Allen, Richard

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Allen, Richard,

1760–1831, American clergyman, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born a slave in Philadelphia and purchased his freedom. He became pastor of a black group that had seceded from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. When the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized nationally (1816), Allen was consecrated its first bishop. An ardent abolitionist, he publicly challenged the morality of slavery and did much to lay the philosophical groundwork for the black nationalist movement.


See biographies by M. M. Mathews (1963), C. V. R. George (1973), and R. S. Newman (2008).

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Allen, Richard

(1760–1831) Methodist minister, church founder; born in Philadelphia. Born a slave, he was sold as a child to a farmer in Delaware. He converted to Methodism as a young man and then converted his owner, who allowed Allen to obtain his freedom. While working at odd jobs, he educated himself and traveled throughout the mid-Atlantic state preaching. By 1874 he was accepted as a Methodist preacher and he returned to Philadelphia to preach (1786–87). After an incident in which white parishioners forced the African-Americans present to segregate themselves, Allen led his black parishioners to form a Free African Society (1787). In 1794 he established a separate Methodist church for African-Americans. In 1816 a number of independent black Methodist churches around the Northeast came together to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Allen was ordained its first bishop (April 11, 1816) and led it until his death as it expanded not only as a religious force but also in civil and social activism. This has often been called one of the most enduring institutions ever organized by African-Americans. Allen himself was a strong patriot, even supporting the War of 1812, and he denounced the notion of sending African-Americans to colonize in Africa.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.