Allen left Delaware and traveled to Philadelphia, a known haven for free blacks and slaves who fled from their masters. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during this time period.
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Allen became a preacher in Philadelphia and worked odd jobs to support himself. He attended St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church but was soon disenchanted with the discrimination he and fellow blacks experienced inside the church. The blacks were segregated from the whites and were told to sit in the gallery instead. Allen and his companions were also harassed inside the church and were told by one of the trustees to get up from kneeling while in prayer. Allen, Absalom Jones, William Wilcher, William Gray, and their supporters finally left St. George’s and formed a support group they called Free African Society. The Society aided free blacks, as well as fugitive slaves who sought refuge in Philadelphia.
During the early 1790s, Allen’s support group wanted to turn it into an official church. They debated whether to affiliate with the Episcopal Church (since many of them belonged to the denomination) or with the Methodists. The Episcopal faction eventually won, and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was formally established in 1794. However, Allen also wanted to infuse Methodism, so the church was eventually renamed African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).
In 1799, Bishop Francis Asbury of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) ordained Allen as a minister. The members of the AME multiplied over the years, and churches were eventually established in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. During its early years, the AME was under the supervision of white leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen and the members of the AME bucked at the discrimination they experienced under the leadership of the MEC, so they tried to sue for independence in 1807. Their efforts were unsuccessful, so they tried again in 1815. They were successful this time. In 1816, the AME became the first independent African institution in the United States.
Allen, Richard. The Life Experience and Gospel Labors 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 Color in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1880.
Earle, Jonathan. The Routledge Atlas of African American History. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Payne, Daniel Alexander. History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Edited by C. S. Smith. Vol. 1. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968.
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